Marian Sell New York, USA
Marian Sell was chosen by photographer Christoph Musiol
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
MS: I was born and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany, I went to school there and started working in photography right after my social duty year. Ansgar M. van Treeck taught me everything about photography on large format cameras and slide film, we shot a lot of Architecture together, but I always desired to shoot people. At 24 I felt wanderlust and moved to Hamburg for a year. I stumbled into the Briese Studio and started working there as Ms Briese’s helper and Mr Briese’s boy for everything. I tested Mr Brieses prototypes and learned from him about lighting, this was the most technical school I could have imagined. Mr Briese is a mad scientist genius, in his spare time he draws new lights and then builds them, I was most impressed by him. I moved to Paris, to dive deeper into fashion photography. Basically I had to forget everything I had learned. My approach to photography was purely technical, very german, Paris shook me and messed me up in a good way. you can create a striking photo with a broken lamp and a roll of gaffer tape in Paris. In Paris I worked at Pinup Studios, whilst establishing the Briese lighting rental as a side project. I met Bruno Dayan, who became a very good friend and mentor to me. He’s again one mad scientist, but in a very emotional creative way. 5 years later in the middle of financial crisis i left Paris for love, heading to New York this time. I accidentally ran into an interview for Alexi Lubomirski’s first assistant position, and started working with him – doing his lighting. Alexi and I had a great connection, a shared sense for Beauty. I did the light, he loved it, there was not much need to talk, 5 years with him passed way too quickly. I learnt from Alexi how to behave as a gentleman, finally trying to be a grown up..! For the past year I have been working on my own Photography exclusively, it’s an exciting adventure.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
MS: My Grandfather was an Architect, and he built a vacation home in Monemvasia, Greece. I was about 7 years old, and hiked the Island on my own. On the top of the Island I took a photo of the church with my Minolta Weathermatic 110 camera. I’m not sure if the photo or film still exist… but i remember the moment very well.
L: What traits from your cultural history do you think are apparent in the photographs you currently make, – or are they?
MS: I think that since I’m only really investing all my time and energy into my own photography since about one year, I’m at a point where I try to redefine what my personal sense of beauty is. For the first time I try to push and develop my signature style. And yes, I think there’s something very german to the most recent results. Maybe growing up in a generation that’s carrying the guilt of their past gave the germans a distorted sense of humor? I like kinky scenarios, my photos don’t have to make sense, as long as they are surprising and sexy. Maybe they’re actually better when they don’t make sense? I left Germany about 12 years ago, I can’t say that I was „escaping“, but i was stuck and kept searching for something else.
L: On your website, you have divided your photos in four sections: Fashion, Beauty, Portrait and Personal. As a photographer how would you personally explain fashion and its relationship to beauty?
MS: I wouldn’t say that I’m doing fashion photography because I love fashion. I love photography, and in a way I’m using fashion as a tool to create what I think is beautiful. That doesn’t mean I’m disguising myself as a fashion photographer when really I want to shoot something else!! haha… fashion is allowing me to play with photography, it gives me the platform to think about the „beauty“ I want to create.
L: The subjects of your images are coated in lust and sensual glitter of moist bodies draped like jewels in unexpected settings. But there also seems to be an interest in blemished and scarred skin and texture generally. Is this interest in extremes a kind of rebellion from a bland reality?
MS: I like it when people react to my photography. I’ve been shooting portraits with my friend Ben (who has scars all over his body) for more than 12 years. We do a portrait once a year as an art project. The audience gets stuck with Portraits of Ben for different reasons, maybe they feel the pain he went through, or they are surprised to see such a beautiful man behind his unusual layers of skin? In my most recent projects with my Muse Wanda (who is shown in your gallery) I started provoking the so called „feminists“. We got a lot of shit for hiding her face: „don’t you know women have a face?“. But ironically we’re not the ones doing the objectification here. That’s our critics. We respond with: „in a portrait, would you ask: where is her body?“. Wanda is more of a radical than a feminist, she says that her body or arm or leg or hand has the same legitimacy to be herself as her face, why should a face carry more agency to be herself that any other part of her body?
I like to provoke. There are sooooooo many people out there shooting „beautiful“ photos. And of course I love beautiful photos, who doesn’t. But maybe beautiful alone is not enough for me in the long run.
L: Some sectors of the fashion industry have increasingly used imagery that mixes violence and sexualized photographs of young women for product promotion. As a fashion photographer yourself, do you think the glamorization of this kind of imagery is the responsibility of the photographer, the product manager, the artistic director, etc. and ultimately who’s image is it?
MS: That’s a very political question, and I don’t want to go ahead and blame somebody directly. It feels a bit like „when a black kid is shot by a white police officer, who is to blame?“ if the only two options are the kid or the police officer, you’re missing the bigger picture. . I can just go ahead and try to do what feels „right“ for myself, because ultimately the photographer is responsible for his own photographs. if I decided to not shoot fur for example, I will have to stick to my principle and refuse the clients or art directors that request me to shoot it. Some people’s principles become very soft when money is being thrown at them.
L: Many of your projects are staged scenes; posed or carefully directed images, and others seem to be more formal compositions of different geometric planes; of light and dark forms. What do you look for first when you begin composing an image?
MS: I try to go into my shoots with a certain idea of what i want to produce – I try to be well prepared and have a strong team. In a studio that’s the key (plus a backup plan). But on location, I sometimes get in there with a loose approach. Suddenly I see something that attracts my attention and I develop the idea or photo together with the model/stylist/hair/makeup/prop stylist… The photo your Gallery is exhibiting with the Lions head was done spontaneously. Wanda and I had the inflatable head on us, we thought it could be a fun idea to hide her face with it, and then whilst riding around it suddenly felt right to go ahead and shoot it. By the way, Wanda had to clear the street at least 5 times because of traffic before we got the shot!
L: Do you have a message, or an overall feeling you would like to communicate through your images regardless of what or who the photograph will be used for?
MS: I really like the idea of creating a photo that makes people react. I’m not at all saying that every photo I take has some deep hidden message. but every now and then, allowing myself to provoke and challenge the audience… yes I enjoy that.
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words you were thinking about when you made this series (shown in Laatikkomo)?
MS: I tried to show Wanda (the model) as:
Thank you so much Marian!!