Since rising to prominence in the 1980s for a lauded cinematic and sensual style Denis Piel has shot everyone from Christy Turlington to Leonardo Di Caprio.
His latest exhibition, essence, which opens tomorrow, is a celebration of the body, exploring the commonalities between people – food, water, sleeping, sex. Ahead of the opening we talk early inspirations, women and Audrey Hepburn.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST PICK UP A CAMERA AND FALL IN LOVE WITH PHOTOGRAPHY?
Probably when I was fourteen and my stepmother gave me my first camera – a brownie box camera which she had specially decorated with patterned paper. She encouraged me to look and then look again. It was that curiosity that I fell in love with.
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR CINEMATIC AND SENSUAL STYLE THAT YOU BECAME FAMOUS FOR?
When I was a kid I always told stories so I guess when I could do that in photography that is where I went. It was instinctive. It was also a way for me the control my reality or what I wanted reality to be.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT WOMEN THAT YOU LOVE CAPTURING ON FILM?
What I love to capture are those private moments; those moments when you stimulate the presence of a story untold.
IS THERE ONE IMAGE FROM YOUR ARCHIVE THAT MEANS THE MOST TO YOU, OR THAT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
Hopefully the one I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m always looking forward.
YOU’VE SHOT EVERYONE FROM GEENA DAVIS TO DONALD SUTHERLAND – WHO, ALIVE OR DEAD, WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL SUBJECT?
Again hopefully the one that will be in front of my camera tomorrow. Every subject offers something new, the collaboration and exploration of an idea together creates the ideal subject. If we are talking about someone I would choose to work with today if they were still alive it would be Audrey Hepburn, I always loved her.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY IS MISSING, ARE WE TOO FOCUSED ON TECHNOLOGY NOW AND MISSING SOME OF THE ROMANCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
I think with the new technology that we are being offered and the incredible array of new tools, the challenge is to learn how to use them and not have them use us.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON OR MOST POIGNANT PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU’VE LEARNT THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
Each person has to find their own way and once found stick to it while still staying curious and being open to challenges. Don’t believe what everyone tells you should be doing – make your own path.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
With regards to photography and filmmaking it would undoubtedly be my film Love is Blind not because it is such a great film but because it was achieved independently and challenged my whole visual senses. Philip Adams of the Australian described it as the following, which has always stuck with me: “By dealing with blindness, he has entirely turned his back on the world of visual experience. In his muted colours, with his static camera, in his disinclination to use the editing tricks of the fashion commercial, Piel denies everything he has learnt, everything that is instinctive to this profession.”
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
Concentrated time to be creative and the freedom to immerse myself in my newest project, “Down to Earth” with it’s ongoing challenges.
essence opens at the ROVE Gallery, Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NN on April 11th and will run to May 9th