Open and sincere talking about photography in an exclusive interview of London based photographer Leonardo Bornati for the Metalhead magazine featuring exclusive photography story supported by Leonardo’s agents Francesca and Sara from Fisheye Agency, styled by Elena Dini Silvera, groomed by Francesco Avolio. Modelling by Hidetatsu Takeuchi from Special Management Milano
Leonardo, thanks for giving an interview to the Metalhead magazine! Please describe in few words your style, vision – just how you define it for you.
Well, thank you. Through photography, I seek to discover beauty, natural human beauty in its purest sense. Whether it’s through the classic concept of a model or whether it is what society would label as abnormal, weird or imperfect, I search for beauty in the light and shadow of the spine, the undulations of the muscles and bones, the texture of the skin, through sadness. I want to discover the real human in the pictures. I do not presume to go as deep as a person’s soul, but to reveal the genuine and unique being behind the facade presented to the public. I find truth through the graceful and elegant movements and poses inspired by a dancer after a long performance in the way the arms and hands rest, the toes curl back and the neck curves. I wish to tell the story of how all human beings are perfect in their own way, just the way nature made them. I feel that this is really like philosophical anthropological research, by learning about the way muscles and bones work, the expression of certain poses, the effect of cold on the surface of the skin, the expressions of the face. That’s why it is often in the nude, not much else, against a plain background.
Can you tell us a bit about how you became a photographer? Did you come from a creative background?
I first encountered photography in a significant way when I was 18 and became a close friend of an antique photography art dealer now living in Paris. He introduced me to his extensive collection of photography monographs, and I spent hours looking through his
volumes. Thanks to his friendship, I developed a passion for the way the human body is expressed through photography. I started discovering photographers like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin then Von Gloeden, Pluschow, and I finally fell in love with Mapplethorpe. So no, I did not came from a creative background, I’ve built my aesthetic from scratch so to speak.
My first shot? The boyfriend I had at the time, naked, in my tiny student bedroom,
with a Mamiya 35mm and a Arri light.
Your pictures are mostly intimate, minimalistic. Which role does the location, clothing/accessories play in your photography?
Fashion, so to speak, plays an essential role. A small detail like a white underwear line or a long piece of fabric can tell a whole story, it can give a second reading layer or add a subtle message to the picture. The setting, the location, must be carefully selected as part of that same message. It frames the story itself.
Who are your models? Are they mostly professional models or you can ask someone on the street/social media to collab?
I find joy in scouting people from the street but it’s not always easy nor successful. Truth is that most of the times I work with agencies who have the ability of collecting interesting faces around the world. Regardless where they come from or whatever their circumstances are, I am only interested in reaching a deep connection with the subjects of my portraits. For me that’s what makes the difference.
Did it take long for you as a photographer to find your own style?
I am in constant search of what defines my vision and my way to filter reality so I wouldn’t say that I have found my own style just yet. When I look at my referents, both photographer and other artists, I can see the evolution within the consistency. This is what
I am aiming for, creating a work that is always evolving but can also be recognised no matter the story I am telling.
We see mostly male models in your photography. Why do you prefer shooting boys? What kind of models do you prefer to work with?
I feel a deeper connection with male models but it also has to do with my sexuality. I believe it’s a matter of having a better understanding of how the male body works and knowing what would make me comfortable as one. When it comes to my preference, I am always looking for interesting faces and uniqueness in their bodies. I am particularly obsessed with the skin, its texture, colour and marks.
Can you share your favourite or most memorable picture and tell what is the story behind it?
I have been asked this question many times but the truth is that I don’t really have a favourite one.
Do you prefer to work in an intimate atmosphere, only your model and you or also like to have a team?
Just me, him and that plain background.
Leonardo, can you tell us a bit about your shooting routine? How long does the preparation take (to find a model, location, idea)? How many time do you mostly need for a good result?
It really depends on the photoshoot, if we are talking about personal projects, editorials or commercials. The question is simply too broad to be answered here. What I can say is that once everything is in place it only takes a few click to understand if I can get what I’ve envisioned.
There is a meaning that “modern photography is not that sphere where you should look for big money” Do you agree? Among commercial projects, how often do you make personal projects?
I agree. I think whatever you do in life needs to be driven by passion, not money. This is why editorial work and personal projects are my focus, what keep my aesthetic in constant evolution.
How do you get inspired? Who are your favourite creators, in photography or art, literature or cinema?
My main inspiration comes from the big ones. Their work is something I revisit every now and then, however I am very interested in the new frontier, whether it is cinema, art or photography. I really enjoy reading magazines, independent publications and go to unknown artist shows.
Are your models always open for your ideas? Do they easily agree to make nude shots, for example?
Goes without saying that to work on nude projects you need open minded people. I have to say that so far I have been very lucky with the models I’ve worked with, everyone has understood my vision and helped me shaping it.
Your works look very intimate and minimalistic. How do you achieve this? Do you have some method to relax a model and create a good atmosphere?
The important thing is to create an environment of trust, making the model feel comfortable and to do so you need good communication skills. I try to bring them on board, make them as much invested in the project as I am. There is no secret recipe.
Do you make some postproduction, retouch on your pictures? Does it take long?
Rarely. I use very little retouch and only when strictly necessary. The beauty of photography is the ability to pin a moment in time, an unperfected reality. I love stretchmarks, scars, wrinkles and every sign of the skin. When I can I try to preserve them if not enhance it.
Do you have some photographer’s dream? About some special project, story or model to collaborate with?
I do not know yet. All I know is that I already regret not having worked with all the people that won’t be among us in a few years time. I am thinking of great designers, artists, actors and creatives that influenced and shaped the world we now live in.