Vlad Savin – Australian Photographer
Interview: Kate Andrews
Vlad Savin is a Melbourne-based photographer shooting commercial fashion as well as portraits. His personal work is generated from a love of landscapes and creating themed images exploring sexuality, innocence and mysticism with an underlying tinge of the occult.
A considered interview, he grapples with the Australian environment he finds himself in compared to the intense, historical, medieval, mountainous Romania where he spent the first 14 years of his life. He strongly identifies with the land and spirituality and feels western society has lost sight of these vital elements. He wants to create images that express his personal vision, his voice and creativity.
In a sea of selfies, facebook likes, consumerism and apathetic gluttony what Vlad Savin stands for may become the voice that is heard.
Things to know:
Pagan: Noun: A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.
Occult: Adjective: Of, involving, or relating to supernatural, mystical, or magical powers or phenomenon.
Mysticism: 1. A doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.
2. Obscure thought or speculation.
How long have you been shooting for?
I started when I was 14 photographing landscapes in Romania. It was more of a hobby. I had a 3 megapixel Kodak my dad had given me and I used to go hiking a lot with my friends and shoot the winter landscapes. Then I moved to Australia, did my VCE (Victorian College Entrance Exam) and picked up photography there and started on film. Film is great but for paid work digital is easier to get it all done. The girl I was dating at the time was into there so had an extroverted personality and I started photographing her. The started photographing all the other girls I hung around at the time…that was the more in the alternative, goth scene. Soon after that I started to be more attracted to the commercial work of people like Steven Miesel, Tim Walker and decided I wanted to go down that path.
How did you develop contacts?
At Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology & Photography Studies College it was good cos I was collaborating with other people and you help eachother out and they get makeup artists and then you do. At the start everyone used Model Mayhem. Then you form connections from there and word of mouth spread and then facebook came in. After working with other people for a while someone speaks about you and you start to get messages…What really helps is getting as many profiles on as many of the social media websites as possible.
In terms of how you promote yourself do you always think of yourself in a professional capacity when you’re out or on someone else’s shoot?
That’s probably what I haven’t done enough of. Like going to Loreal Fashion show you should actually go meet everyone, go to the after parties. It’s absolutely crucial to get involved with those people and going beyond the professional level and actually sit down with people and get to know them. And you form that sort of relationship where you probably wouldn’t online.
How would you describe your work?
There’s a huge separation between my personal work and my commercial work. My personal work has always been slightly darker in nature. It always explored things like female sexuality, the power females can get through sexuality…but I also explore youth and innocence and holding on to those. At one point I was doing really dark shots about power and female mysticism. And then there was some really girly, ethereal, youthful shots so I was kind of exploring those 2 sides of it. I’m also interested in things like the occult – not in a freakish way – I just find it fascinating to read about. And you often find the female is at the epicenter cos the female is the epic centre of mysticism so that led naturally to exploring that.
So have you been exploring and experimenting in those sorts of ideas or do you subscribe to those viewpoints?
I would describe myself as Pagan but not in a way that most people in Australia would understand cos it’s related to my culture.
So how would you define it?
It’s Romanian, European mysticism. I’m originally from Romania so I’m heavily influenced by that.
I noticed in your personal work and the music you like and general flavours of what youy have around you there are themes of tribalness, death and female sexuality. It adds up to quite a dark mixture. Do you ever feel people stereotype you for this?
Not such much anymore. I rarely produce personal work now I think it’s gone. I also found my personal work got more attention even with the commercial people I know I guess cos it looked a lot more honest. A lot more thought goes into this as it’s not doing a test or a beauty shoot or an editorial. Not that there’s any excuse not to be creative with those but it’s a little bit hard coming from the things that interest me to mix with commercial fashion…I hope to eventually. I still need to learn a lot commercially where I can have a commercial aesthetic so it’s not about that it’s more about the theme and story. If the photography is not great it falls to pieces.
How old were you when you came here? I moved to Australia when I was 14.
14 years in Romania – that is a big chunk of your life thus far – and you identify strongly with your roots and where you’ve come from. Do you want to go back there for work or is it something you’ve moved on from?
It’s a tough question…in a lot of ways I would like to go back there but because of the state of things there there’s just absolutely no chance unless I had a full time job and maybe had time to do photography on the side…but it’s tough over there and things aren’t going to get better but I think I will have to keep faithful to travelling there as often as I can. Romania’s always been an incredibly creative place but the media has never focused on the right things. We had amazing poets, writers and painters and if you go there it’s got an amazing history especially of literature and music. But people don’t hear about it cos in the 90s it was the orphanages, now it’s all about corruption and politics…same with the whole of Eastern Europe generally. [When I was back there I was] in my own town with a camera in my hand I was like an editorial would look incredible here, or here, or here, and you’d get all these abandoned buildings from the 1800s or earlier and no-one cares if you go in there. If there is a guard you can bribe him with 50 bucks which would be a quarter of his salary for the month and he’d be stoked with that!
Who is the photographer that has influenced your work the most?
Steven Miesel, Helmut Newton, Tim Walker, Miles Aldridge, these are all people I look up to. When it comes to my personal work I don’t have much visual reference at all it’s usually musical. With my commercial work I tend to follow trends.
What do you aspire to achieve?
First and foremost creating a stable career as a photographer. My dream in life is to support myself doing something I enjoy. Not to be rich, but to get by doing something that you love. I have a lot of friends with office and retail jobs and none of them are happy. They have a degree of security but they don’t have the satisfaction of spending 8 hours doing something you care about and building your own business. It’s a big risk. It’s hard to [reach success] cos you need to have a life, a relationship and some stability.
In those times how do you stay motivated?
It can be pretty tough but you build a thicker skin. The only thing you can do is get any job you can get, save as much money as you can and focus on the basics –paying the rent etc. When I was looking for motivation not to give up and keep going I found what helped me a lot was looking at my own work from the past and drawing inspiration from that and going I’ve got some talent, I don’t work hard enough but I know there is some hope there.
Do you think photographers should have a specific style?
I think it’s important to have a personal style – that’s most important. After you’ve been in the industry for a while it’s important people start recognising symbols in your work otherwise you’ll just be a stock photographer where all the work looks the same.
What do you feel sets you apart from other fashion photographers?
My personal work is what sets me apart. I think that what will set me apart even more will be when I can bridge the gap between my personal work and my fashion work. One of my favourite editorials is Steven Miesel’s Water & Oil which is a superb high end editorial but it’s all about oil spills and how we affect the environment. The models are trapped under fishing nets and it’s absolutely awesome. Once you can get to that masterful aesthetic and be able to communicate something that’s personal or a political or social commentary that’s what will set you apart. In the long term you want to be able to communicate things through your work that’s how you’ll stand out.
Finish these sentences:
Life is awesome when…(long pause) when you’ve managed to materialise something that was part of your imagination. I would like to die…I wanna be remembered but that sounds vague without saying what I want to be remembered for… I wanna die knowing that the messages and visions I had throughout life were communicated in a way that will hopefully outlast me.
In 5 years I will…. Hmm don’t know what I’m gonna do next month…hopefully in 5 years I’ll be an established Melbourne photographer with ambitions for being an Australian and International photographer. I want to be established in that I want to have developed a strong personal style and have enough income that I can create art. It’s hard to do personal work when you’re focused on your business and when you don’t have the money. You feel like you’re not getting enough from photography in terms of being able to support your life you become disillusioned very quickly. So you don’t have that drive and inspiration. I produced most of my personal work at uni where I had minimal responsibilities. Photography gave me everything I wanted then. As soon as you bring money in, it sucks the life out of it…
When the shit hits the fan…leave facebook!
Usually I first take a step back, a breather and assess. Then bust your arse to fix things and really think about what you’ve done. Especially if you make a mistake with a client it’s such a rapid changing industry that you can do a lot of damage very quickly.
I hate…monotony and hypocrisy.
I love…(long pause)I love life. Despite the darkness of my work. I love the complexity of life and being human.
I am inspired by…music and a lot of arthouse films.
Creativity is…the ability to express your thoughts, feelings and emotions through any medium. And it is also the ability to express someone else’s thoughts, feelings and emotions through your medium.
I love shooting…(long pause) I love shooting things I dream about.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? There’s two that have been really important. The first is to persevere. (a lecturer at PSC said this) The second is networking. Actually getting out there, not facebook. Going to events and exhibitions.
If you were a celebrity who would you be and why?
I don’t agree with his lifestyle but just out of curiosity it would have to be Terry Richardson. He’s the total opposite of me.
Tell us something quirky about you. When it comes to my personal work one of the stranger things I do is meditate with music and really focus on visualising. I sit in a dark room and listen to music then write down everything to build the visual references. And I can only count in fives or tens. I hate numbers that are not five or ten based.
How long have you had that for…? As long as you can remember?
Yeah…if I have to pay someone it can only end in a five or a zero. Even if I end up paying more.
What was your impression of the world when you were growing up?
Umm…Romania has more relevance here…I felt that the world was a very conflicted, hypocritical and decadent place.
Has the way you view the world changed? I think it’s gotten far worse. Particularly in western culture it’s losing track of the things that are important through rampant consumerism, the lack of connection with spirituality that people experience, the identity crisis caused by the huge amount of individualism that is promoted. In Romania there is a lot more of a sense of community and togetherness and I think people here are starting to lose that a bit. And also lose their connection to the land…these are things that disappoint me most. I am heavily connected to the land. My own land primarily but any land in general.
What has been the hardest lesson for you as a fashion photographer?
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn has been dealing with my own complacency and being able to overcome that. I go through periods where I do really well then I just sort of drop for a quite a few months and tings get bad and I become complacent. Once I start making a bit more money, the photos are starting to look well and I’m producing good work, I’ll burst and then relax. Being able to find that consistency would be good…and also dealing with being more socially introverted. I have a lot of friends but they are people from my sub culture. When you move into the fashion and commercial world it’s very different. I think developing that social sensibility where you can deal with the people you’re working with professionally (and personally) would be ideal.
When are you happiest? When I’m outdoors in nature; hiking or camping. Totally unrelated to photography.
Where would you like to live most in the world? Germany.
If the world was to end tomorrow what would you do tonight?
That’s an interesting question!Spend time with all my loves ones.
Tell us about your tattoos. Half wolf half dragon which is the emblem my ancestors used to carry in war. But it wasn’t just an emblem it was a physical structure that was hollow so when they carried it riding horses into the wind would make it howl. That’s how they would intimidate their enemies in fights. This one’s Odin which is the Nordic God of Gods. I have a few more but they’re all mythological.
Which is your most prized one? The Romanian (wolf/dragon emblem) as it’s Romanian not Norwegian.
What advice would you offer emerging photographers who want to get into the fashion/editorial industry? To find out what they’ve got to communicate. A lot of the work coming out communicates an aesthetic or a style but I think people need to start communicated concepts, emotions, social commentary…To think about what they have to say that people are going to want to listen to.