sam scott schiavo interview

“…there is a divinity moving you…
For all good poets, epic as well as lyric,
compose their beautiful poems not by art,
but because they are inspired and possessed…”
[Socrates’ words, taken from Plato's Ion]

Predrag Pajdic begins a new season of interviews with artists, in order to share, showcase and uncover what drives individual creative process. It is our utmost pleasure to commence this series with the incredible Vienna based photographer Sam Scott Schiavo.

PP. How does one decide to become a photographer? In your case, was it by chance, or did you always know that this would be your calling?

SS. Completely by chance, approximately 16 years ago, I was working as a booker in Florence Italy and a model showed me his quite horrible tests. I asked him how much money had he thrown away on it? He replied that if I could do better I should shoot him. I said I had no camera, but he did, so I shot him the next day. In university I had taken a course in photography 10 years prior but remembered nothing, in fact I was able to load the film but forgot how to remove it from the camera… so I brought it to the laboratory afterwards, the film still in the camera!

In the end the test came out very good. I asked the model to lend me his camera for a few weeks. I continued to practice and eventually purchased a used Minolta 35mm. My photographer friend Giuseppe that I would style tests for gave me some basic instructions and advice. I had a natural eye for composition and making the model feel at ease, which I feel is of the up most importance. That’s how it all started; I was a weekend photographer until only a year ago.

PP. What happened a year ago?

SS. Well, exactly a year ago I quit my full time job as a successful men’s booker, a job I had done for nearly 20 years. I left the security of a steady job with all its benefits, and moved to Vienna to devote myself to photography. It was not an overnight decision. I had been considering this evolution for 3 years as I had become stale on a personal level in Milan. I needed a change of scenery, some fresh air to boost my creativity. I was not getting any younger. I am aware of the competition, difficulty and crisis in the business but as a double Capricorn, I am willing to climb the hill, as steep as it may be. It has been a rocky road but I have no intention of turning back.

PP. That is certainly something to be admired. Why Vienna?

SS. I wanted a complete change. I had been coming to Vienna for eight years scouting for the agency. After the first few visits I started to appreciate the city, returning even for long weekends, gradually forming a network of friends here. Also, the city is very liveable, clean and appreciates the arts. It is also easy to reach other amazing cities like Prague and Budapest. I feel that this Eastern part of Europe has been fairly neglected. There are some excellent locations for photo shots and amazing models. I find it visually and emotionally stimulating and I think it shows in my recent works.

Each day I wander around and explore the city’s nooks and crannies. I feel at home here. There are many, many obstacles to still overcome. Italy will always be in my heart; I still have an apartment there and travel back and forth.

PP. You have been working with some beautiful male models. Are they really that stunning, or is it you as a photographer, who manages to get the best out of them?

SS. As clichéd as it sounds… I try to find the inner beauty in them all, but usually during their grooming or a beginning conversation, whilst sharing some small talk, I study their plains, their angles, I look for their best features so I know what to emphasise and their flaws to hide. A simple shadow or change of angle, the right hair styling, all can make a world of difference, as it is of the utmost importance for the model to feel confident, secure and beautiful.

PP. Photography is a complex practice. It takes a lot of work from the first idea until the final print is ready. What is your favourite part of that process?

SS. I would say the initial start of the idea, when it’s all still in my imagination. I plan a photography project very similar to a film; first the story line, the theme, a story board, the cast of characters, a title and even soundtrack are all in my head long before it becomes concrete.

PP. Do you prefer shooting in a studio or a location?

SS. I prefer shooting at a location, in a lived in environment or even my home. I feel that walls, objects and decor all add to making a more intimate memorable image. Also, as I prefer working with natural light, the light at a location is ever changing through the day, realistic, as is life, never exactly the same.

PP. What is the feeling you get from seeing your images on a cover or pages of a glossy magazine?

SS. A feeling of satisfaction, of personal accomplishment. I think, well maybe I should stick with this thing called photography, I made the right choice!

I much prefer print magazines, call me old fashioned but I am old school. I like to turn the pages with my hands, use all my senses looking at a book or magazine.

PP. With internet changing the way how we communicate and share information today, do you believe that there is a future for printed magazines?

SS. Yes, I certainly do, even if they become only for the elite or collectors, just as I believe there is still a future for analogue! I have recently become involved in a men’s printed magazine project, if I did not feel strongly that there still is a future for printed magazines, I would not participate at the level I have been doing.

PP. Who are the photographers that influence you most?

SS. There are many of the old masters that I am still in awe of their work, a few to mention are Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herbert List, Scavullo, and Disfarmer with Ellen Von Unwerth, Peter Lindberg, Gianpaolo Barbieri and Koto Bolofo, all greats that didn’t or do not rely on postproduction.

PP. Do you prefer black & white or colour prints?

SS. I will always love black & white, it’s cinematic and I started my decent into photography shooting analogue with TRI-X film, so it will remain close to my heart. Yet these past few years I have been appreciating the use of colour and its variations.

PP. Photography is closely related to moving image. I hope I am not wrong in saying that your work has this quality. Some of your photographs are almost as film stills. Would you ever consider making a movie?

SS. Yes, I agree, and in my case 200%!  My grandmother would go to the cinema once a week. I remember the old theatre well, The Liberty, and I think it cost 5 or 10 cents to enter at that time. She would bring me with her for company when I was only a few years old. I remember going in my pyjamas with pillow and blanket in case I would fall asleep. I loved the darkness and just focusing on what was on the screen, and I continued to love the cinema as I grew older. I think this has influenced the way I see things in my shoots, I often create a still, a scene from a film, also the small details are important, in that simple close up, often just with a glance or a quiver of a lip, all is said. I also cast my models as I would cast an actor for a film, not only on their outward attractiveness but their personality is also important.

I have been toying with the idea of filmmaking, actually I am working on a short film project now. It will be my first, and I am sure it will be the first of many.

PP. What inspires you most?

SS. What inspires me the most? Beauty, non-banal… the hidden. I like to discover, disclose, uncover a secret, an emotion. There is little in photography which has not been done many times over, through the various generations; I do not pretend to create anything for the first time, but instead, I pull from my daily life, past and present, my surroundings and without a doubt from films and art works that have left a mark on me, interpreting in my own way, with my enthusiasm and creativity.

PP. What is your definition of beauty?

SS. Beauty is self-confidence, freedom and unabashed security in one’s self.  It truly comes from within, and naturally, if one is also beautiful outwardly, it’s an explosive combo!

© Sam Scott Schiavo
The Senior Deputy Editor of CLIENT magazine
© Predrag Pajdic, 2010


Leave a Reply


Responses to “sam scott schiavo interview”

  1. Glad to have the chance to read the interview and as an old friend of Sam very satisfy to see his decision to dedicate 100% of his time and work to photography is as I expected successful. Lidia Negretto

  2. Thank you Lidia for your comment. We admire Sam’s work very much!