International Fashion Photographer Max Zerno:
A Picturesque Life
Whenever I talk to Massimo or Max as many call him, I always like hearing where he is. So, after a few “Ei ciao..come va?” I’m intrigued to find out his whereabouts. Kind of like that book in the nineties, Where’s Waldo?, those colorful picture books where we search for the little boy with the knit cap. Where’s Max?” You see, Max goes wherever his work calls him, and traveling to exotic locations has become a weekly ritual, kind of like going to the grocery store for folks like me.
|Massimo: Somewhere in the World
Mostly for work and sometimes to his different homes, he is constantly on the go; his destinations often separated by thousands of miles, continents, and oceans. Though he is either heading from Europe to the Caribbean or Eastern Europe, and while his destinations may change almost weekly, one thing that remains constant is his love for photography. At just thirty-eight years old, Max Zerno has become one of the most in-demand photographers in the fashion industry.
After a career as a photojournalist, working in places such as Albania, Haiti, Colombia, Cambodia and Congo, Massimo began to work in the fashion arena, and soon built an impressive resume, working with some of the biggest names in la moda italiana: Moschino, Gucci, Bulgari and Dolce & Gabbana. Further, he works not just as a photographer but also is instrumental in overseeing the production of images for advertising campaigns, catalogues and calendars.
World photographer, jet setter, yes. But Max, if you get to know him, likes to remain out of the spotlight. Despite his glamorous lifestyle, he remains humble. I’m sure he gets that his life is fantastic and he lives in some of the most beautiful places in the world, often surrounded by gorgeous models. But instead, he remains unaffected by all this, and wonderfully down to earth, preferring to talk about the simple things in life, not the glitter.
In fact, after Max sent me a bio for this piece, I smiled upon reading his last sentence which summed him up perfectly: He (Max) takes pictures of those who spend their lives in front of the camera, lives on a remote island in the Caribbean, out of the spotlight, with a Mojito in my hands and the beach beneath his feet.
Gaya Lynn: Welcome Max. Tell me how and when did you start your career as a photographer?
Max Zerno: First of all, let me thank you, Gaya. Thank you and all the readers of Internationally Known for interviewing me. So, let’s get started: I started taking my first picture as a teenager; I had a simple camera: an Olympus compact camera with integrated zoom lens, I mean nothing professional. I loaded it with black and white film and began taking photos. I had found out that the zoom had a manufacturing defect and that if I fiddled with it , it gave me images with a nice flow. At that time, I did not have any money,
|Photo: by Max Zerno
and so I often bought expired film: but that negative pigment degradation created, as a result, pretty pictures with some purple or orange coloring, very punk! And that’s how, from these errors, my passion was born…
GL: How come you jumped into the fashion world?
MZ: Well, when I was a kid, I didn’t even know what fashion was! I grew up in the suburb, with a working class upbringing. As an adult, I started working as a foreign correspondent for some news agencies: writing articles and reports and I spent most of my time trying to encapsulate our modern world. After many years chasing wars, conflicts and injustices, I decided to make a change. In 2006 I started shooting for a Latin American fashion magazine. Since 2008 I have been working exclusively for campaigns for stylists and designers. And here I am!
GL: Do you work just in fashion or do you continue to work in other sectors?
MZ: For ten years now, I have worked with a number of organizations (NGOs, foundations and trade unions) that are dedicated to the professional training of journalists. Often, I speak as a university lecturer in undergraduate and graduate programs: I try to show students the joys and pains of a job as a photographer. I like to stay in contact with the younger generation who are often filled with creativity and good ideas. But I try to explain to them that all that glitters is not gold: in order to a photographer, it is not enough to have a good eye and a good camera. We must learn how to “get close” to the subject. Robert Capa (the renowned Magnum photojournalist and founder) said that a good photo depends on the distance that exists between the photographer and his subject!
GL: You speak at least four or five languages. You live in fabulous places. Did you envision your life turning out this way when you were younger?
ML: When I was a child, I dreamed of being a cook, not a photographer. But since I was a teenager, I was bit by the travel bug. And certain rituals associated with travel: to pack and unpack one’s suitcase, collecting the stamps on a passport, for example. I have had the great fortune of having spent a great deal of time in various countries of Europe, Asia, America, and the Oceania rim. And since I’m a bit of a loner, I like places that are out of the limelight: Albania for example, Cambodia and Haiti: even if these countries have been associated with inner turmoil, poverty, and injustice, those elements often overshadow a marvelous culture, one that needs to be valued. It is unfortunate they these places have many victims, and too many negative steretypes. For the rest, I aways try to live in places where the cultural is friendly and the people are nice.
GL: You’ve come to a very high standard and are well known for your work. In your opinion, your success is based on what? Talent, tenacity, luck or something else?
MZ: Well, a cocktail of all three factors! I was fortunate enough to learn the craft as a photographer at the time of analog. Shot in black and white. I was a fan of Kodak TMax 3200 T400 and negative. In those days, there were few who used this type of media: the fact that my photos were a little abnormal made them … unique. I link my beginnings to this abnormality!
Anyway, I think the key factor depends on the fact that I’m an introvert, which prompted me to protect my privacy as much as possible and to stay away from the spotlight. Don’t love selfies and my profile on Facebook is pretty much empty! I avoid attending social events and always prefer that the photos that I publish are not signed. I know this is an odd, but fortunately the agencies I’ve worked with know that I’m doing it for a good reason: having my lifestyle continue to be free!
GL: What kind of advice would you give to a young photographer, who would love to one day, be like you?
MZ: I have to blush. Well, I certainly don’t recommend ever to be like me! First of all, I would recommend that he/she devote much of the time to get trained. In my day, no agency and no newspaper demanded that a photographer have a college degree, much less a masters. Nowadays, it seems to have become a real necessity. Anyway, the first thing to do is learn how to use the photographic material. It is necessary to know the merits and defects of your camera, the objectives, the flashes. You have to be able to use the post-production software (for example, Adobe Lightroom or, for the more adaptable, Photoshop). And then, you have to educate yourself: read the magazines, analyze the works of great authors, visit museums. I mean, you have to become an expert and specialize in one of the many fields of photography (travel, fashion, reportage, nature, architecture, furniture, sports …). Travel, then that psychological talent which is needed for very good photographers will be sharpened: understanding the subject in order to portray him in his best light.
GL: Plans for the future?
MZ: This is a million dollar question, Gaya! I have so many projects. First of all, I think I’ll settle down in Asia. I would like to learn other languages, write another book and illustrate it with photos dedicated to my travels. And, as soon as I have more free time, I want to devote my time to a show where poetry and photography can come together in communicative manner. Basically, it involves bringing together the two muses which inspired me most over the past few years!