Claudia Cuomo is the winner of EnGENDERed 2017. She told us how she approaches portrait photography.
What are the practical things – the light, for example – that you consider when you’re setting up a portrait?
My portraits are usually not set up, they come spontaneously when I see an angle, light flare, wall, or person that I would like to capture. The available light is what usually inspires me to take a portrait, as well as the background or atmosphere. In some locations, you have just seconds to take a picture, and I try to focus on a single attempt.
I often get my best results when the subject is tired, angry, sad or bothered. In the picture above, one of my favorites taken on a rooftop in Naples, F. (my subject) was asking me 'Please, are we done?'
What kind of equipment do you use?
I use a Canon EOS 6D with EF24-70 and EF16-35, EF50 and EF85 lenses for portraits. I also use instant cameras – Fujifilm Istax Wide, Lomo'Instant Wide and Polaroid SX-70.
Do you always know a subject’s story – and is that a helpful thing to know?
Knowing someone's background can help, but it is not mandatory. I take a lot of street portraits without knowing anything about the subject. I choose them based on an expression or movement, manner, gaze, way of walking, standing or smoking.
I recently finished a photo story about an Algerian community in Marseille celebrating an engagement. One of the most powerful pictures is of the bride's mother. The woman's expression of melancholy in the middle of the party, and the similarity to Italian movies of another era, made me feel as though I was looking at my own mother in another time and place.
When you photograph a person, do you know what you want people to see when they look at the finished image?
It doesn't matter. When I photograph somebody, I look for a mood or a feeling, and I hope people will see what I see. If a person sees something else, that's okay. If the picture makes sense to the observer, it works.
What do you do differently when photographing a group of people?
I prefer to photograph groups spontaneously. Many people feel more confident in a group, and would decline a solo portrait. Photographing a single person depends more on the connection we could have, even if we're strangers to each other.
How do you know when you’ve got an image that will ‘work’?
I never know if a picture will 'work', but I know if that picture makes sense to me. Sometimes I know before taking the photo, and sometimes I discover unexpected good images during the editing process. Also, I try to experiment, sometimes by posing myself using a remote.
Can you tell us about one portrait and how you captured it?
I took this photo at an anti-fashion show called DRAGUE DEUX held in a top-secret location in Paris. The show's name is a pun on the words 'drag', for the drag queens who modelled the clothes, and the French verb draguer. I was interested in taking portraits at the show because the models not only subverted beauty ideals, but also embraced gender identity.
I didn't have my camera, so my friend loaned me her Canon Powershot G10. It was complicated to photograph the models because people were crowded around the runway, but toward the end of the show, I managed to climb on a step a few meters from the runway. I had to stand on one foot because of the lack of space. The room was crowded and hot, but I managed to get a successful final photo of Matea Natachatte (Miss Drinks).
The EnGENDERed photo exhibition runs from 23 November to 2 December at International Photography Festival in Tel Aviv.
See more photography by Claudia Cuomo on Instagram and Flickr.