In his first solo exhibition, fashion photographer Mark Pillai presents his intimate collection of photos from the last seven years of shooting almost 1,200 models at one-on-one castings in his Parisian apartment and studio. The exhibition, entitled 'Thanks for Coming', kicked off at Pavlov's Dog during Berlin Fashion Week in attempt to portray his unusually personal style.
It's amazing to see then how you can create a character that isn't what you expect to see in the streets. It's beautiful to watch when the hair, the make up and the styling are interlocking like gear wheels
Spending a substantial amount of time with each model, unlike under the constraints of typical fashion shoots constantly surrounded by stylists, make-up artists and assistants, Pillai has captured these intimate encounters in a spontaneous manner as natural portraits of young women, far from the typical casting Polaroid format. The images will be shown on a custom-made wall inside the gallery where the distance between the projector and wall simulates the distance between photographer and model to re-live the intimacy of this moment.
Dazed Digital: How did the project come about?
Mark Pillai: For whatever job I have done I always wanted to be very precise with the casting and it helps me a lot to see the girls in person, and not some retouched version of them. This is to get to know the girls, to figure out their strengths or what makes them special, so I take my time to explore them as much as the situation allows, with my camera. All of them are great, but for some it just isn't so obvious [why at first] and I set myself the goal to bring it to the surface... you could compare it with reading a book... sometimes the first pages are not too easy but the further you go the more excited you get...
DD: Who were your favourites to shoot in the project and why?
Mark Pillai: Oh, I don't really have any favourites. Some of the girls who come in are super self-confident and you just spend some really nice time with them - coming up with ideas together - whilst taking images. Others are so young and very new to the business and you have to be very careful how you treat them, especially if they don't even speak the language. I don't believe that all of the girls like to be models and feel very uncomfortable in these tight dresses and high heel shoes. When I sense this I'll ask them to put on their sneakers and that already changes a lot for the relation between the photographer and the model. What I enjoy is the moment they come through the door and you have no clue what to expect... this is one of the most exciting moments!
DD: What's the story behind the name of the diary?
Mark Pillai: Well, since everything is digital and super easy to file I realised that this is actually documenting my life as well. Okay, most of the time I'm shooting them in front of a white wall, but here and there you see an image of what my bedroom looked like, my office etc. But it's not just the location where these castings happen it also a documentary about my perception and the way I take images. There is always constant change that we can't stop which makes me feel sometimes like that I have to keep some of it - store it - for my own memories! A diary!
DD: How did the limitations of light and the studio environment limit your work throughout these photos?
Mark Pillai: That was never a limitation - I would say more that it was the frame that was set. With that you can experiment and play around until one has enough!
DD: Why does fashion photography in particular appeal to you?
Mark Pillai: Isn't it fantastic when you actually find the right match - the perfect girl for the fashion theme. It's amazing to see then how you can create a character that isn't what you expect to see in the streets. It's beautiful to watch when the hair, the make up and the styling are interlocking like gear wheels. It can become super-artificial and supernatural, a completely new universe to discover.