Marian Sell is a New York City-based photographer born outside of Düsseldorf, Germany, who began shooting architectural photography at age 23. After shooting “I FEEL LOVE” for Schön! magazine, Sell was kind enough to answer a few questions for Beautiful Savage.
I feel love by Marian Sell
Vika Falileeva @ DNA Models – MODEL
Jarrod Lacks – STYLING
Akihisa Yamaguchi – HAIR
Tomomi Sano – HAIR ASSISTANT
Angelina Cheng – MAKEUP
Marina Iwakoshi – MANICURE
Tom Wyman – PROP STYLING
This editorial “I feel Love,” what was the original impetus or concept? How did it evolve?
I wanted to do this shoot for several months, and when Schön Magazine approached me, they gave me the opportunity to finally produce it.
I love the moody and a grungy feel of dark bars with their neon advertising, wooden walls, brick stones and beer smell, and I thought it could be fun to place a “perfect“ high fashion model (Vika Falileeva) in there. The contrast between the location and model made her really stand out. Vika seems iconic and almost alien-like in this environment. This surreal contrast allowed me lots of creative freedom to play with.
At first glance the story is very dark, then… look a closer, and there are intense reds, oranges, and blues. Are you using color as a way to insert an emotional undercurrent?
I tried to multiply the ambient feeling that you find in very moody bars. The lighting is basically an exaggeration of the colorful neon advertisings. once we started shooting, it felt very natural to me to place the colors around Vika. I didn’t overthink things, i just pushed my lights around until Vika looked as iconic, unapproachable and sexy as possible.
You said once that fashion photography allows you to “play with photography,” and that it gives you a platform to conceptualize you want to create. Has your interpretation of fashion changed at all as your career has progressed?
You’re right! I did not become a fashion photographer because i’m driven by fashion. I’m much more curious about lighting, beauty and interesting concepts. But obviously fashion is one of the main ingredients of a fashion shoot. Photo shoots are based on team work, and every person in the team brings something to it, there’s a lot of trust involved. On shoots like this one for Schön, i might be already so busy thinking about camera angles, lighting and poses and expressions of the model, that i’m happy to leave some decision making to the other members of my team, in this case Jarrod for the styling, Tom for the props, Angelina for Makeup, Akihisa for hair and Marina for Manicure. These guys are all experts, and when they see a photo appear on the screen, i trust them to do the right decisions and interrupt me if something needs to be adjusted. I even invite my assistants to fine adjust or tweak details whilst i’m shooting.
I will say though, it makes a HUGE difference if the fashion is well chosen or not, and if it works with the concept. It’s the same for all the other ingredients of a photo. So the final answer to your question is: Yes.
I remember shooting my girlfriends back in Düsseldorf when I first started, and for some weird reason, my photos didn’t turn out as good as the photos i saw in Vogue Magazine. I was convinced it was all about the lighting. So I tried and tried and tried, and became an expert in lighting. It was only about 10 years later that I figured out that if you have Kate Moss with amazing hair, beautiful makeup, gorgeous styling, and great retoucher: there’s not so much you can do wrong in lighting. It’s all about teamwork!
In addition to fashion, you do a lot of personal projects. In particular, you have a specific friend you shoot a lot? Are you planning on exhibiting any of this work or showing it in any formal fashion soon?
Yes, Wanda (Orme) is my girlfriend and muse! We started shooting together just for fun, and because she was a PhD student when we started, we had to try to keep her anonymous. People reacted mostly positive to our shoots, and the anonymous sexy photos became a style we’re still wokring on. Shooting with Wanda allows me a different approach to working. We can travel together and take a photo every now and then somewhere on the road. Whilst if you’re working with big a team, you may have to finish the shoot in one single day.
We think about exhibiting our work one day soon, but it feels like there are some more photos in the back of my head that have to be shot first. coming soon
What is your dream project as a photographer? As a fashion photographer?
I have a few dream projects written down on a paper… somewhere! haha.
Maybe my dream would be to find fashion clients that want me to shoot what i really like to shoot, that would be a dream come true.
You spend a lot of time on the beach, surfing right? Can you do this living in New York? Is there some secret surf culture in NYC?
Yes, the ocean is my favorite place. Whenever I have a day off I check the wind and wave forecast. After i moved to NY seven years ago, it took me another year to understand that the ocean is basically right there, somewhere behind JFK airport. I got very passionate about surfing, went to the beach at least once a month with the subway, summer and winter. Surfing wasn’t really a secret, but the easily accessible spots became very crowded in the last years. I started kitesurfing and that took over, it’s a very powerful sport and a great balance to the NYC city life. I still go to the beach as often as possible, with the NYC subway.
I think it’s great to shoot beautiful photos. But then, there are a lot of people shooting beautiful photos. Many people are touched by a few of my portraits of my friend Ben. We grew up in the same little town in Düsseldorf, Germany, and when Ben was 16, he had a horrible accident. He was electrocuted and barely survived, almost all of his skin burned, he was in coma for 3 months and in hospital for a year. When I started taking photos, we took some portraits together, and the audience was very moved to see such a beautiful man behind a surface of scars. Some people feel the pain he must have gone through, and other people are surprised to see Ben smiling, after everything he went through. We started taking one single portrait every year, we just completed our 15th year!
And then, the photos I shoot with Wanda sometimes provoke the (so called) feminists. Wanda is most of the times anonymous in our photos, and it seems like a female body without face is much more easily sexualized by the audience than a portrait. Wanda has an opinion on this matter, she insists that every part of her body shall have the same legitimacy and agency to be herself as her face. I received random emails out of the nowhere with complaints, so I guess people are touched.. but then: we’re not the ones doing the objectification. That happens inside the head of some of our audience.
Who is your favorite band right now?
What else should we know?
Don’t eat yellow snow. 🙂