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Going Behind the Scenes

Backstage access is a growing trend in the fashion world. A new demand for transparency is forcing companies to open up the doors and show what is behind the glossy image you might find in a fine print magazine: the process, the people, the emotion.

This is not a mere positioning tactic. Well-shot backstage photography also feeds into the growing hunger for fresh content on digital platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest. The feed is constantly moving, and brands want to be there and stand out.

So as a photographer, how does one approach this topic? Is it just about snapping away and uploading photos at the end of the day, or is there more to it?

Hong Kong-based photographer, Laurent Segretier, was granted access to one of the most interesting global events in the fashion world: Elite Model Look 2013. Set in Shenzhen, the event marked the end of a global search for the next top model –after intense boot camps and a fierce selection process.

Elite discovered Laurent through his previous reportage work for fashion retailer Lane Crawford and Mert & Marcus. After meeting the director in Hong Kong and the full team in Paris, he knew the chemistry was right.

“We shared the same vision and understanding of what makes great backstage storytelling”, he says.

Laurent was briefed to capture the youth and innocence of the contestants, but he was also given large creative freedom – and that was what persuaded him to take the job.

“Pleasing a client is one thing, but pleasing yourself is often harder. You become your own judge and put pressure on yourself to deliver the best. That’s a position I like to be in.”

Laurent’s unique approach to the job was to focus on the bridge between childhood and adulthood, which is exactly where these girls are, physically and emotionally. This is a topic that is very close to him and something he often deals with in his own personal works.

“Seeing the girls was like looking myself in the mirror. The feeling of following your passion, with the risk of being disappointed, was something I could relate to immediately.”

He was therefore able to really connect with his subject; to gain trust and get access to some of the most intense moments. And this is one of the keys to getting great backstage footage, he says.

Perhaps obvious, Laurent describes the most intense moment of the shoot as being that of the final night. “

From the boot camp to drastic elimination – their lives change overnight. There was so much intensity, anticipation, happiness and despair. I wanted all these emotions to come through in my work. For me, portraits are always about emotions.”

Laurent describes the whole experiences as “humanist”, almost like a scientific experiment. Documenting as much the inner as the outer beauty of his subject, he was constantly on the lookout for moments that would reveal their true feelings. Giving equal attention to all the contestants only seemed fair, but that meant no rest during the day, and very few hours sleep (when not editing photos). But that is the challenge and beauty of producing work that needs to go out online, almost in real time.

For this particular shoot, Laurent tested out the Nikon D7100. Working without a full frame was a challenge, he admits, but the superlight weight made it easy to get around, and the double SD card slot allowed him to stay “in the shoot” for more than a half day. He used an 18 – 55 mm zoom lens, and a couple of different prime lenses: 28mm f2.8 / 35 mm f2.0/ 50 mm f1.8 / 85mm f1.4. He brought an SU-800 auto focus assistant – a necessity when shooting in the dark backstage areas.

If he could do anything differently, he would have chosen to carry even less gear, which would allow him to be even more reactive. “In reportage, the camera should be an extension of your body – packing and unpacking gear will only slow you down, and you might miss precious minutes and seconds.”

His main advice to other photographers working in similar jobs: know your subject. “Shooting behind the scenes involves an act of journalism and it is important to acknowledge that it is not about you – you are just there to document.”

© Laurent Segretier