In the second part of this series, where we’ve been shedding light on amazing female photographers we look at the work of Margot Errante.
Errante caught our eye roughly two years during her exhibition at a local gallery, when she was a resident of Hong Kong (she has since moved to Italy). We saw her work, we met her, we chatted. And we fell in love.
Her way of working is also a somewhat unique experience for those of us in the fashion and lifestyle industry. She talks to her subjects – not just about turning right or left, not just instructions about putting chins down and eyes up. She talks about … life, love, loss and everything under the sun and the stars. In between conversation, she’ll snap away and capture that fleeting moment. The results are almost always surprising, ethereal, revealing.
Well, here’s a revealing chat with our perpetually globe-trotting photographer.
Tell me about the first professional job you had as a photographer?
The first professional job I had as a photographer was for a travel magazine in the 1990s; my then publisher asked me to go to a remote area of China and to come back with a story. I could have not asked for more! It went well. I have never experienced disasters so far. I am always a bit nervous before a portrait session, because you can never predict how it will go. But as a general rule, I keep in mind that we are all humans, and this helps me focus my lens.
When did you know you wanted to pursue photography as a full-time career?
Oddly enough, when I got divorced! I had a child and I had to work. I had to balance both. But, when you realise that you’re going to spend most of your life working, you want a job to be something you enjoy and are passionate about. I did the math about how much time I would have for myself as a single mother of a two-year-old. My studio is in my house. My camera and equipment is portable. I can work all the time or not at all. My choice.
What did you study when you were growing up? Does it inform your life and career now?
I’m still studying and growing up! I first graduated in Sinology [the study of Chinese language, history, customs, and politics] then I took a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, and I am currently studying Neurobiology. As strange as it may sound, all this is absolutely relevant to my career in the art world. The five languages I speak give me the ability to work internationally; anthropology provides me with a higher understanding of the socio-cultural differences that exist in the world; neurobiology helps me to better understand human behaviour and how we function. If you want to be a portrait photographer you should definitely have an idea of how the human brain works.
What are the challenges facing female photographers in Asia?
Many. Hong Kong is quite open, but if I think of more traditional societies such as South Korea or Japan, most of photographers and/or artists we hear about from those countries are men. I do believe that the challenges are still global. Perhaps an exception would be working in the US. In photography, as well as in medicine, there is this widespread idea that it is a work of men and therefore men are better. Now, I find that there are female photographers at every corner of the street now, compared to when I started 20 years ago. It’s still a male dominated profession, I agree on that, but there are many good and well known female photographers, besides Annie Leibovitz.
What’s the most sexist thing you’ve ever heard on set?
I remember entering a set and having this CEO of some bank asking me with a worried inflection: “You’re not the photographer! Are you?!”. Then he looked around and asked his assistants: “Who choose the photographer?? I never said I wanted a female photographer!” and no one dared to raise the hand. So I said: “You’re not the CEO of my bank! Are you?!”. He laughed. I didn’t. I was dead serious.
What’s the best part of your job? And the worst.
The best part is to make people see their beauty. Regardless of how close or far they are from the social standard, they all have a beautiful side, and I can see that. So I picture it. And when they see their beauty and feel good about themselves, I feel like I gave my contribution to this world.
The worst part is photo editing. I hate sitting in front of the computer so I try to keep retouching as fast and minimalistic as possible.
Who are your inspirational female photographers?
Sally Mann, for her remarkable dedication to her work; Annie Leibovitz, for her idea of not having to necessarily put the sitter at ease during a portrait session; Julia Margaret Cameron, for her ability to mystify the human heart; Francesca Woodman, for her self portraiture, which is still an unknown territory to me.
But besides the big names, there’s a new generation of young photographers that I follow with interest and that we should talk about more often: Romina Ressia, for her sense of humor; Justine Tjallinks, for her series The Outsiders; Campanella Erica, an emerging talent whose work is poetry. The list goes on.
You also style your shoots, light them yourself and well … you are a one-woman industry.
I am the daughter of an Italian woman who has an exceptional taste for aesthetics, if we ever admit a standard of a good taste — Kant wouldn’t agree with that! So, I was educated to beauty. I have a trained eye. I learned color mix and matching at a very young age, and I always loved scene building. It’s a lot of fun! I never worked with a stylist because it just never came up to my mind. I never felt the need for such a professional figure, but I am open to it. Science says two brains are better than one!
What advice would you have for young girls who are trying to break into the business or want to study photography?
I learned there’s a general rule that applies to all jobs: if you want to be successful, find out who you are and stick to it fearlessly, because that’s the most original thing you have. Yourself.