Interview courtesy of Patrick Hazelwood:
Richard Gerst is an up-and-comer that is making SERIOUS waves both in the States as well as in Europe. He seamlessly moves from high-fashion to commercial work and is getting covers left and right now. He is the darling of the model agencies being begged to shoot all their “new” and “big” faces alike. For a relative newbie, he is already encroaching on the territory of such names as Bruce Weber, Hudson Wright, Rick Day, Stephen Klein, and some such. EC had the opportunity to talk with the ever so busy Mr. Gerst and get a little insight into his world of fashion photography.
Q: When and where did you get your start in photography? Give us a peek into the background of Mr. Gerst.
A: When I was in my 20’s I remixed and composed dance music. After moving to NYC in 1995 I did some independent label remixes that were pressed to vinyl, but I realized immediately that I really couldn’t enjoy other people listening, because even though I love to go out, I tend to be asleep by 10 pm.
So in 2005 I began thinking more visually…
I bought my first digital Canon in ’05 and shot maybe 10 test shoots from some agency guys from 2006–2009 just for fun.
They were all pretty average except ONE. The difference being — the model and I .The agency was like “Wow! VERY nice images!”
Around Feb of 2008 I saw an editorial spread in Pref magazine out of Paris with images by Rick Day, and it was like being struck by lightning.
I contacted Steve Benisty, Rick’s rep, and insisted on meeting Mr. Day,
One of the most important things Rick told me, and I will never forget it:
“Richard: Stop shooting what you think others want. Shoot what Richard wants. It will come through in the images.”
Q: No matter what the industry, there is always that inspiration or role model. For me, it was a combination of Marcus Schenkenberg (who has since become a friend) and Tyson Beckford. Markus, because he was the 1st male model I knew by name and to earn over 1 million dollars as a model when I was FIRST getting approached to be in this business which I knew nothing about, and Tyson because he weakened the color barrier and paved the way for black guys like me to go to places like Italy, Australia, Paris, etc and be taken seriously as a model. Who was you’re the first photographer whose work really “spoke” to you? What was the first photo that captured your attention? In modeling for me, there was the iconic shot of Tyson and Naomi Campbell for Polo Ralph Lauren.
A: This is a tough question.
Obviously Day– and I specifically emulated him in this first year of shooting editorial work.
Weber, Testino, and Ritts as well.
Q: Your pictures are always so beautifully executed and you are so easy to work with. These photos taken for this EMERALD CHIC feature, are some of my favorite shots and you seemed to have a clear idea of how you wanted to present me. When I arrived at your studio, you had already prepped sets, had props, and were ready to shoot the 1st look within minutes of my arrival without having met me. The experience was great
A: The set up for a shoot completely depends on the lead-in. If an agency calls and needs a nice headshot plus a little of my magic then I have an expectation of starting with strobes and a specific setting and look. Then I discuss other options with the talent often based on previous work and the person I think I see through their images or book. Sometimes I ask about their hobbies or goals or work or charities. I like confident masculinity and sexual energy, so to send me a guy and not expect that I will try to obtain a shot that is visually exciting on a sensual level is quite frankly … stupid.
And I don’t really care how they have been previously portrayed.
Q: What “story” did you have in mind for the beautiful shots that accompany this article?
A: Having known about you, your work and your fashion connections, shooting you was interesting.
You were only the 4th black model I have ever shot, one of the others being Nazri Segaro of Project Runway (who’s portrait hangs in my private collection, with the other print in a famous actress’ apt in Manhattan …).
… I want the viewer to feel like they see a glimpse of that person’s soul.
When I met you I got a sense of your enthusiasm, your willingness to work hard, a certain sexiness …I sensed a slight anticipation… that you really wanted a successful shoot.
Therefore, I wanted to show a couple of shots that might suggest something softer about you, something a bit more vulnerable and approachable, something real, and a glimpse of an intimate moment that only your closest friends might experience…the simple basis for your story.
Q: I was honored to have been added to your roster of models. Please tell our EMERALD CHIC audience how you go about selecting subjects?
A: The internet and digital publishing have completely rewritten the book on how emerging photographers find talent. The truth is, I simply cannot accommodate all of the requests I receive. As I move into more celebrities and PR firms, via LA and NYC, I contact anyone I am interested in. I think what I am most interested in is not only a strong physical presence and good face, but something playful. I am drawn to light … both the physical medium and from within.
Q: Along the same line, I have been modeling for years and have noted that, much like our female counterparts, male models too have been shrinking in size. One need just look at the current Prada and Burberry campaigns to see this. There were times in Paris, where I was “too big”. The designers were speaking in French, and had no idea I was fluent in it. It is refreshing to see a photographer that shoots fit men with a fashionable edge. What is your take on this? Do you get a lot of pressure to select skinnier models?
No. For campaigns, I don’t choose. For editorial work, it depends on the book and I target accordingly. I am also a naturalist, and I appreciate lean and not overly muscular.
Q: EMERALD CHIC readers saw your recent cover for DNA magazine…spectacular! What is on the horizon for Mr. Gerst? What upcoming projects can we look forward to? There are rumors of several editorials and a book??? Do tell.
A: Thanks for that!
My first book “Defensio” being published by Outnext Media for the iPad is awaiting approval from Apple, Inc. as we speak. Probably by the holidays it will be out. A very limited edition hardbound version, signed and numbered, will ship about mid Jan 2011. Probably only 20–30 copies for at about $300 apiece (more than half already spoken for). I
” I am always working on new editorial work, including shooting for 2 print European magazines, a USA magazine, and a possible story in an International Fashion magazine with a female actress that I am very excited about.
Q: As EMERALD CHIC is a fashion spot, what trends do you see in the forefront when it comes to fashion photography (and fashion in general)?
A: For men, I see a move back to more sensuality and body work with lean, natural muscularity. I think straight American men are finally getting comfortable seeing a guy that is in awesome shape without much clothing on.… While gay men or women may find the image sensual, straight men are more on the level of “Wow, that guy works hard.” I have also noticed that younger men have stopped defining themselves by their sexuality and I find that interesting, and a statement about differences in generations (mine vs. theirs).