Dividing his time between Paris and New York, Mitchell Feinberg has been shooting luxury still life for over fifteen years, distinguishing himself as one of the worlds premier jewelry and accessory photographers. He has built a large base of clientele, shooting major campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Yves Saint Laurent, and editorial content for Numero, The New York Times Style Magazine T, L’Officiel Hommes, National Geographic and Vogue.
Like fashion photography, your still-life photography sells an image. What is your process for coming up with a concept that correlates so well with the brand and what direction are you given in order to achieve this?
‘For product-oriented stories, a fashion editor or photography director will email me when the magazine has an interesting still life story. Iâ€™ll ask for jpegs of the products or brands to help me find a point of view within the editorâ€™s pre-selection, especially if the editor is looking for ideas. If the magazine staff likes my idea, we’ll narrow the selection and start the pre-production. Once everyone is comfortable with the direction, Iâ€™m usually quite free on set. For image-oriented stories, the magazine will ask me if I have any story ideas and we’ll go from there. In the â€œFossilâ€ impressions story, I was thinking about accessories that are so iconic they have become part of our cultural memory; will someone browsing the magazine five hundred years from now be able to identify these fossils? I thought the concept would make for interesting photographs, a fun test for the reader, and I liked the visual pun. In this case, I picked the objects. The process depends on the magazine, the need to show product, and the type of story. It is less about selling an image, as this implies a commercial advertisement, and more about visual commentary’.
Who or what would you consider as inspirations for your work?
‘Inspiration can come from anywhere: a window display, a sculpture exhibit, even the basement of a hardware store. Sometimes I will have an old idea that takes many years to gel. Sometimes Iâ€™ll come up with something at the last minute. The Muse never tips her hat. As for still life photographs, Karl Blossfeldtâ€™s plant studies, Steichenâ€™s patterns for Stehli silks, and Mr. Pennâ€™s still lifes stay with me, like old friends’.
You work with a lot of unique and unexpected materials. How do you go about discovering these new materials?
‘Always keep your eyes open! I like to wander around professional supply stores, or obscure Internet shopping sites. There is a lot of weird stuff out there. Iâ€™m still tying to work out how to integrate Aerogel into a shoot’.
Does your attention to detail and work aesthetic carry over into your personal life? For instance, do you find yourself organizing your refrigerator or medicine cabinet so that everything is ‘just so’?
‘Hah! Ask my wife. Ask my assistant. Iâ€™m a walking disaster area. Thereâ€™s mess everywhere. The more ordered the image, the more chaotic the environment. My shirt is often a map of my last meal. Although some photographs hint at OCD issues, Iâ€™m actually as fast and spontaneous as possible. I think this is important when shooting still life, as a human gesture makes a big difference in a photograph. The Age of Enlightenment story (the Zen garden with the bags) was done quite rapidly with a comb, for instance. I shoot everything in 8 x 10 format, with very little or no retouching; I want that feeling of â€œrealâ€, of almost-but-not-quite-perfect photographs’.
What are some personality traits one must have in order to succeed as a still-life photographer?
‘This might sound strange, but I think the most important trait is to have a very strong interior voice, a very strong will. For other types of photography â€” fashion, portrait, lifestyle â€” there are people in front of the lens and often many more behind. Although some photographers may want to impose their will on the others without mercy, usually there is a give and take. For still life, a photographer effectively starts and ends the day in an empty room, except for the object to be photographed. Thereâ€™s no flamboyant personality to help move the shoot along, no pushy publicist to get your blood boiling. Itâ€™s just you and the object. Great still life stories are more monologue than conversation’.