July 2012

Frederic Aranda is a self taught photographer who has shot everyone from the Vogue editors (all in one room – pictured above) to Baroness Margaret Thatcher to Pharrell Williams. His vast array of portraiture always communicates its subject in an overtly human and beautiful way. Engaged and inspired by the people around him, Frederic speaks to us about his family, his fascination with the Japanese and his interest in the Californian woman at the heart of his latest work.

As a self taught photographer, how did you learn to take great photos? I started off taking portraits of my family and friends, always in a fun, positive and upbeat way: because I love them. I even shot mygrandmother on her deathbed when I was 15 and it was somehow still upbeat. I realised early on that a photo can make people feelgood about themselves, so I just kept doing it. Anyone who says they hate having a photo taken simply hasn't met the rightphotographer.

Do you remember the first photograph you took?The first photo I took was of my mother when I was a child in the 80s. My parents, having moved to Switzerland only a few yearsbefore I was born, didn't want me telling my classmates that my mother is Moroccan. They seemed to feel it was a big taboo in 80sGeneva and would somehow limit my chances in life. I always had to say I am French, which is my father's roots. I remember feelingthis was a big shame. However, I was always allowed to be publicly Jewish, which I felt at the time was a bit of a double standard. Oneof the first pictures I took made me really proud because in that picture my mother looks gloriously exotic and beautiful by Swiss standards and I felt I was breaking the rules by proving to everyone how beautiful it is to be from Morocco... One single photosummed up all my feelings better than words on the matter.

You took photographs of the Japanese Kabuki 5 years before showing them publicly. When you were taking the photos, what end (ifany) did you have in mind? Were you always hoping to exhibit them when the time was right?The Kabuki series summarises my long-standing fascination for Japan, and it was a palpable feeling of recording something rare andunique. That was all I was thinking when I shot it. I think that the most interesting photographic exhibitions are those where personalwork is unveiled, as opposed to a commissioned work. So yes, in the back of my mind, I knew this could be an exhibition, and when Isaw what happened in Japan last year with the earthquake and tsunami, it suddenly made sense to finally use those pictures tocelebrate Japan at its best, but also to raise money for charity by marking the one-year anniversary of the disaster and bringing thesubject matter back into the media.

Do you often take pictures of things that aren't intended for a specific publication or exhibition? What really drives your photography?All the time. One example: I've been collaborating for the last few years with a Couture collector from the US on a very personalproject, but which I think now has huge educational potential... and it's finally time to show it. It was driven by respect for thisincredible woman and as such has real soul to it. She’s a fascinating collector based in California, more specifically in Silicon Valley, and I was amazed to see the influence that living in the heart of the valley could have on her collection. Her relationship with the internet and fast- moving technology has informed her choices of what to collect over the last few decades, as much in Haute Couture, Couture or Ready to Wear, and this makes for a wonderful photographic project. I'm thrilled to be involved in this, and am working hard on getting everything ready by the start of 2013.

Is there anything or anyone on your list you've always wanted to photograph and haven’t yet?I have to be careful not to always say what I want as it usually happens.... last year I said I wanted to shoot Anna Wintour, because Ilove a strong woman, and suddenly I had 17 Vogue editors in a room all at once. I had to pinch myself that it was actually happening,it felt like my photographic fantasy was staring right back at me defiantly through the lens... However I don't really have a wish listand I tend to take each project as it comes.

A lot of your studio shoots are heavily designed in terms of costume or set (I'm thinking of The Four Seasons and Beauty). TheJapanese theatre shots are also of their nature elaborate and designed. Do you prefer creating or finding this kind of rich subjectmatter? Is there a big difference in terms of photographing it?I went through a phase where I wanted to smother everyone in paint because I was obsessed with colour. Also, I’m used to paint, sobeing messy in a beautiful way just happens naturally. Whether I create this or simply find it (like with the kabuki), I've still got tophotograph it, which is a whole different ball game, so I don't mind either way as long as it looks good. Photography helps take it afew steps further.

Have you got any advice to pass on to young photographers?Have fun- with photography we're not saving lives but we can celebrate them!