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Interview: Fabrizio Maltese, international photographer/SFF Hub main attraction

This June, the Sydney Film Festival will play host to international photographer Fabrizio Maltese. He’s the star attraction at the new Film Festival Hub, which we’ve spoken about recently here. He’s renowned for his film-related photography, snapping some of the world’s most famous faces including Woody Allen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender, Jeff Bridges and more.

Locals can now revel in the Paris-born photographer’s mesmerising large-scale photographic portraits of iconic film stars and filmmakers at the festival’s Hub. Here we chat to Fabrizio about his work and inspirations.

Fabrizio Maltese

What is it about the Sydney Film Festival that appeals to you?

I’ve never been to Sydney or even Australia, so that’s exciting for a start. I love exploring new cities and new festivals and, on top of that, the Festival Hub is something new to the Sydney which is very exciting to be a part of.

Describe your photographic style in three words?

I would have to say that the right answer to this question should come from the critics, not the photographer. But if I had to choose three words, I would say: intimate, cinematic, and inquisitive.

How did you get involved in professional photography and photographing celebrities?

I started out photographing the student unrest in my native Italy in the 1980s. I would take portraits of my classmates as well as demonstrations in the street. I came back to photography later and started doing celebrity portraits because I was involved with the film festival circuit so, naturally, the most interesting people to portray were the filmmakers and actors themselves.

What made you pick up your first camera?

One of the strongest influences on my developing visual sense as a youngster was Woody Allen’s film Manhattan, with its gorgeous widescreen black and white photography by Gordon Willis, who also shot the Godfather films. I’ve it so many times and it never fails to impress. My interest in portraits was fuelled by the intrigue in exploring and suggesting the character of a person portrayed in a still image. Portraits allow the viewer to enter into the intimate space of the person portrayed.

Have you ever been star struck when photographing celebrities?

I work with famous artists for a living but I don’t tend to be impressed very much by the fact that they are famous. I wouldn’t be able to do my job, otherwise! Of course there are certain subjects whose work I admire more than others but, even then, for me it’s always very specific. I like the work of actress X in film Y, which makes it much easier to deal with, as I’m impressed with a specific performance rather than the person per se.

What are you inspired by at the moment?

I’m inspired by performances and the mechanisms that lead to a strong performance. The transformation of one person into another is fascinating to me and, as a photographer, a rich source of inspiration since I need to try and peel back the layer of performance to try and capture something of the person.

Is there a key element you try to capture in your work?

In the case of actors, specifically, I try to pierce what you could call the ‘performance barrier’, to get them to not perform as the ‘actor in public’ they so often seem to play when promoting a film. I try to find and put something of their own personality in the portraits I shoot. The results depend a lot on the person and their mood, which can be fragile or defensive, but I always try to establish some kind of connection between the person I’m portraying and myself, behind the camera, to capture something previously unseen that I can then share with the audience.

What has been your favourite photographic assignment to date?

I get this question a lot and each time my answer is different! I shot Gary Oldman in Venice last year for the world premiere of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I was a big fan of the novel the film’s based on when I was a youngster, so I was intimately familiar with the character Gary portrayed so well in the film. We talked a lot before the shoot, and then when it was time to actually take the pictures, things were very easy and straightforward. It was all very natural.

If you could shoot anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

I don’t have a place-specific wish list but I do love to discover new places and absorb the essence of them. I love open spaces, abandoned places and metropolitan areas, they all have interesting textures and opportunities for unexpected compositions. Any place can become a new favourite place; it’s my job to quickly assess from which angle to capture it!

Fabrizio will photograph Sydney Film Festival guests throughout the event, adding new work to the exhibition daily.

Sydney Film Festival

Where: SFF Hub – Lower Town Hall, 483 George Street, Sydney 2000
When: 7-17 June, from 5-10pm
How Much: FREE


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