Maurizio Toniato is an Italian photographer who chose fashion to reach beauty and capture its soul. His style lies in his use of light and its character, which sometimes offers a supernatural and lively relief. He uses shadows to exalt theatricality and colors to reveal matter. He sees fashion as a vehicle for beauty and imagination. He uses it to express, through chiaroscuro, all the splendor it has to offer. Emotion is also his Grail. Inspired by the great master Caravaggio, Maurizio Toniato creates paintings where the viewer himself enters the picture to take part in it. In his portraits, he looks for the quintessence that will give life to the movement, to the gaze, to the imperceptible, to the sublimation of beings.
Maison Sensey : How did it begin?
Maurizio Toniato : I first encountered photography around the age of 13. One day, I bought an old analog reflex camera and a photography manual with the intention of playing with the settings of the camera to understand how it worked. But after a few months, I lost interest.
Years later, in 2006, I was thinking about this experience and I took to photography again. Not long after, I decided to become a professional photographer. I immediately chose to focus on portraits. I wanted to be in contact with people. Turning to fashion was a natural consequence of my desire to seek beauty.
Which emotions do you want to convey in your photos?
I like this question! It matters to me that the images I create arouse emotions. It depends on the object of the photo and thus on the main focus of any given photo. For example, the aim might be to enhance the dress worn by the model or on the contrary, to highlight the person who’s being photographed.
How do you approach portrait photography? What are you looking for in faces?
Whenever I am asked for advice on how to make a portrait, I like to quote Ansel Adams: “There are always three people in a portrait: the photographer, the portrayed person and the viewer“. The photo is the result of how they interact with each other.
In practice, to take a good picture, the photographer needs direct or indirect preliminary knowledge about the person they’re portraying. Thanks to this, the first moments of the photo shoot – the “ice-breaking phase” – are easier and it subsequently allows the person to actively take part in the making of the photo by drawing from their own personal emotional baggage.
What I look for in someone’s face is some sort of unique, out of the ordinary beauty. This uniqueness can come from particular features, a very expressive face, a very intense appearance or some other element… In short, there must be something that strikes me!
The portrait that troubles me the most is always the one I’m about to shoot. I mean that every photo shoot is a challenge to create the “perfect picture”… it’s a bit like surfers who are constantly looking for the perfect wave even though they know it does not exist…
Your fashion photos have a soul, how do you want to picture fashion?
As I said before, for me, fashion is about seeking beauty and for those who think that it is something that doesn’t last, let’s remember that form is as important as substance. One cannot exist without the other. The two elements are unquestionably tied in everything that surrounds us; we are a fusion of soul and body.
I always try and create images that are both aesthetically pleasing and capable of moving the viewer in one way or another. When I get a question like yours, it means that I sometimes succeed.
If you had a magic wand, who would you like to work with?
Light plays a key role in my photography. Therefore, if I had a magic wand, I would like to go back in time to work alongside the great painters who were masters of light, and if I had to choose only one, it would be Caravaggio. It would be an opportunity to see the essence of photography in its literal sense, i.e. “painting with light”.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
During fashion shootings, my job is usually to depict models playing fictional characters according to the context of the story, like actors in a film. That’ why I’m starting a new personal project to do something completely different: the challenge will be to make “intimate” portraits of models or actors where we will be able to see their true self, to see “behind the mask”.
I’m not only referring to the masks that they must wear because of their specific job, I’m also referring to the masks described by sociologist Erving Goffman – the masks we all wear daily. He claims that the world is like a stage where all of us, no matter where we are, always “put a mask on” according to the role we are playing in the situation we’re in.
Backstage is the only place where individuals can be themselves and get rid of the role assigned to them by society, as there is no audience. My challenge will be to recreate those “backstage moments” and capture them in a portrait.