Guido Mocafico and Numéro – the perfect alchemy
A master of still-life photography, Guido Mocafico has lent his eye and talent to Numéro right from the magazine’s founding. A monograph published by Steidl and an exhibition in Paris will celebrate this exceptional partnership.
Numéro: How do you distil an 18-year partnership into a book?
Guido Mocafico: When the book project was launched, I worked on the principle that I would select absolutely nothing. In all I had 150 series, each six to eight pages long. And I decided to show them whole and unedited. When you added all that up, you had 1,200 photos and 1,350 pages, which is way too much for one single volume! On the other hand, I wanted to avoid sanctifying images that had been conceived for a magazine, and which weren’t meant to be exhibited or collected. Because of that the coffee-table format seemed inappropriate and overly pretentious. That’s when I had the idea of reconstituting the format of the magazine: the book became a box set containing six fictitious issues of Numéro that only contain my images. The resulting object is of a certain weight you might say – between 7 and 8 kilos! [Laughs.]
You hadn’t looked at many of these images for a very long time. What was your reaction on seeing them again?
What was interesting was that you couldn’t tell when they’d been done. These photos are timeless, impossible to date. There are series showcasing watches, perfumes, jewellery, as well as some travel series showing icebergs or volcanoes. Each time, the idea was to find a new approach, a new and irreverent concept.
A partnership of 18 years is rather exceptional in the world of print glossies. How do you account for the longevity of your relationship with Numéro?
It is exceptional, yes. We live in a world where there’s no loyalty anymore, where leadership changes every three minutes. What made this partnership possible is that Babeth Djian – the founder and editorial director of Numéro – and I have always shared the same attitude since we first met around 20 years ago at the International Festival of Fashion Photography in Monaco. At the time, we wanted to innovate and push back the boundaries of fashion photography, while still offering beauty. We were total fanatics! [Laughs.] And that hasn’t changed. We’ve always had the attitude of people making a fanzine in a London basement, whereas today Numéro is a very established title. In every one of my image series we were on the razor’s edge. The concepts have to be irreverent without slipping into facile bad taste. It’s a question of finding just the right degree of cynicism or perversion. We’re trend setters – many ad campaigns have been inspired by our series in Numéro. This collaboration is a laboratory of ideas.
In your opinion, which were your most audacious series for Numéro? I particularly remember one that featured jewellery in ripped-open vacuum-cleaner bags.
For that series, the creative director at the time, Thomas Lenthal, and I had imagined that a cleaning lady had vacuumed up the jewels and that we had to go looking for them in the vacuum-cleaner bag. It sounds filthy, but the plastic qualities of the result were very beautiful. You see, I don’t set out to disgust the reader, but rather to subvert intelligently the world of fashion and the privileged lifestyle that it symbolizes. The transgression must be subtle, that’s an absolute imperative. For example, I shot a series of watches using a large-format camera, as I usually do, which produces very high-quality images with an excellent acutance. But afterwards we deliberately pixelated them, so you can no longer decipher the brand name. That was a series we did around 15 years ago, which I rediscovered while working on the book.
Would you say that there’s a difference between your personal projects and your commissioned work?
The difference certainly isn’t one of beauty: some ad campaigns that I did, despite all the restrictions that were imposed on me for the shoots, could quite happily be hung as artworks on a wall. I guess that the difference is that, in my artistic work, I’m accountable to no one, not even to my gallery. But the approach, particularly the formal approach, is nonetheless the same. The brutality of the framing, the directness of the images, are the same. It’s still my photographic language.
Mocafico Numéro, to be published by Steidl in January 2017 – Book launch at Studio des Acacias, 30 rue des Acacias, Paris 17th; Exhibition Mocafico Numéro to be held at Studio des Acacias in February 2017, www.studiodesacacias.com
Interview by Delphine Roche