She is a rarity in this industry. Fashion and celebrity photographer GABO had nearly everyone who is someone in front of her lens, from Eric Clapton to Yoko Ono and Kevin Costner. As she was fighting her way to the top of the business, she dedicated her energy to her passion for photography and film directing. Since her breakthrough in 1986, this warm-hearted woman with a powerful and vibrant personality has been published by Vogue, Playboy and Der Spiegel, capturing the true souls of her subjects and projecting them into the pictures. GABO (her real name is Gabriele Oestreich) took the time to chat with us about her values, relationships with rock stars, and mozzarella faces…
Production Paradise: You are known as a photographer who searches for the best and most authentic features of the people you portray. How do you capture the soul and charisma of someone in an isolated shot?
GABO: The challenge is to find a person's ''chocolate side'' and to create a good atmosphere in which they can feel they are being understood and comfortable, all cliches aside. First, I try to build a foundation of trust. I want to create a set where I see the people the same way they see themselves.
Production Paradise: You are planning to give a Master Class Workshop about portraiture, fashion, and nude art in Berlin in May. What do you expect from the participants of your workshop both on an emotional basis and on a productive one? What is the most important thing to learn to become a good fashion and celebrity photographer?
GABO: Actually I don't expect anything from the participants. But they should be curious and inquisitive. The technological aspect isn't so important, what really counts for me is the eye of the beholder - the person behind the camera. You either have it or you don't. It is not possible to teach it, and every “eye” is different. We will play together and I will reveal some of my secrets – also how to bluff! (laughs)
For the workshop days, we will have great models, nice locations, and good food. It's a wonderful opportunity to network and develop some essential skills in today's fast digital world - and still do something you are passionate about.
I want the participants to learn that, especially in the fashion and celebrity photography industry, it's important to be authentic and to keep one's personality as the main focus. And use Photoshop with care.
Production Paradise: You have been called the “Herrin des Lichtes” (Queen of light). When lighting a subject what influences you the most, the personality of your subject, the setting or something else?
GABO: Emotional openness, no superficial, plastic surface. That is what I'm looking for.
“There is a face behind the face; a real moment.”
I try to underline the personality of the subject that I shoot and to emphasize it, in a way everyone is able to see it in my pictures. I don't like photographers who give too much guidance and don't give the person in front of the camera the chance to really be themselves. You can't expect beauty by forcing it.
Production Paradise: What was the first picture you took that will always matter for you and why?
GABO: Oh - this is a tough question. I put my love in every picture, so all of them count for me. I need to be satisfied with the result and that's the reason why I work - no matter if I'm shooting the ants in the grass (which I shot during my first attempts in my childhood), or a skeleton in school, Herbert Grönemeyer on tour, my son's smile as a little baby, Boris Becker in black & white, my grandmother's lovely face before she died, marked by life. Having Angelina Jolie or Eric Clapton in front of my camera, or Kevin Costner laying in bed, they all were and still are important for me.
Production Paradise: Can you tell us something about your biggest goal in life – professional or personal? Any, in particular, you haven't reached yet?
GABO: In a personal level, the goal is the journey itself: to grow and to learn to be happy with the moment. Don't want to wait for things to happen without doing anything!
In my professional life, I still trust in a quality shot. In this time of fast living through the internet, through Instagram and Snapchat, when it seems like the quickly-shot, low-quality junk photos rule the market, I believe that people will realise that cheap cannot be good. Quality and content is all that matters. With my pictures, I want to achieve that people don't forget this important aspect.
Production Paradise: Until now you have had a very diverse career. From working as a model to documentary photography about the dying rain forest and the AIDS-suffering in Uganda. Finally, you specialized in fashion and portrait photography for celebrities such as musicians, actors, and politicians. Was every period in your life necessary to become the photographer you are now?
GABO: I love to see all the different shades of my life! Not just black and white, the grey zones as well because every part made its own contribution to evolve myself and my work.
It would be too boring and superficial if I had worked all my life just in the fashion photography. Only as neat as a pin young models – with a faceless and flat mozzarella-like look – dressed in nice clothes in a perfect world; and just the same with the wrinkles of worrying politicians - that would bore me on the long run. The difference is what makes it exciting – real people, editorials and haute couture, cars and buildings and different types of beauty. It’s not about the subject; it’s the photography, that I love.
Production Paradise: What made you choose fashion and celebrity photography? Have you ever doubted your path?
GABO: I believe in the existence of a purpose for people or projects coming into your life. I’ve never regretted anything or anyone, that crossed my path. It is important to hold on to your vision and to stay authentic.
I stick to my values: no fur, no wrong politicians (#NeverTrump), no factory farming, and no nuclear energy-supporting companies. Today this means to say NO sometimes and to support a lot of benefit projects by pro bono work.
“But at the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror and lean back not having sold my soul.”
Production Paradise: You’ve traveled a lot in your life. You have seen many parts of the world, and lived on different continents. Has every journey influenced your work and which impressions of your surroundings left their marks the most on your work?
GABO: During the 90’s I was traveling a lot, unfortunately, this seems to be over now. I had wonderful moments in my trips around the globe. Every facet of the different types of natural light in all different continents; the variety of nationalities and the different traditions of Africa, The Seychelles, Bahamas, and many other places, every part of these experiences was truly inspiring. Some of the most memorable occasions were shooting crocodiles in the rain forest, hanging outside of a helicopter to photograph lively dolphins, or to ride a camel in Egypt backward without control to shoot a model on the other camel. I really enjoyed those moments and I would still enjoy them – so please call me if you read it!
Production Paradise: Being a model and having relationships with famous rock stars (David Bowie, Campino from ''die Toten Hosen'') – made you an it-girl during your 20s and 30s. How has this experience helped you to work with the models of today?
GABO: My personal experience is no guarantee to motivate the models in a better way, but it made it easier for me to understand their lives. Heading from one job in a country to the next job in another country – it seems that you are so important but in the end, everything that matters is only your surface, no feeling, no weaknesses, no exhaustion is allowed to be seen in your face. In my opinion, caring for people's souls is essential. While working with young models I try to listen to what they have to say.
“Beauty comes from the inside, I just put a light to it.”
I don’t care with whom you sleep, this is private. Rock stars have similar lives, are sexy in a similar way, and have often no anchor, living a life in hotels, without a real home. So it is easy to connect with that and to understand a model’s life.
Modeling has a lot to do with mirroring, projecting, and acting – relationships too. But remember to always stick to your guns.
Production Paradise: What do you find most useful about being a Production Paradise member?
GABO: In these days our job is always volatile and we don't have any protection. Too many so-called photographers and directors try to make their way into this industry. We need a well-connected infrastructure in this global world. In this context, Production Paradise is extremely useful and helps to find good connections in all the cities around the world.
We would love to thank GABO for taking the time to talk with us. You can see more of her inspiring work in the latest Portrait and Celebrity Spotlight Magazine and on her website. You can also find her and other Berlin-based celebrity photographers listed in our directory.
If you are a professional regarding any field of photo or film production, or if you want to present your work in our next issue of Production Paradise's Spotlight or Showcase Magazine, please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected].