In this month’s feature, we are honored to highlight the work of hair and beauty photographer Roberto Ligresti. Since moving to New York from Milan, Roberto discovered a love for photography after a career in illustration and finds inspiration in the city around him. Read on to learn more about his work and journey from advertising storyboard artist to Vogue cover photographer.
Describe your approach to photography— What makes your work unique?
What makes my work “unique ” It’s a difficult question for me to answer. I grew up in Milan, an artsy kid with no direction at all. I thought I wanted to be an illustrator and as a youngster, collected many assignments in the field. I’ve worked for Vogue Italia, Italian Cosmopolitan, Annabella, having my work often featured in a quarter page or half page, usually “how to’s” of fitness or makeup. In New York, I had a few features in Mademoiselle Magazine and Vogue. I was a teenager. At 22 I moved to New York full time and worked for advertising agencies. Drawing became tiresome to me and burned out. Luckily, I found photography at 31, and got good responses from the start. Since I was an illustrator for many years prior to becoming a photographer, I believe that my visual art background is at the basis of my approach to photography and what differentiates my work.
What inspires you? Who are your influences?
New York has been my inspiration for many years. Coming from Europe, It has been both exotic and exciting to me. Now that I moved to the High Desert, I can’t wait to see the impact that it will bring to my photography.
What was your first camera?
My first camera ever was the Nikon FM2 with a 105 mm lens. I always knew I wanted to focus on people and portraits.
Can you think of the first time you realized the camera you owned was holding you back?
I think that seeing the results on a medium format negative was a big revelation for me, and was the moment I refused to use 35 mm again. Now, many years later, I appreciate the 35 mm format, and the spontaneity it can bring to the subjects. But when I started using medium format I remembered how blown away I was seeing the negatives of the Mamiya RZ which I used almost exclusively for 10 years.
Describe your experience with DT and why you chose to shoot with Phase One gear.
I love working with DT. It’s always reassuring to know I have a team of experts who I can rely on behind my trusted camera. I also enjoy their seminars very much. I chose the Phase One camera because capture one was the first digital software that I became familiar with so choosing its dedicated camera was a no brainer. I have owned Phase One medium format systems for over 12 years.
How did you make the transition to professional photography, and how did making a living from photography impact your style of shooting?
Being a visual professional and having been an illustrator for so many years moving to camera work was easy, because it was just moving to another mode of visual expression. Making a living from photography has been a definitive adjustment. I definitely became more aware of my composition. I used to be a big fan of cropping the top of my subject’s head, now after shooting so many covers, I make sure to leave plenty of space!
What’s the most interesting/surprising/invaluable thing you keep in your equipment bag?
A mannequin head. I prop in on a stand and I use it as much as possible in my set ups, it really helps me visualize my compositions. It’s funny how much attention my mannequin head receives while on location. Many love to take selfies with it!
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
How important teamwork is. And that your best piece of equipment is a trusted assistant.
Do you have a “passion project” that you enjoy working on in your free time?
As a surprising departure from beauty and portraits, I am currently working on a book about the work of Donal Wexler and his impact in the architecture of Southern California.
Tell us about one of the photos you’ve provided. You can describe the technical choices you made or the journey you took leading up to the photo or a combination of both.
I have worked with hair stylists and hair companies almost exclusively for the past 17 years. I’ve learned that looking for perfection in a hair shoot can be extremely frustrating, and how the accidental movement of the hair can be magic. The images I selected for this gallery are a collection of these magic moments. I have been very lucky working with the best hairstylists in the world. I love shooting beauty and hair.
What’s your favorite activity or hobby outside of photography that you’ve experienced recently?
I am passionate about mid century architecture. It’s the main reason why I moved to Palm Springs.
Want to see more of Roberto Ligresti work?
All images featured in this article are courtesy of Roberto Ligresti.
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