I’m not sure how I got on the Renovance mailing list, but the first few emails that I received touting Claudio Basso’s workshop were dismissed right along with the solicitations for workflow seminars, software seminars, and lures for camera gear. Yet whereas I simply hit ‘delete’ for the others, I always at least skimmed the Renovance ads because the embedded fashion photography caught my eye. This was partly due to the fact that fashion photography is what I want to do ultimately and exclusively when I grow up; but the real reason that I kept looking was because the photography itself was simply gorgeous. Claudio Basso... the name rang a bell, but I admit I couldn’t place it. Yet those images... his images... wow!
The cyber-ad persistence and eye-catching imagery paid off, and one evening I somewhat impulsively registered for Claudio Basso’s Fashion Photography Workshop. In the month or so that followed until the date, I received excellent communication from Sheri Basso, Claudio’s wife and right arm, regarding everything from what to expect to how to submit images for the workshop awards. I had a number of my own questions, and the responses – always from Sheri – were prompt and pleasant. I never had the feeling that I was working through a corporate semi-automated machine, but rather with a live human being who also happened to be the front-runner of the show. Before I ever arrived in New York City, a clear professionalism tempered with Italian warmth was wholly apparent.
After my husband and I checked in to our hotel in Times Square, we crammed as much into the evening as possible before I needed to turn in at about 11. This was almost criminal in ‘the city that never sleeps’. Yet my early morning appearance at Splashlight Studios, in an area dubbed ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, was scheduled for 8:30; so it had to be. My husband wandered off to the hotel lounge, and I fell asleep reading a copy of Italian Vogue, one of the magazines Claudio has to his impressive list of cover and editorial credits.
Next morning I woke up at 5 and there was simply no going back to sleep, I was too hyped up about the workshop. After a few hours to kill, I finally hopped a cab and made it to the studios with about twenty minutes to spare. Hell’s Kitchen didn’t look at all as I expected; I had imagined vague scenes reminiscent of West Side Story, with gangs and gritty corner bars in sunless streets. Instead, I saw tidy avenues, the huge Javits Convention Center, and Splashlight Studios itself in glass and chrome, gleaming in the September morning sunshine.
The cheery, smocked girl at the desk gave me a pass and I went upstairs to the assigned studio which was still locked; I chatted with two or three of the 15 total participants already waiting there. As it would soon unfold, we were 15 photographers with wide variations in specialty and experience, and with only one exception – a wedding photographer from a suburb about 30 miles north of the city – we had come from all over the country. Maryland, Nevada, South Carolina and Connecticut were some of the places we hailed from. There were even two photographers from Mexico. Over the next two days a bond was formed among us, forged from the one thing we all had in common: our desire to see Claudio work, to see a Master in action.
We were not disappointed.
After Sheri arrived and unlocked the doors, about 45 minutes passed with the 15 of us getting acquainted while enjoying a rather lavish continental breakfast and checking out the spacious, to-die-for studio. It was a photographer’s dream: High ceilings, lots of natural light pouring in through the huge windows and double doors opening to a huge rooftop balcony, optional room-darkening shades, and Hollywood lights around the MUA’s mirror. There was enough space for a very long runway, and of course state-of-the-art equipment from Manfrotto, Bogen Imaging, Comet, and Pocket Wizard. It was spotless, a clean-lined industrial workspace with endless possibilities.
Claudio made his appearance quietly, blending into the studio among the chit-chatters and the coffee drinkers, yet there was no mistaking who he was. In belted jeans, soft loafers sans socks, short spiked hair, and exuding an unmistakable Italian exuberance, Claudio entered the room with flair. He smiled broadly, eyeing us frankly and rubbing his hands together in a gesture that said he meant business. There was something vaguely Soprano-ish about him which hinted at impending Italian middle age; but there was nothing, absolutely nothing covert about this man. He spoke in a straight-up manner laced with humor, colorfully at times, and got immediately to the heart of things without drone or redundancy. One of the very first things he said to us once we were seated was, “I am going to change the way you look at photography. You will never, ever look at it the same way again.” He did not repeat this, but went on to spend two days proving his point. In the final hour of the last day he asked us if we agreed with his opening statement, and we did, hands down. After only two days of soaking up this Master of Fashion Photography, we were indeed illuminated.
Our two days were spent a little unconventionally, perhaps, but no stone was left unturned. For example, while there was no written agenda, no syllabus to follow or checklist of topics to tick off, Claudio’s teaching style was so linearly comprehensive and thorough that when it was question and answer time, we had precious few questions – they had already been answered. If the workshop would be broken down into academic-like segments, then the first day was theory and principle, and the second day was lab and practice. The ‘lecture’ portions were interactive; Claudio would often begin with a question. “What is fashion? What is it?” Or, “How do you think models get sold, how do they really get work?”
His style dispensed completely with any form of sugar-coating, and some advice was so cut-to-the-chase as to be almost startling. “FORGET photographers reps – they are unscrupulous. Period.” Other pearls of wisdom: “This business is full of big egos and competitiveness. You must build inner strength and balance, and see it through.” “You don’t carry a business card – you carry your book.”
Someone asked what to do if you discover that someone has stolen your images and are presenting them as their own. Do you sue the person?
“Sue? What do you mean, sue? I’m Italian, we don’t sue, we show up with a gun!” After the laughter subsided, he basically said to just forget about the loser and move on.
A very valuable concept that is uniquely Claudio’s is his “perpetual circle of creation” model. In the center of the circle is the photographer’s “mission sentence”, the statement of what the photographer wants people to say about his style, his images. Encircled around that statement – which is both motivation and goal – are the practical bases to cover in getting there. These have to do almost exclusively with the shoot itself: The set, the lighting, the outfit, the model, the hair... all of it carefully planned to be part of the portfolio. This is highly preferred over the usual photographer’s book “which is a collection of images achieved accidentally here and there, from shoot to shoot. Why do this? You must plan your shoots, not simply have them.”
Day One carried us through a definition and brief history of fashion, the ins and outs of the business, and how to break into the industry. We were given a literal prescription of what to do and what to avoid in order to maximize our chances of success, and a pretty clear roadmap of how to get there. We broke for lunch, an extended, casual affair with everyone scattered in the studio or on the deck. Claudio crossed his legs and smoked cigarettes, magnanimous and engaging; he is just so Italian. Italian myself, Claudio reminded me of a cross between my relatives, those Soprano guys, and a hip European jet-setter with a delightful and irreverent sense of humor.
During a break I chatted with Simon, one of Claudio’s two studio assistants. Someone had brought a laptop and we were checking out each other’s websites. Simon was a hoot with his Russian accent and hyperactive demeanor. He was also extremely knowledgeable. Claudio hollered regularly for both of them every 30 minutes or so, feigning mild exasperation at them for not always being at the ready; but the way they came running was both comedic and indicative of his dependence on them. They were a good team.
Day Two was an incredibly detailed demonstration of a planned, tightly-run shoot. Armed with a fantastic creative team to include an MUA snagged from Model Mayhem and a stunning model from Q Model Agency, Claudio took us through the paces. We were told not to bring our cameras since the contract with the Model Agency forbade any photographing of the model with personal equipment, but eight of us were chosen by lottery to shoot side by side with Claudio using their equipment and, of course, under the caveat of leaving the images behind. Some of us, myself included, chose to observe rather that shoot, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t miss a thing that way, nor have to wrangle with a case of nerves as some of my classmates did at the prospect of shooting with this fashion great.