Le Sourire Du Soleil

One of my favourite photos is an old black and white print I bought at a little gallery on the Ile De La Cite in Paris, right in the shadow of Notre Dame, over ten years ago. It shows a beautiful girl (who looks a bit like Audrey Tatou in my opinion) in a sequin top with her face in shadow and bright patches of light reflecting onto her face from the top. She’s smiling a luminous smile and the photo uplifts me every time I look at it. It’s titled Le Sourire Du Soleil (Smile of the Sun).

The print has had a spot on my wall in every place I’ve lived in over the years but it has aged so badly (sticking it up with blu tack might have not been the best way to preserve it and trowing it into boxes hasn’t helped either) that I recently decided I should try and track down a new copy of the same photo. It was only then that I discovered my cheap black and white print from the tiny gallery bought for around twenty dollars when I was a teenager had been taken by one of the world’s top fashion photographers, Javier Vallhonrat.

I looked for my wonderful print online but it looks as if the photo was taken before he shot to fame and isn’t included in any image galleries of his. I do love his shots, however, especially the way he plays with colours and injects references to fine art. His classic and colourful Flair La Seta stretch on photography agent Michele Filomeno’s website is one of my favourites. Fashion blog Cyana Trendland also has a great selection of images and some background on the famous photographer who’s shot topmodels and celebrities. See if you can guess who is starring in these pop art photos for Vogue Italia  – just by looking at the pictures. (No sneaking at the URL or title.)

Back to my Smile of the Sun shot. Since I cannot get a copy anywhere, I was delighted when Matt Sharp spontaneously let me reference the uplifting black and white image on a shoot at Narrabeen Beach. Matt’s got a great eye for composition and colour and the gorgeous red sand added a special touch to the shot. It may not be Javier Vallhonrat but I love this image. (And it’s unedited.)

Smiling Sol By Matt Sharp

I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit apprehensive when I went to shoot with Matt Sharp for the first time. The professional fashion, wildlife and landscape photographer not only snaps waves for a living but also beach scenes of rather scantly clad girls.

After a look at his folio and shots such as this one, I decided it was worth a shot. Matt definitely has a great eye for light and uses unusual composition in his images. Talking to him revealed why: even though Matt makes a living from photography, he has never received formal training and doesn’t follow conventional photography “rules”.

During our quick shoot at Narrabeen Beach, I also saw an entirely different working mode to most fashion photographers. They usually set up a shot from one angle to get the light right and get what’s in their head, whereas Matt moves around the subject, exploring different light conditions. He says someone once told him it shows how good a photographer you are if you can take entirely different shots of the same subject from varying angles. Also, he doesn’t like working with reflectors or other lighting aids,  such as flash, instead he relies on natural light available.

When we were shooting in the water he told me: “This white blows out the pictures.” He was referring to the whitewash off the back of waves which he was using to illuminate his frames. A less experienced photographer would struggle adapting to changing light conditions within the space of two seconds, shooting through an underwater housing and ducking waves. But this is where Matt’s experience as a surf photographer makes him a stand-out for people photography. He understands the overall composition and places the subject in interesting backgrounds.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that Matt also shoots for Hustler Magazine. But before you crinkle your nose, consider this: while there are plenty of girls more than happy to get their gear off as glamour models, it’s actually the more renowned brands that exploit girls’ ambitions. According to Matt, he’s heard of girls getting paid in store discounts and vouchers for year-long advertising campaigns. In my book, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much exposure you give a model, it still is a job and the girls deserve to be paid more than just contra. You get what you pay for though, I guess. Pay peanuts, get monkeys.

And here’s what an edited shot looks like. I think they’re both nice but in very different ways. What do you reckon?

Sol by Matt Sharp

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