Steve Dean Mendes
•What is the main message in your body of work?
- By deciding not to retouch my images and not to use makeup for my models, andto only use a natural light in my studio, I created a safe environment for my protagonists, initiating a process of removing all masks. In the body of work “Emotions in Between Emotions”, which became my style, I show preference for
working predominantly with women. I try,through art, to facilitate the experience for self-discovery and acceptance. These protagonists, who I carefully select to
express my vision of the world, are not chosen due to any beauty standards but solely by my gut feeling.When I started this body of work, I was photographing from an emotionally dark place, but through healing, and additionally through support of others, I
photographed out of Love.
- My aim is to capture raw and unaltered emotions and to present a story of love,joy, but also of pain, suffering, and abandonment.Inspired by the great Flemish Old masters and the Pre-Raphaelite movement, I
want to show the real human beings behind these protagonists, with all their natural fragility and beauty of their soul.
• Could you share with us a few of your favorites: movies/books/music that would be of great help or inspiration to aspiring photographers?
- My favorite book is “On the road" by Jack Kerouac. It has a very special meaning for me because I was named by my father after one of the main characters Dean Moriarty. It took me several years to finish it, because I was saving every page, I just didn't want that road trip to end. Personal guidance and spiritual books from Eckart Tolle or Don Miguel Ruiz are very dear to me, in them I seek peace when my spirit and mind are restless. The study of the Bhagavad Gita had also a deep impact on me. I think these books are responsible for my growth as a human being and subsequently as an artist.There are many movies which inspire me not only by their deep story, but also the photography. To name a few: Shutter Island,Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind, Into the wild, Captain Fantastic. Art movies from Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick really helped me to educate my eye. My latest favorite movie is “At Eternity's Gate” which is about Van Gogh life in Arles. There some statements that resonated deeply that I was astonished.Music is where | get most of my inspiration; I am true melomaniac. I adore music that makes me feel the great ecstasy of my emotions. I listen to a full broad spectrum of music: from Radiohead to Olafur Arnalds, or from Sigur Ros to Deftones.
•Tell us about the soul of your photography, why do you create this type of artwork?
- What always fascinated me was history and that timeless feeling:" Why doesn't a Vermeer painting get old? Why does classical music never feel outdated?" I don't believe in the notion of time for art. For me, art is something that opens your heart, that comes from your soul. I started studying a lot of painters and natural light. Just observing how the light and shadow displayed during my daily life. through this study and search I felt guidance to stop doing mainstream photography and start doing Art.
- I don't think I choose to do this kind of work, but that this work was in my path all along, that I was meant to do it. All the pain, suffering, and struggles I went through, and am still going - all my life prepared me to become the person I am today. It's not easy work because it's not all beautiful and positive, moreover it's very demanding and intense work. I have been a highly sensitive person with a very empathic capacity all my life, but due to not knowing what hsp (high sensitivity person) was, I felt like it was a burden, like I was broken. Through art I felt whole again, I understood why I am who I am, so I can feel others energy and emotions (joy or pain) and try, in the best way possible, to show it to the world.
- In a deeper sense: I use my own trauma to show how I feel and how others feel. I don't heal others, that's not my task, but I do provide tools to the protagonists to accept themselves and through that acceptance comes their healing.
• You are a very successful, multiple award photographer, but surely sometimes you have also experienced rejections. If so, could you share your experience with new artists and give them practical advice?
“MY BIGGEST ADVICE IS BEFORE SHOOTING ASK YOURSELF: "WHY DO I SHOOT? WHY AM I CREATING THIS? WHY AM I SPENDING MY TIME AND OTHERS TIME WITH THIS SHOOT?" THEN BE TRUTHFUL WITH YOURSELF, HONOR YOUR INTENTIONS AND SHOW IT TO YOUR MODELS. LISTEN TO THEM, BE THERE. AS MANY PROBLEMS YOU HAVE AT THAT TIME, AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT YOU ARE DEVOTING TIME TO YOUR VISION AND IN THIS TIMEFRAME THERE MUST BE NO PERSONAL PROBLEMS.”
- I don't see myself as someone very successful yet. I am who I am. I see myself as someone who is following a path and that path is still very long for which I feel very grateful, therefore. Rejections are a major part of an artist's life, because before you get a yes you will get 100 no's. You need to learn two things: believe in the value of your work and do not take things personally. If someone rejects your request for cooperation it doesn't mean that you or your work aren't good enough, no, it means that it wasn't meant to be at that time. If a magazine, or contest doesn't select your work, it means that it doesn't fit their vision at the time.
-The NO's will break you, if you let someone else decide what the value for your work is. However, you need to be open to rejection and constructive criticism. I can't stress this enough, if the criticism comes from someone who you respect and who creates work that you admire - listen and learn. This is the only way to grow but be selective in the ideas you listen to. Taking one good photo isn't hard. Taking one good photo in every shoot you do is hard.
- Consistency is the key. You will cry and suffer sometimes, but after a while, when you realize that it wasn't meant to be, it becomes less painful, because that NO is making you grow. Be grateful for all the NO's because then the YES's will feel so much better, and you will be proud of them. In my case, because my art is so personal (it's my way of healing), I also have moments of discomfort and frustration, but they don't linger. With the support of my friends, I put things quickly back in perspective.
• How do you establish such a very evident connection to your models? Could you share some tips?
- These connections are very demanding, but I am able to do it just by being who I am. No ego involved, just being there. I work with different types of models: young models and adult models. Each one requires an individual approach. For a younger model, I try to capture the beauty of purity, in the sense that in an inevitable way, this human being is going to experience pain, loss but also love and joy.
- I show my true self. I always communicate with the model and express my vision, my inspirations and what I want to achieve, but of course I will not go into many details about personal life stories. What I do, is show them that it is a safe environment to be themselves. For adult models, we mostly speak a lot before the shoot. We share our life stories and realize that we have common grounds, which we both identify with. Mostly the models with whom I work share a similar kind of energy and a common backstory, to which I can relate too. Without speaking -there is no shoot. My sessions take no longer than 20/30 minutes, but we speak for over 2/3 hours before the shoot. It is more about the feeling of safety and understanding, to actively listen instead of waiting for your turn to talk. This is everything because I do care about them. Several models have become friends after we collaborated.
“DUE TO MY HSP I FEEL THE PAIN WHEN STORIES ARE SHARED AND SO DURING THE SHOOTS OFTEN SEVERAL TIMES WE CRY. HOWEVER, I ALSO CRY FROM THE BEAUTY I AM VIEWING. WHEN THAT TIMELESS FEELING IS FELT – IT IS SOMETHING BEYOND WORDS. TO BE ABLE TO SHOW MY PROTAGONISTS: "DO YOU REALIZE HOW BEAUTIFUL YOUR SOUL IS? YOU LOOK LIKE YOU CAME OUT OF PAINTING", IS A SENTENCE THAT I FIND MYSELF REPEATING VERY OFTEN.
AT THE END OF THE SHOOTS, I NEED TO RELEASE THE ENERGY I HAVE ABSORBED BY GOING TO NATURE OR DO SOMETHING THAT BALANCES MY OWN ENERGY BACK.”