Possessing a portfolio, which includes varied work in publications such as Interview, Vanity Fair, and i-D, photographer Xevi Muntané is no stranger to fashion. Muntané’s formal introduction to photography began with his studies at the IEFC in Barcelona. However, it was his decision to study at the International Center of Photography in New York City, which led to him turning his attention to fashion.
Interning at Art and Commerce, it was not long before Muntané found himself assisting photography icons like David Lachapelle and Ellen von Unwerth. Meeting the right people, namely Stephen Gan of V fame, Muntané went down the path of carving a name for himself in fashion. Working with great bravado as an image-maker, Muntané’s photography elicits a strong reaction with defined narratives and an easy charisma.
Xevi Muntané Interview
How long have you been a fashion photographer? I’ve been a professional photographer for about 15 years now.
How did you start? I moved to Barcelona when I was 18 and went to photography school there for three years. I wasn’t sure what kind of photographer I wanted to be at the time. I liked fashion but I was afraid that if I stayed in Barcelona I was going to end up being a wedding photographer or an assistant for the rest of my life so at 21 I decided to move to New York for to study one last year and figure out if fashion was what I was born to do.
What did you do once arriving in New York? I enrolled in a one year program at ICP, the International Center of Photography and I ended up staying in NYC for ten years. After ICP I became an intern at Art and Commerce, and that’s where I learned how the real world of fashion photography works. Through Art and Commerce, I got in touch with star photographers like Steven Meisel or Annie Leibovitz, and I started assisting Ellen von Unwerth and David Lachapelle, that was around 1999 or 2000.
I decided soon that I was the worst assistant ever and I decided to jump out on my own. Going around NYC, I met a lot of people…one of them being Stephen Gan. Steven liked the two pictures that were in my ‘portfolio’ and even though I was very young, he gave me a chance, which is something that only happens in NYC. People don’t care about your age or lack of experience there. If they like what you do they embrace you and help you.
Steven asked me to shoot for V magazine: my first fashion shoot was with Karen Elson and for V magazine! Then I went for my first time to London and met brilliant people there too. Terry Jones from i-D let me come to his office and with four pictures in my little portfolio asked me to shoot Hedi Slimane for the magazine. And little by little I was published and learned more as I went by.
How would you describe your work? My work is childish and sexy. Very graphic. I try to synthesize to the essentials. I try to do iconic images. That’s what I enjoy the most. And It happens best with portraits. When I shoot celebrities is when I’m the happiest. I’m a pop photographer. Popular culture is what I grew up with. All my references come from popular culture and even the trashiest aspects of popular culture. My hero is Jean-Baptiste Mondino. I can be very eclectic and change styles or accommodate to whatever the project needs but even changing from natural light to studio flashes; I try to get as iconic as I can.
When it comes to shooting fashion editorials, what is your starting process? It’s always different. It depends on the team. Sometimes it’s the magazine that gives me a direction or a theme; sometimes I can propose an idea of my own. I also work closely with the stylist or the art director. And I’m pleased and open to proposals and work well with good art directors. I’ll follow an idea that is not mine at all if the idea is good and comes from a good art director, a good stylist or the editor-in-chief.
What is the most memorable shoot you have done to date? There are a few that are close to my heart, but I’m especially fond of the story I did with Tilda Swinton for Candy magazine. Luis Venegas is a genius art director, and when I offered him the chance to have Tilda for Candy since I knew her from another shoot we had done together sometime before, I suggested to Luis to do her in drag as a man since Tilda is so androgynous, but Luis thought further than this and came up with the idea to do her in women drag. That is: a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman!
I thought it was genius and we worked closely with Jerry Stafford and decided to create four characters for Tilda as a drag queen. It was a two-day shoot in Paris, and I will never forget it. Tilda is an Oscar-winning actress, a real master of her craft. She acted in the characters while I was shooting. She was like in a trance, I couldn’t give any direction, she wouldn’t listen, and there was no need for direction. Tilda did it all. It was terrific, just incredibly amazing. I’m very proud of that particular project.
What model have you enjoyed working with the most? I would say Naomi Campbell for V magazine. I was so young; 22 or 23, and Naomi was lovely to me. I didn’t expect that. She was very harsh to the stylist, but for some reason, she was super friendly to me. The stylist wanted her to wear a tight overall from Zaldy, and she refused because she said she was bloated, lol, so I had to talk her into it and I finally convinced her. It was great; I was so overwhelmed.
How would you describe the relationship between photographer and stylist? It’s a necessary and most important relationship. Fashion photography always ends up being the collaboration between the photographer and the stylist. You are working hand in hand during the photo session. You have to solve the problems together as you go. So you have to have a great deal of respect and admiration with each other. Every time I’ve shot with a stylist I didn’t get along with, the shoot ended up being a disaster. That’s why I always try to shoot with stylists that are close friends and that I’ve worked together for a long time.
How has the fashion industry changed in regards to photography since you began? It has changed a lot. Now it’s all about the digital world. Big fashion campaigns are disappearing. There are not two seasons now. There is a season each week on the internet. Zara puts new clothes out each week online. It’s all about the online world now. And social media is changing everything. A client will go to my Instagram first to hire me instead of going to my website. It’s insane. Magazines that were monthly are now quarterly, and they are more collector items than magazines as they used to be. But I’m comfortable with the way it’s changing I must say.
What is your take on social media and fashion? In my heart, I despise what is happening, but I go with the flow. I have little or no respect for influencers, but that’s the wrong way to go. I have to learn to accept the new rules of the game. And I must say that when I’ve had to shoot an influencer, I have to admit that their charm won my heart.
Does it affect your work? It affects my Instagram! Lol, I refuse to use Instagram exclusively as a platform of my work. I like to mix my personal life and my work on Instagram, and it drives my agent crazy, especially when I upload pictures of myself shirtless.
Have you noticed a shift in the type of models working today? Not really. You have your Brazilian Victoria Secret supermodels, and you have your natural light skinny bones beauties on i-D. There’s also the new breed of Instagram supermodels, maybe that’s the only thing that has changed. The social media supermodels are the only thing that has changed. But I love Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner.
What differentiates the Spanish market from others like New York, London, etc.? The Spanish market was very local but we had huge companies like Zara, Mango or Tous and they use to shoot their campaigns with local Spanish photographers, but then with globalization, the market directors of these companies discovered that they had enough money to work with superstar photographers like Testino or David Sims. So now I don’t see many differences between Spain, New York or Paris.