Glamazonia. The Vogue Africa Campaign. BEAUTIFUL. These are just some of the outstanding projects by Paris-based commercial beauty and fashion photographer Mario Epanya. Throughout his career, he’s been working to promote “diversity in fashion and portraiture through a visual story of black beauty”. Originally from Cameroon, his career started in 1995 as a self-taught hair and makeup artist. By 2000, he had moved to France and took formal education to become a professional makeup artist. This progression led him to work for Dessange Paris, as well as, an assistant for art agencies that connected him to several high fashion brands. It wasn’t until 2007 that he branched into photography and opened his studio – Studioepanya -where his buzz-worthy campaigns were captured. We got in touch with Epanya to learn a little more about his career and industry tidbits he’s gained along the way.
What or who got you started in photography?
Well back in 2007 I was so pissed at my boss that I quit my job as studio makeup artist. Since I’m passionate about the fashion industry and didn’t want to leave it, I decided to start beauty photography.
How would you describe your style?
My style is commercial and polished. It’s not trying to be high -fashion, trendy or hype. My photography is clean and classic.
Why focus on portraiture to communicate your personal art?
My background as hair & makeup artist has a lot to do with my decision to be a beauty and portrait photographer. I love bone structure, eyes expression, different colours, shades and hair texture.
Does your personal art depart from your marketing portfolio?
I’ll say my personal art is a little different from my marketing or commercial portfolio. This is because there’s a big difference between the needs of the clients and your vision as an artist. So, you’ve always got to separate both and deal with it. But I must say, you have more freedom to grow as a technician with your personal portfolio. It’s more about your vision.
What kind of assignments in editorial and advertising do you like the most?
BEAUTY for sure! It’s always my go to but since 2015, I started to work in a new niche known as Still Life Photography. It’s totally different from what I used to do and gives me a different perspective about lighting and composition. You certainly become a better technician.
Do you have a method for gaining new editorial and advertising clients?
I must admit, things have changed these last years. Most of my clients come to me because they’ve heard about or read an article about my work. It makes things easier, because the struggle is real nowadays with the increase of new technologies and new-comers. I just keep doing what I’m good at and try new things from time to time. What I’ve learnt from my personal experience is that clients come to you because they are interested in your vision.
What’s the importance of doing personal projects as an artist?
Personal projects are EVERYTHING for any photographer because that’s the only way to grow as a visual artist and technician, knowing your gear and new technologies. It makes you aware of your weaknesses and helps to set up your photography game.
How many should you do in a year?
There’s no right or wrong because each photography niche has his own specifications. As a beauty photographer, for instance, I work a lot with different light shape modifiers to see the effect they’ll have on the skin and face structures. I also work with different lenses to compare distortion whereas a landscape photographer will be more focused on composition, weather, tripods and more. The only thing I can advise is to PRATICE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, ALWAYS!
How do you get from idea to final product?
LORD, this is the hardest part in photography! You can have an idea that can come to reality after years and others in just a week. My journey is often a long and hard creative process because it’s got to mean something. But to summarize the process:
- Start with an idea; of course.
- Draw it out – Mood boards are the key to ensuring you and your team are on the same page.
- Post -production and Voila
What are your thoughts on the responsibility of an artist to address issues in society?
As I mentioned earlier, for me, ART must mean something! It’s the Alpha for every form of art, be it music, films, poetry, dance or photography. When you’re in position to do it, use your voice to make change; big or small.
What do you hope people will take away from your art?
This is hard for me to respond to since I am not in their shoes, but, I hope that through my art I will inspire others to be open to one another. To accept our differences. To be curious and to work hard to achieve their dreams.
Why was the time right to release BEAUTIFUL… in particular, why a book in an era of digital migration?
I’m an old school man. I think there are lot of people, included myself, who like glossy art books. I may be wrong, but I think this digital era will soon show its limits and people will come back to the “Essentials ” such as spending time together instead of “instagraming”. Let’s just say that the world will find the right balance between both.
What has been the most interesting / shocking feedback from your campaigns?
When it comes to feedback, I take the good and the bad. In general, they are constructive and help you to have another approach on your work. I remember in the beginning of my career, some people told me the post-processing was a little overdone. Even if it was on purpose, due to my renaissance painting influence and drawing background, I learned to be subtler and hire professional retouchers. Usually it’s good feedback, nothing mean or disrespectful. People are mostly encouraging and love what I do.
As a photographer do you insure your pieces? Yes, I got insurance for most of my expensive pieces.
What other smart business moves should be budding photographers consider before joining the field.
Not spending a lot of money on gear immediately. They’ve first got to figure out what type of photography they want to do and once they know they can buy specific lenses and gear. And if they are planning to go professional, please take some marketing classes. This is very important because photography is a business first.
What type of camera do you shoot with? NIKON D800
What issues do you wish were highlighted in the industry?
Copyrights violations, especially in this digital era. As soon as your photos are on the internet, they belong to everyone.
What is your favourite image you have shot recently?
The shoot with Sonia Rolland, Miss France 2000, as a Voodoo Queen for Divas Magazine. It is a studio shoot and the mood is very mystical. I chose very simple lighting, setting up two lights and a grey background. the composition of her in the middle of the frame and the gin dancing around her can make her look like Shiva. While creating that image, I wanted to portray in a modern way the essence of some African ritual, as well as, the reappropriation of our culture and beliefs. showing it in a very subtle way in a fashion shoot with a woman like Sonia Rolland, who is a high -profile biracial (Black/white), is something I’m very proud of visually and symbolically.
What do you think of the photography industry in Africa now and where do you see it 5 years?
What I see on social medial now is already very impressive! I’ve always said AFRICA IS THE FUTURE. The beauty of it is that it’s pure and innocent. The only thing I wish is that Africa would tell its OWN STORY. You have so much to say! I also advocate for Africans to financially support their entrepreneurs. Buy MADE IN AFRICAN by AFRICANS. African money should go into African POCKETS.
What’s next for you?
Lots of personal projects and new photography niches that you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out!