Milos Mali, who took this charming chicken photo in our Still Lifes issue, is a charming Polish guy who lives and works in Sydney. He regularly takes pictures for Russh, Vogue, Oyster and a bunch of other publications your little sister and I are constantly gushing over. While looking into his work, I realised I’d seen heaps of his images before without even knowing who he was so meeting him was a bit like closing a massive circle in my visual memory banks. Here, we talk about models, magazines, London, photogenic-ness, and how overpriced cameras are a chumps’ game.
VICE: I’ll start with some basic stuff, How long have you been in the industry for?
Milos Mali: Probably from like 1999 or something. 11 years.
What inspires your interest in photography?
Well it just happened, I just took a course at school. It was part of art class and I could never draw or anything, I had no artistic inclinations and I took photography and just realised I had something to say
When kind of stuff did you take photos of when you began?
The funny thing was my art teacher had a lot of nudie magazines, so that was kind of like my inspiration. But you know just pictures of my girlfriends and friends and stuff.
So you like taking photos of people?
More or less, yeah
A friend told me that you’re big on trying to get everyone to take off their pants and let you shoot them. Is it important for your subjects to forget that they’re being shot?
Well, I’m always striving for spontaneity. I try to get people to do silly things basically. Like the happiest days of work or the best thing about my job is that people do stupid things in front of the camera, that’s the fun element of it.
I saw your chicken still life. What sparked the idea behind that?
There really was no idea. My friends dad was just making a slow dinner. You guys were asking for submissions so I just sent a bunch of stuff, and then you guys took that one. But since then there’s meaning within it that I didn’t realise.
It’s weird how you can put a bunch of stuff together and then people will make their own meanings from it.
Well yeah that’s the thing like its got to do with editing and with what you decide to show. First it looks like a stupid picture of a chicken, but now I think about it, it tells a lot about me. My love for slow food, my love for beer. You know those sorts of things
I was looking through your work, and it’s just really weird because I’ve seen so much of your photography throughout the years since I was really young and I just never thought that I would actually talk to the photographer. The still lifes, the lipsticks in Russh and stuff…
Going back to that shoot for Russh, it turned out so beautiful but it was so simple. It came out of this Paul Theroux book, which was the first element that the stylist found and then we kinda just built on that. Technically it’s so simple, I mean I just shot that in her backyard. There’s no lighting or anything, it’s just a really simple picture, and it just works. When you keep things simple, and you work with people you like and you trust each other, good things happen that way.
Recently you did an editorial for Vogue…
That shoot was really simple. It was kind of catalogue, I think they were busy so they let me organize it. I like keeping things simple. People wonder what is it about my work that makes it stand out. It’s because I don’t do anything crazy technically and I have no bells and whistles. The casting is the most important thing. I don’t think a lot of people get that.
It's good to let the subjects speak for themselves
Well yes, but you have to pick the right things to photograph. That’s kind of my signature if anything.
What was working with Catherine McNeil like?
She was fine. She was a bit sick, but there were moments where she really came out. You can sort of tell why she’s a good model. A good model has to be kind of brave. If they trust you, and they like your work, then they kind of let go completely. It’s sort of a fun experience.
I have this question, heaps of kids today are buying really fancy cameras and claiming to be photographers, what advice can you as a real photographer give to these so called ones?
Well the thing is, all my assistants have better camera gear than I do (laughs) My camera’s falling apart, but I refuse to get a new one until this one is broken. I mean I can get a new camera but it won’t improve my photos. When I first did photography and was reading all the photography magazines it was a real head fuck because I was buying in to all that crap. That experience taught me a lot about magazines in that they are designed to make you feel insecure.
For two years I was really feeling shit having a shit camera, but the camera doesn’t make the picture. Most of the cameras out there are too good for people anyway. What I’d say to students is to learn to get the most out of the camera you have before you move on to the next thing. It’s a waste of money. Especially digital cameras. You spend 2000, 3000 dollars on a digital camera, and then its worth like 500 dollars the next year.
The other thing I’d say is rather than buying a stupid camera, go buy yourself a plane ticket and go away somewhere.
I agree with that, do you have a favorite city?
I lived in London for like six years, I have fond memories of that place and I miss it a lot. London probably is my favorite city because its big and there’s so much happening. I’ve lived in New York as well but New York is a little smaller in a way.
Really? New York is huge
Well it’s big but the funny thing is, things only happen in certain areas. Whereas the thing with London is the city is more utilized you know?
Looking through your blog you seem to work with models a lot, you take heaps of photos for their portfolios. What’s it like working with really beautiful girls on a regular basis?
It’s sort of annoying. The thing is, it’s sort of like a job where it fucks with women’s self esteem because you are always surrounded by these ridiculous looking people. It’s fun initially, but after a while you kinda get over it. It makes you have these ridiculous expectations. It’s not the healthiest sort of thing, but whatever.
In your own words, briefly tell me what photography means to you
For me personally; it helps me to define my world. For me it reveals things about the world. Like lately I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, I shoot digital, but they always end up on the computer and you never see them again, but now I’ve been doing film and you start to see things you never notice in the pictures.
What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?
I don’t really think I take good photos
What about a favorite one?
Like, you mean something I’ve seen?
Anything you’ve taken that you’ve liked
I don’t think I can pick out one photo but the favorite ones are the ones of people that are close to me. I’ve taken some good photos of my friend Michella.
What about a photo you love that someone else has taken?
I really love Alfred Stieglitz’ Cloud equivalents. He bought modern art to America, and pretty much did these series of pictures of just clouds. They’re small like four by five inches and they’re sort of abstract. They evoke all these meanings. I think they really show the power of photography.
Who are your influences and what techniques do you like using in your photos?
I really love Walker Evans, he’s an old school photographer. The thing is though, he does things really basically. He was doing flash on camera when he was in the great depression. They are just so contemporary. He’s the biggest influence to me I think.
Sometimes I see something that I really wanna take a photo of, but as soon as I take a photo it is nothing like how I saw it without the camera. Does this happen to you? And how do you combat this?
Well, sure this happens all the time. Basically I mean the thing is, it happens less with practice. Overtime, the more pictures you take you learn what works and what doesn’t work. Just take a lot of pictures and you’ll learn what subjects works and what doesn’t
Why do you reckon some people look good on camera and some don’t? Do you ever think someone will look good in a photo, but then as soon as you photography them, they don’t look as good as they do in reality?
A photograph is a moment frozen in time. When you look at someone and you think they’re beautiful, it’s because you know their personality, their whole person you know, their movements etc. Sometimes people that aren’t conventionally beautiful but are comfortable and confident. They photograph well.
Good looking is the most boring form of human representation. I saw a photo of this guy with a really badly pock marked face yesterday, but he looked beautiful, he looked amazing.
Give us some imagery that you like
At the moment I’m into sexy girls reading (laughs) I want to do a whole series and pictures of puppies.
She recently got married