When we imagine editorial and celebrity photo shoots, we think of high intensity, glamour, and many moving pieces. Makeup artists, hair stylists, and fashion stylists run about with urgency, all under the auspice of a demanding photographer. However, after seeing one special photographer on set, working alongside the likes of Nigel Barker, Carol Alt, Irina Pantaeva, and Iris Apfel, I can attest that Vital Agibalow truly breaks the mold.
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As he worked the camera with quick bursts of intensity, Vital never wiped the professional yet inviting half-smile-half-smirk from his face—and the effects were evident. Most of us cower in the face of fame, but Vital’s lighthearted and sensitive demeanor allowed his subjects to open up in ways I had never previously seen.
The result: Portraits of each subject’s inner being—comfortable, raw, and vulnerable. I absolutely had to sit down with Vital to try and understand the masterful mind behind this photographer’s prowess.
Tell me a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? How did you become a photographer?
I’m New York-based, but my roots are in Sweden, Russia, and Ukraine. When I was 7, my dad gave me my first camera—a Leica—as a birthday present. I fell in love with it. I started taking portraits of the other kids in my neighborhood. There’s something about portrait photography that has clearly inspired me since an early age. By the age of 20, I started working with local modeling agencies, and I opened my own business by the time I was 21.
That’s incredible that you started so young. How has your photography changed since then?
Those were the film days. As a photographer, you couldn’t afford to make a mistake back then. Now everyone shoots digital, so you can see the shot on display, which makes it all so much easier. But I’m proud to say I started as an original film photographer.
Why does your background in original film matter?
Well, it builds credibility. It makes me more professional than any newbie these days who starts with a digital camera and doesn’t know what it means to shoot slides. You have to be much more accurate when doing so.
That’s fascinating; I never thought of that. So, I know you love portraits—why is that your favorite style?
I love working with people and seeing their reactions when they see themselves from different angles—it is priceless! But I do also work with fashion designers, which is a whole different world!
Who was the most challenging designer to shoot?
Probably shooting Karl Lagerfeld’s portraits. Our time in the studio was limited to only 30 minutes, which is a photographer’s worst nightmare! But the results were so good. He really liked the images, which is huge, since he’s a photographer himself. Karl’s portrait was published in BELLA Magazine and many others, so the hard work paid off.
Do you have any recommendations for others interested in pursuing a career like yours?
Do it only if you really enjoy it. Don’t do it for the money, but for the art. You’d be shocked how much money you can make when you prioritize the art first.
That’s great advice. So, what new projects are you working on right now? Where can we see your work?
Most recently, I worked with legendary supermodel Carol Alt for her new show on FNL Network, “Carol Alt’s Living Room.” But there are some other interesting side projects, too! Lately I’ve been working with beauty and fashion bloggers like Kate Romanoff, and my work was recently featured in a book released in Europe by CAPRICE magazine, “Supermodels 2020.”
You have a brand partnership with HENSEL, right? Tell me a little about that.
HENSEL is a German brand that produces professional lights for photographers. I’ve been the brand ambassador for this company since 2008. I’m using their lights on each and every shoot, and I’m proud to promote them in my studio and through my work.
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