Cover image shot by Michal Pudelka for Time Magazine, January 2018 issue.
Michal Pudelka is a young photographer from Bratislava, Slovakia whose photography style stands out distinctly against the vast sea of fashion imagery shot today. It all started when Pudelka signed with one of the sharpest agents in the fashion business. Thanks to that relationship Pudelka scored a Valentino campaign typically reserved for big name photographers like Steven Miesel. After that Michal’s name began circulating in the upper echelons of the fashion industry and he went on to shoot with other big names and other big publications. In this interview I spoke with him about how he started in the industry and I tried to uncover the secrets behind his unique style.
I learned a few surprising things about Michal such as the fact that the artist’s muse is Barbi! He collects vintage Barbie dolls. “It is more of an obsession than just a hobby” he told me, “sometimes I can spend hours or days on ebay looking for the right one. I have around 250 of them now. I collect them in a never-removed-from-the-box way, and soon there will be no space left in my apartment!”
I also learned that for his most notable work, the “Girls” series, Michal and his partner Katarina Gyu do everything themselves. When I asked how they met and how they partner together he said “(Katarina is) my best friend, producer and muse”, he said, “together we work to find the right girls, the right location and even create the clothes to ensure everything fits perfectly.”
And when I asked why he focused on girls as his primary subject he said, “I’ve never really thought about why I focus on girls in my work, it all comes so naturally. I guess I always saw a woman as a more beautiful creature. Since my work is all about my world, my world is a woman dominated place. From an early age I loved this mean look about women – for example in The Little Mermaid I always liked Ursula, the bad octopus, much more. Also there are those communistic, cold roots in me (he joked).”
My world is a woman dominated place.
The inspirational “Girls” series was what brought clients to his doorstep including Valentino (update 12/2017 also Vogue Italia, Vogue Japan and, more recently, the H&M x Erdem campaign was shot by Pudelka). He credited his agent Katy Barker. “I joined Katy Barker’s agency and I couldn’t be happier, she is a legend! She has built up the careers of many artists, for example Terry Richardson and Craig McDean. I also added a first assistant, Sebastian Abugattas, and he is a great artist himself.”
Regarding his education Pudelka says he is a self taught artist, “I used to go to art university in Paris but I left after a couple months. I don’t believe in educating in art, the point of view is too subjective.” And although he didn’t find much value at university he admited he was first inspired to become a photographer thanks to a school project, sort of, “It was in the foundation year at university, when I had to buy a camera to capture all my projects. I didn’t really like the school so instead of going to classes I rather stayed at home, drank and took pictures of myself. In that time I realized my passion for photography.”
It was a good thing he did. His hobby translated into multiple season campaign deals with Valentino. It was the perfect fit, during that time the Valentino brand was exploring dark romanticism circa the Pre-Rafaelite era.
Michal ended our interview with this tidbit about his style, “I try to capture the current movement in today’s society…”
That wrapped it up.
Interview originally conducted by Nichelle Cole (August 2015)