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PROFESSIONALS, FOUNDERS, AND SMALL BUSINESS
Used with permission | DarioAcosta.com
(San Francisco, CA) - If you’re an opera fan, or a even a casual reader of Opera News, you’ve probably seen Dario Acosta’s photography of rising and established artists, as well as well-known public figures. I first encountered opera’s most celebrated lensman on Instagram in 2015. @darioshoots is an excellent, behind the scenes look at Dario’s work, as well as the opera world, but his Instagram Stories often carry up to the moment commentary, outtakes, and his latest project sneak peeks.
Dario and I have built a nice rapport through Instagram, but we’ve yet to meet in person - a recent, possible Santa Fe Opera pit stop on my way to the airport didn’t quite pan out. However, I’ve been reflecting on the multi-platform influence Dario’s work has on how we see opera today, within opera spheres and beyond. As many of you know, I ascribe to the notion that opera singers - and classical artists in general - are brands. It’s my opinion that Dario’s work is integral to establishing - and reinforcing - his subjects’ respective brand identities, narratives and recognition.
I was thrilled Dario agreed to do a BrandStoryNow Q&A with me, which we recently conducted via email and telephone. My sincerest thanks to Dario, a delight to collaborate!
BSN: In addition to having talent, singers must strive to find their niche. This includes establishing a unique narrative that explains their talent, training, interpretation of the rep / new work, interests, and who they are as individuals in this competitive business of opera. How do you reflect, magnify, and/or help establish some or all of the above for your clients?
DARIO: I’ve been shooting singers now longer than I’d probably like to admit! When I started, I had young singers come to me for a portrait session. (Note: Acosta prefers “portrait” versus “headshot” since the latter makes him feel “cookie-cutter.”) At the time, I recall researching other young singers’ portraits, which were a little boring, stiff, with little to no personality. I was determined to change that…that singers (I photographed) didn’t follow (portrait) norms, that they were more current, not old-fashioned, glossy. Why do we have to do it like that (i.e. in this style) when serious artists are young, talented, and health-conscious? Their unique personality and enthusiasm should shine through. So, let’s shoot it like we're shooting for a fashion magazine, editorially. It’s so much more dynamic...an artist’s image is so important, it should stop people and get them interested in who this person is.
Hair and makeup is an important part of it, too, for both women and men, as well as wardrobe (Note: Acosta often works NYC-based makeup artist Affar Graber Malik). This all goes towards making a person feel comfortable. By the time we get to the shoot, it’s playtime. At this point, clients / subjects have trust, so I try to please them, as well as myself with something iconic (i.e. work product). I sincerely enjoy what I do, and I’m glad that people see that. I enjoy appreciation for my work, but I want you to look at the picture...it's the collaboration that I mold into something beautiful in that moment.
BSN: My own retail advertising experience exposed me to the value of compelling fashion story photography. Speaking to Santa Fe Opera's 2018 season work product (“Candide,” “Dr. Atomic,” “Madame Butterfly,” “The Italian Girl In Algiers,” “Ariadne Auf Naxos”), Solomon Howard's "True Believer," Ailyn Pérez's "Pure Magic," Opera Philadelphia's O17 "On The Town," and harpist Emmanuel Ceysson’s "Harp Throb,” how do you set out to create the signature Dario Acosta visual narrative and brand experience? In addition to opera singers and classical artists, you also work with brands like opera houses and opera-related publications. Please share what you like on the above?
DARIO: Well, I studied art, and got my BFA from The School of Visual Arts (New York City). They taught us the art of the image - nothing commercial. (The former) is the driving force behind my work. For me, an image is meant to be timeless, and the combination of the universe coming together at that moment to produce the best possible portrait for that particular moment in time. I know it all sounds ‘artsy,’ but it’s really my sincere approach; I try to place myself into a given (photo) shoot 1000 percent, I believe each artist deserves this. (My subjects) have put years and years into their art, I think they deserve collaborations that are equivalent. I have supreme appreciation for what it takes to live in this world as an artist, whether your art form is visual or musical or written. It’s an honor to have these opportunities.
I constantly push myself, to not stay in a comfortable place. I am always trying to move my work forward, to not be stagnant, or to repeat the same approach over and over. Every single shoot should be unique and original. With artist photo shoots, I like to think of myself as a chef who makes a meal with what he or she has on hand. I can certainly have a vision of what I want for that shoot, on the day, but until I see ‘my ingredients,’ I’m not committed to anything visually. I allow for the universe to throw in things. I’m also flexible if (my pre-conceived concepts) just don’t work with someone. Together, we move on to find something that works for my subject while also creating something special, too.
For the most part, my studio is bare because every shoot requires a different approach, which keeps me creative, not complacent. Of course, I know that at the end of the day, I must produce. But, I also know that we should produce something special. Thankfully, the artists who work with me come to have complete faith in our collaboration, which ends up being the most important ingredient.
Working with opera businesses, collaboration is amazing here, too. My collaboration with art directors and design directors is very important to the end product. First, we discuss what needs to happen…many have, for the most part, let me run with it. We discuss the look and various concepts, and then work together on set so that we get the result we're after. Afterwards, we discuss the overall look of the images. Backing up, we usually have a storyboard of concepts to visually drive the shoot, and then rely on the subject to do the rest.
Magazine work is mostly the same. We come up with the concept and then decide whether lighting, props, wardrobe, color or background is an underlying unifier. Then we see what works within that creative space for the artist. The success of any project depends on collaboration, mutual respect, and giving it our all.
The Santa Fe Opera project! Well, in this case the subjects were the opera house and the southwest. The featured singers (from the upcoming 2018 season) worked with the architecture as they would with a production (i.e. onstage design). I conducted, the opera house was the orchestra, and the singers performed! In the end, it’s amazing how similar all art forms are.
BSN: Please describe your dream project.
DARIO: Hmm. Ok, honestly, without sounding like an idiot, my dream project is every new shoot! I see each as an opportunity to create something amazing for the client and for myself, too…something that will last and become iconic. My dream project is to create iconic imagery for our artists. Images that make you forget you’re looking at a photograph.
Learn more about Dario Acosta.
Contact Dario and visit him on Instagram.
BrandStoryNow is the how-to marketing training experience for professionals, founders, and small business owners. BrandStoryNow helps startups and small businesses establish unique brand identity, compelling storytelling, and winning brand strategy with return. Presented by James Mowdy, founder of BSPOKE LLC, with guest collaborators and presenters. The BrandStoryNow webinar launches in Fall 2018.