HESTIA TALKS: AN INTERVIEW WITH FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER JUSTIN WU

HESTIA TALKS: AN INTERVIEW WITH FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER JUSTIN WU

November 14, 2019

Justin Wu is quickly becoming one of the youngest and brightest advanced fashion photographers in the creative world. Born and raised in Toronto, he is a graduate of Upper College Canada, Ivey at Western and HEC Paris, where his UCC teachers knew that he was “destined to work in the arts” even before he made his own career realization.                                                                                    
Frequently travelling the globe, working mostly out Paris, New York, London and Toronto, he is both an acclaimed fashion photographer and short-film director; his micro-film, Overtime, was the audience award winner at the TIFF x Instagram Shorts Festival in 2017; and he has contributed to creative publications like Vogue, Elle, L’Officiel and GQ. And just a couple months ago, he co-founded the UN Environmental initiative called “The World is in Our Hands,” which calls upon high-profile personalities and influencers to use their voice to shine a spotlight on the global climate emergency.

We partnered together on the new HESTIA campaign, for the launch of new collections HEARTH and COMPOSITION, which were shot by Justin at his Toronto studio.

Can you tell us about yourself and how you got started in photography? And how you got involved in the world of fine jewelry and fashion.

I was born and raised in Toronto, but spent most of my adult life between Paris and New York. I got started in photography when my parents got me my first camera thinking it was a fast art compared to the hours I used to toil sketching and drawing growing up. Ironically I dedicated much more time in photography than any of the arts and it became my medium of choice.

In my early years as a photographer I dabbled in art photography with a couple private gallery shows and trained in photojournalism. However, it was my discovery of fashion photography where I found my calling. I built a photo studio while I was in University and became the style editor of the campus paper. Fortunately while I was still in school I was scouted by a photo agency in Toronto who pushed me to New York and then Paris. Once there I was in fashion mecca and I flourished quickly shooting for fashion magazines like Elle and L’Officiel. It’s there I developed my appreciation of the craft that goes into fine jewelry and the worlds they embody.

 

How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

I think my work is generally characterized as being darker and more cinematic. The way I paint my scenes with light and shadow and direct the talent is how I direct a scene in film. I like to leave the viewer with a sense of intrigue and curiosity to know more.

 

Many regard you as among the hottest young fashion photographers. What advice do you have for the next generation of photographers?

My best advice is to be disciplined in your practice and to be open to experimentation. Be consistent in your style, but give yourself the freedom to evolve.

 

What are the different types of jewelry photography, and what do you believe are the characteristics of good jewelry photography?

I think the different types are dependent on what the photographer wants you to focus on. I find the best jewelry photography or any photography is about establishing a connection with the model or subject. And he or she has to be directed to feel natural and embody the world those jewels live in. The moment the piece looks like it's wearing the person, it breaks the illusion and the photo feels unnatural. Good jewelry photography needs to evoke a sense of desire and precise control use of lighting to make the pieces pop, but seem real. 

 

What kind of impact do you hope to make in the fashion world in the next 10-15 years?

I hope to break the mold and redefine what the fashion world could be. For years it has always been this elitist club curated by top magazines and fashion houses, but as it becomes more accessible I believe it opens itself up to more innovation, creativity, and diversity.

 

What are the biggest challenges of working in both Toronto and Paris?

I’d say it’s the cross cultural differences and client expectations. As much as brands like to be international, they have to serve their local market first. So when it comes to pitching ideas, it’s critical to keep up to date with the local and international market trends and come up with novel ways to satisfy both. 

 

What are some of your biggest inspirations? And are there any artists/photographers who have inspired your art?

I find most of my inspiration comes from all forms of self-expression and art. This ranges from fine art photographers like Edward Burtynsky to filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai and earlier works by Darren Aronofsky. A good story can stimulate the mind and open it to new possibilities. 

 

Of all the projects and images you’ve made so far in your career, which is your favorite and why? 

I’d have to say it was the latest campaign I co-founded for the United Nations, #WorldIsInOurHands. It’s an action-oriented awareness social media campaign designed to educate the public on what we can all do day-to-day to curve our carbon footprint and curb the climate crisis. I was able to work with and shoot living legends like Joaquin Phoenix, Susan Sarandon, Antonio Banderas  Rosario Dawson, Alec Baldwin, and so many more. It’s now become a movement for change and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved. 

 

What projects are you working on now?

As many may or may not know, I’m also a film director heading into television and features. I just graduated from the Ryan Murphy Half Program in Los Angeles and I hope to direct an episode of serialized television soon! 

 

So who is Justin Wu? Any final words of wisdom?

I’d like to think that I’m a kind, generous, and giving person whose aim in life is to inspire good in others. 

Final words of wisdom: Take chances, be brave, and believe in yourself. 

 



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