Photographer Vitali Gelwich is bringing high fashion imagery to underground sounds
Vitali Gelwich is the Berlin-based photographer behind our Issue 75 cover shoot with producer and DJ Helena Hauff. We sit down with the artist to discuss how he accentuates artistic personas with high fashion visuals
Gelwich’s arresting images encapsulate a powerful and dreamy vision of youth and music. The Berlin-based 27-year-old artist first came to the German capital with the same direction and idea as many creatives in his position – and that was to arrive with no direction at all. Speaking with Gelwich, he expresses how he had no firm understanding in what was his calling, simply choosing to move to the city to forge deep connections with friends and draw inspiration from the capital’s inexhaustive arts scene. It was, according to Gelwich’s estimate, approximately five or six years ago that he first picked up a camera in Berlin, after starting a showroom at fashion week. Since that moment, he’s created high fashion images for Highsnobiety, VIUeyewear, Reebok, Nike and Polish brand MISBHV; and lensed DJ Helena Hauff, Yves Tumor and Sevdaliza for Crack.
His Instagram feed – the most essential viewing platform for photographers in our internet age – comprises of styled, yet honest portraits that characterise the strength of his subjects. For example, Helena Hauff’s outsider perspective is brought to the surface through Gelwich’s lens. In his art, he manages to harness her darkness and power through image. It comes as a surprise then, to hear from the photographer that he doesn’t hold any knowledge beforehand of the musicians he shoots for Crack, preferring to interact with just their character, detached from the art, in order to create his own portrait of them.
His body of work contains the balance of vivid, yet muted, shades. Deep red and burnt orange backdrops are often cast against models, and soft shadows enclose his subjects to add depth to the images. The use of coloured lighting in his portraits is somewhat reminiscent of club lights, with illuminated teals and alien greens reflected onto faces. However, when questioned on his style, Gelwich simply says that he has his own.
Below, we speak to the Berlin photographer on how he created that Helena Hauff cover shoot, what music he enjoys listening to, and his fashion sense.
Could you tell us a bit about how you first got into photography?
I was new to Berlin and started with an internship in fashion. To be honest, from my standpoint, now I realise I had no idea what I really wanted to do; I just wanted to be in Berlin and get inspired by friends who’d gone there after finishing school.
I started a small showroom during fashion week and bought my first camera. Back then, I had no clue what I was doing but I just did it. But after a while I started to get deeper into photography. Those early pictures were awful! But I wanted to have something that no-one could take away from me – it was kinda like my diary. I quickly decided that this is it; this is what I wanted to do. I bought my first equipment and started to study at Berlin’s University of Arts. It’s called Gesellschafts und Wirtschaftskommunikation in German. I think around three years ago, I quit university and started photography full time.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Right now, it’s my own style. I feel like after all this time, I found a way of taking pictures of people and things and environments in my own language. Of course, I’m inspired by many other great people too.
For Crack Magazine’s Helena Hauff cover shoot, where did you draw your inspiration and references from?
In many cases, it’s 50 percent planning and the rest happens when I look through the lens. I discussed the styling with Fabiana [Vardaro] and I wanted to shoot Helena at this empty trucker place next to a fuel station. When stuff feels right, I just do it.
The funny thing about this story was that I think you guys expected a studio story, but I wanted to go out with Helena. After shooting a lot in my studio, I just felt like I wanted to use Berlin differently and find a spot for her that shows sides to Berlin that people don’t know. It went pretty well, and the product was a really beautiful story that I’m very happy with.
Who are some of your favourite fashion designers and how would you describe your personal style of dress?
I don’t know any designers. To be honest, I’m not really into all this fashion knowledge. Despite that, there are many high fashion brands that I like but I think my personal taste changes monthly. I don’t see them fashion-wise, I see them in a visual way, and I like to go through their campaigns and their visual work. But what I’m really interested in is their visual approach. So it can be every brand that I like – from newcomers to big houses, it doesn’t matter; I’m pretty simple. I dress the same every day, my people know that! While talking to my stylists of course, we go through a lot of brands, but that’s always concerning the final visuals we are producing. Shoutout to my Adidas fam, by the way.
Could you describe your personal music taste?
My music taste is awful! Basically, I listen to everything but mainly hip-hop. German and American hip-hop, and lately a lot of trap and cloud rap. I always listened to hip-hop as a kid; I think my brother led me, and this never changed. When I was younger, I tried to be a DJ and failed super fast, so I had a little period of being into electronic music. But when I listen to my heart and what makes me happy, it’s rap.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I just started a lot of directing this month. It’s what actually really makes me happy and I’m learning more and more about all visual processes. And actually, today as I’m writing, my first Highsnobiety cover with Hyukoh was released, and I’m really happy with it.
What would your advice be to an aspiring photographer who’s just starting out?
Use your eye and your heart. Start to think with your eyes. Try to understand light and find people who you love and never let them go. Build up a crew of people that you can trust and that you love to work with. Don’t try to do everything, try to do your thing. Never get lazy, always stay hungry.