A photographer, set and costume designer, lightning and make up artist: he is a one man show. Franz Szony learnt how to do everything to create the image he had in his head when living in Nevada, and even though he’s been based in Los Angeles for some time now, he still feels the excitement when he has to do most parts of the job. Currently working on his music project, we talk to him about beauty, his endless referents and how he became an artist.
How did you become an artist?
My desire to create started at a young age. My mom enrolled me in art lessons when I was seven years old, but I think the desire was there even prior. To me being an artist is something inherent, you come into the world with it, and it progresses if you nurture it.
You are from Nevada but you moved to Los Angeles. How have the two places influenced you personally and professionally?
The work I made while living in Reno was highly maximalist and lush, hyper detailed, it fit my desire to fill the void of fantasy and elegance I felt around me. When I moved to Los Angeles I became surrounded by a ‘maximalist city’ and I almost immediately felt the need to give breathe-room to my subjects and compositions. After living in Los Angeles for several years now I've come to understand that fantasy and glamour are something rarely found. They must be created no matter where you live.
Your grandfather was a dancer in Hollywood and your father worked for a casino. What is the association with those creative worlds? How has the familiar tradition in the show business shaped who you are and what you do today?
As an extension of the last question, my grandfather and my father were both in the business of creating spectacles. Although my father is more involved with the business side of this, my grandfather François lived and danced during the time I draw inspiration from the most, the golden age of Hollywood. I grew up seeing the final curtain on many classic Vegas productions, shows that only huge casinos could afford to produce. I’m grateful I was able to see the tail-end of the showgirl era.
You are a photographer who seems to illustrate your characters. You actually studied illustration, right? But we’ve read that you realise everything by yourself, from make up to the lighting to postproduction, as well as the luxurious costumes. What is your background? How do you know how to do everything?
I'm glad you think I know how to do everything! (Laughs) I think in many ways, it’s all an extension of itself. Illustration, makeup, retouching, lighting, composition: that’s all the same world. Yes, I studied illustration for several years, and although I work as a photographer now, I still have the mind-set and approach of an illustrator. Years ago, when I was creating in Reno, I had to make almost everything because there were simply no resources for the things I wanted in my images. Although I have formed a wonderful team of creatives here in Los Angeles and have been able to pull costuming from designers, the desire to create an image from the ground up is something highly enriching.
Your works depict a surreal world, maybe inspired also by classic art, Greek mythology as well as Baroque and Rococo. Can you tell us more about that? How do you approach the images you create? What inspires you, or what are your referents?
‘Reality’ is boring and almost always unrepeatable. I don’t understand the majority of what’s current. The terms you listed are all a part of the headspace I choose to exist in, they all represent ideals of surrealism from bygone eras – although we now see these terms as being ‘classic’. The best thing any artist can do is to learn how to take the image he or she sees in his/her mind and give it life without losing a spec of information in translation. One of my favourite sayings is that “We are not the owners of our talent, we are only the managers”. When I remember this, inspiration flows.
Is there any photographer that you would consider your main inspiration?
I can’t say a single photographer specifically inspires me, and more so illustrators inspire me. But some of them are Pierre et Gilles, Joel Peter Witkin, Marc Davis and Erté, to name a few.
There are many definitions about your style. There are some who say that you draw with your camera, and others who say that your works illustrate an imaginary, visionary and fantastic world. How would you describe your style?
Well, I’m flattered by those descriptions. It's somewhat difficult to say it myself. Bohemian but elegant, pastel but gothic, flamboyant but dark. Ambiguity is highly important. If I could describe that to you, it would no longer be ambiguous. You took the words out of my mouth, however. Finding the balance is something that happens subconsciously.
How do you find the balance between your influences, sexuality, the androgynous, photography and art?
This may sound odd, but every image I've done is like a self-portrait. My concepts and characters are all an extension of the way I see the world around me and myself. My work is almost always a dramatized version of my personal life, taking a simple thought and turning it into ‘opera’. The elements in my images are almost always in place for their symbolic role, they help the viewer read the image.
What must a person have so you feel attracted to him/her to do his/her portrait? Is there any common characteristic that links every person you’ve photographed so far?
You already say a big part of it in your question; attraction. When I’m photographing a subject, I’m instilling a part of myself into them and the character they are portraying. The women I photograph exude a power and femininity that I aspire to have on a personal level. The men I photograph exude a power of masculinity that I aspire to be with on a personal level. I think all artists choose subjects that they either feel they ‘are’ or that they ‘want’.
You’ve worked closely with celebrities such as Dita von Teese and Amanda Lepore. How was your contact with them? They are known for their artificial beauty, which is something that characterises your style. Is this one of the reasons why you chose them?
Some say tomato, some say tomahto; some say ‘artificial beauty’, some say ‘glamour’. I’m inspired by the beauty of the natural world, but I also see beauty in artifice. I’m drawn to people like Dita and Amanda for their aspiration of creation. After all, this is the basis for all theatre. I love people who blur the lines between theatre and life, they are the ones who understand there’s no difference between them.
What are you currently working on?
I’m taking a small pause from my photographic work (although I am planning a show in Los Angeles towards the beginning of next year) to work on an album. I’ve always wanted to explore music, but put it off for many years. It’s a strange feeling to jump into what seems like the complete opposite of what you are currently doing, but I’ve found that music and photography (as well as almost any artistic medium) is all the same: storytelling. I’ve written a small collection of songs, which I’ve been recording over the last several months, and hopefully will get to perform live towards the end of the year.
Are there any wishes you would like to make?
Any wishes? How about world peace? But really.