COVERING THE GENDER SPECTRUM WITH PHOTOGRAPHER IREM HARNAK
Water. Water is powerful and yet flexible. It may fall out between your fingers if you try to grab a handful but it can wear away stone. In its largest and most powerful forms it has the ability to knock down and demolish massive structures. The Bosphorus Strait is a natural waterway located in Istanbul, literally separating Asia and Europe. The cultural, religious, and artistic significance of this body of water is both literal and figurative. It made Istanbul a meeting place for the world. A body of water so strong that it delineated parts of the world and yet so peaceful and calming that it is a natural attraction for tourists and the citizens of Istanbul alike. Photographer Irem Harnak grew up with the Bosphorus as part of her everyday life. It makes sense that the strength and flexibility of water became part of her demeanor and attitude towards life and career. These characteristics are profoundly evident in her work. The images Irem has created for the most famous models, fashion publications, and advertisement campaigns around the world are a result of her ability to twist any way necessary to bring life and depth to her photos. Just as with the waterway that her homeland is known for, Irem Harnak brings diversity, creativity, and confidence to every project to which she is involved.
Perhaps one of the most famous and iconic agencies in the world is Elite Models. Founded in New York in the 1970’s, Elite Models has given the world some of the most influential models of multiple generations. Carly Moore is one of the most visible models of her generation and is represented by Elite Models. Irem shot Carly for PRESS The Fashion Magazine and was impressed by her natural ability right away. It was at this time that the fashion and modeling world took great notice of Carly making her one of the most sought out models today. Some of Harnak’s work with Elite Models includes: Carly Moore (The Society in NY) for PRESS Magazine, Symone Challenger (Silent Models in NY) for 1968 and Superior Magazine, Skylar Dombrovski (Elite LA) for Ouch! Magazine, and others. Many years of this working relationship is evidence that both photographer and agency are appreciative of what each has to offer. Stacey Dort (Director of Elite Models) confirms, “Irem has been my go to photographer since 2012. We love her style, her relaxed approach to portraiture and fashion. She brings the best out of my models. I send her my brand new models as well as the most seasoned ones and I’m always amazed by how she creates equally stunning images for both! Every time I send her a model to update their portfolio I know I will get winner shots.”
Not only catering to the large agencies, Irem has a long and prosperous relationship with Canadian boutique modeling agency Sutherland Models. Brandon Hall (Creative Director of Sutherland Models) echoes the sentiment expressed by Dort as he states, “Irem creates stunning images! She has been one of our primary photographers since 2009, she knows how to capture natural beauty. We were extremely happy when she took part of our Sutherland Models’ yearly model search competition in 2015, she shot our six finalists with a team she put herself together. The results were amazing! I know I can trust Irem, I am very open with my expectations from any projects and she never gives up until she delivers the best results. Whenever I have a new model in town I make sure she tests with Irem.” Working with Sutherland Models and their “The Ones to Watch” section for Models.com, Irem continues to mold her approach and perspective to embrace new avenues to present both the models and her work. She communicates, “The reduction of print magazines is very unfortunate. I always prefer to see my work printed where you can touch it and show it to people in paper rather than on screen. However, these days there are great advantages to a presence with online publications, mainly due to the exposure I get. For example, Harper’s Bazaar UK contacted me because of the work I do for Models.com. Being published in print magazine doesn’t give that kind of exposure unless you are in very big and established magazines. Photographers are definitely affected by this transition. There are less and less photographers who know how to print accurately since everybody works for online publications. The budgets are also getting smaller or even disappearing since the publications are having hard time sustaining themselves.”
While the Female and Male modeling worlds are vastly different, Harnak has become one of the few fashion photographers sought out to capture both. Examples of her work with male models such as Maxim Budnick (Wilhelmina in NY) and Xander Budnick for Fantastics, as well as the previously mentioned notable female models, display the range of sensibilities which Irem can bring to any subject and situation. She comments, “There is a big difference between shooting female models and male models. Usually the whole atmosphere on set is different. There is a lot more pressure during shoots with female models, the team is extremely critical of poses and looks. There’s a social pressure on women to look more than perfect at any given time, this is even more crucial for female models. One can always feel this immense pressure while shooting. I take great pains to give reassurance to the model and make her comfortable to move and be confident on set. She needs to relax so that she can give the best performance. There is so much work that goes into wardrobe, makeup, and hair styling in order to achieve the “perfect” look for the female models. We, as creatives, are always aware of the criticism that could come if we miss a detail. In a way we have our own critic in our heads that’s always trying to catch a mistake. In contrast, shooting male models is not as high pressure. I can say from experience that if a male model is confident it won’t take long to get the ‘perfect’ shots without putting half of the effort as on a set with a female model. I think this comes from centuries of conditioning of the mind due to our patriarchal society. I like shooting both female and male models but I find it easier to get the ‘cool shot’ with guys more than girls probably because of the pressures I mentioned.” One of Irem’s fortes is shooting males in beautiful and interesting ways, which results in many clients coming to her to achieve the looks she creates. Because of her ability to capture both genders so exceptionally, Irem has become known for shooting androgynous styles. Styling, makeup, and posing are crucial elements of this style but the mood which Irem creates (in the same manner as a film director and cinematographer) for this type of look is even more crucial.
Even with all of her accomplishments, Harnak understands and appreciates the need for growth and challenges. Just as the world and the medium in which they work evolves, a true professional and artist acknowledges the need to grow. Irem has often turned for inspiration to the photographers of the United States for their perspective, creativity, and ability to express themselves without hindrance. She concedes, “It is extremely important to surround yourself with artistic, like-minded people so you can keep growing. This kind of community is also a great support mechanism. It’s crucial for an artist not to feel alone and uninspired. The daily struggles of being an artist financially or creatively can really run one down. In order to continue the fight one must have the right attitude. It is hard to do it alone, you need a community to strive in and to give back to. Solidarity is really important for one’s soul and personal growth. Growing up in Europe, I have always been fascinated with US. The new world with new ideas and people being open to new things, a huge and culturally diverse country with so many stories to tell is very fascinating! New York is where all the best in the world are and it’s a hub of creativity and innovation. There are no limits to imagination and people strive for opportunity with a great work ethic. I love the enthusiasm in US, nothing is impossible! It doesn’t feel like there is room for bitterness, which I like very much. The culture is vibrant and the environment has so much to offer. I love the entrepreneurial spirit and the hunger for fresh ideas. People have an endless drive which is really impressive and inspiring.” The new wellspring of both practical and creative imagery is poised to flow out of Irem Harnak’s work once she is placed in a pool of creative individuals.