Client Stories: A talk with Pedro Dimitrow, one of the biggest Brazilian commercial photographers
Pedro is the son of a successful visual artist and has grown up around images. He fell in love with photography when he was a teenager but could only become one many years later. Now, he is an awarded professional photographer worldwide.
Pedro Dimitrow was born in Sao Paulo in the ’70s. He entered the photography scene at the beginning of the 90s, when “photographers used to get as much as soccer players,” putting it in his own words. Son to a renowned visual artist in Brazil, Pedro spent his childhood among artists and creatives in his home.
Before turning his focus to photography fully, Pedro got a degree in Industrial Drawing and worked as a film producer, in which he was very successful but not happy. He dropped everything to start learning photography from scratch as a photography assistant, switching to full-time professional photography in 2005.
Nowadays, Pedro has won multiple awards worldwide, including Cannes Lions. He has his own studio in Sao Paulo, where he has shot different global advertising campaigns and numerous personalities for magazines, such as Pele or Amyr Klink.
The commercial photographer joined RYDE as a client in 2020. We had an inspiring talk with him about his career switch, the pressure of growing up in the artistic scene, and his experience with unlicensed image use. Check it out.
How did you discover your passion for photography, and how did it turn into your life?
My father is a visual artist, and I have always lived in an environment filled with art, watching him paint at home. Photos inspired him to produce his own work. He used to take photographs to make his paintings, that sort of thing. And in this process, I already had very close contact with photography.
When I was a teenager, I was looking for a profession, something I could fit into, and I ended up in a film production company as an intern. On the first day of shooting, I was fascinated by the movie camera. Then the cinematographer appeared, and he was a very stylish guy. I admired him a lot. I kept watching him work. I was completely fascinated by cinematography and decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
Did your father’s network help you get an internship at such a young age?
My father was very good friends with the production company owner, a film director, Rodolfo Vani — an incredible guy, a sensational director, and a genius. I joined the production company but could not get into photography. There were hierarchy and difficulty in entering the market at the time. It was still the 90s when everyone was working with negatives, and it was tough to enter the world of cinema, which was all run by the same families. So, I could not become a photo assistant. That was a separate thing.
The internship I got was in film production, worked with it for many years. I even became the Director of Film Production, earning a lot of money, even at a young age, but I was not happy. I left the production company, and I started to freelance as a producer, and one time I did a production for a cinematographer I admired. That day, I sat in his office and asked him to let me be his intern and start everything from scratch.
I remember the conversation we had, at that time, which was the golden age of photography. He said, “look, out of a million, one comes out. I can’t guarantee that you will become a photographer, but if you want to work here, I won’t pay you, and you will start from scratch — cleaning the floor, tidying drawers, fixing the background, and then life will tell you what you are going to be”. I told him I wanted to do it. That is when I became a photo assistant.
At the end of my photo assistant career, in the late 90s, I fell into the biggest photography studio in Latin America, which was the former Estúdio Abril. It was crazy, too much work. It was the time when photographers earned as much as soccer players. The guy I was working for was the biggest advertising photographer on the continent.
There, photography really got a hold on me. I learned to see the light in a completely different way that I would never have believed in my life. Photography assistance was my big school. I had the privilege of living through the transition from analog to digital. I was the last generation of photography assistants from analog. In 2005, I left to become a professional photographer myself.
When did you realize you were a professional photographer?
Everyone who knew me at that time used to say, “Pedro is a photographer,” but I never accepted to say that I was one. When I left the studio and became a photographer, everything happened very suddenly. The day after I left the studio, a good friend of mine asked me to take some photos of her brand — that was my first job as a photographer.
I started putting together a portfolio and sending it to the advertising agencies I had already been in contact with, and jobs started arriving. I remember that I had a big dream: to shoot at least one advertisement campaign. My dream turned out to be even bigger than I expected. Today I look back and cannot believe I made it this far.
What were the most outstanding campaigns in your career?
For me, the ones that struck me most were the campaigns for Banco Itaú. It was really a dream for me because of how they communicate and the status it would bring me. I never imagined that I would do a campaign for the bank because who usually did their campaigns was Mauricio Nahas from Estúdio Abril, one of the biggest photographers in Latin America, with whom I had worked with and respected a lot. I felt it would be unethical to go after these campaigns. But it ended up happening naturally. They called me, and I did two or three photos. I remember it was very challenging because it was through an agency with very high demand at the time. We photographed the stills with a 4x5 chromo.
I remember I did the Vale campaign, a super out-of-focus guitar with a 4x5 camera, and the picture was beautiful. The agency’s creative and art directors saw it and started to pass me smaller jobs, and when I realized, I was doing institutional campaigns for Itaú. After that, the giant clients came.
You have won many photo advertising awards, including some at the huge Cannes Lions. What do you think is your special flavor to achieve such success?
I think I always wanted it too much, and I was always very hard on myself. I suffered a lot, and it broke me up inside. I never had a problem as serious as making an ugly picture. I had this thing of proving to myself that I became a photographer. I would work around the clock a lot of nights; I was excessively dedicated. This dedication even turned into paranoia, probably because of my own family baggage. I demanded a lot from myself. I was very insecure. Since my dream was to become a photographer, I thought that at any moment, everything would be over. It was as if each photo for me was the first and the last I would make.
Do you think that being the son of a successful visual artist pressured you even more, regards your aesthetics?
Definitely, this baggage that I brought with me still affected me until very recently. My father is a great artist, and he was always very critical about everything. Nothing was ever good, everything was bad, nothing was fantastic. It was like double pressure for me, always wanting approval from him and others. About 3 or 4 years ago, I could accept that I really am a photographer, and I am good at what I do. I grew a lot, and I don’t need anyone’s approval, only my own. Today my father is proud of my work.
How do you deal with ongoing digitalization and change?
I always try to reinvent myself. My biggest fear is staying the same forever. So, I try to update myself, and I hire young people in my studio to help me communicate with the new generation. The Instagram thing was a shock to me. At first, I underestimated the platform's power. I used to post pictures as a joke. By the time I realized it was serious, I had already lost a lot of time.
I know that the new generation criticizes a lot the editing to make the image more ludic or more beautiful, but this has always been part of the photography universe. Those who photograph reality are photojournalists; those who like to do it as art will do something more plastic to make people look prettier.
Still, I’m not too fond of post-production; I think Photoshop is, at most, for “cleaning up” the photo a bit. I like to do everything using the light, the way I learned. When I shoot, I already want it to come out the way I imagine, and I try to use as little post-production as possible.
What is your biggest inspiration for your photographic work?
The classics, really! The great photographers that I admire. I remember that the first time I encountered a photography book, I fell out of my chair with a work by Richard Avadon. Something clicked for me at that moment. Eventually, Annie Leibovitz came along, and after I saw the photos she made, I was sure this was what I wanted for my life.
They give you the feeling that this is really what they live for, you know? When I am not shooting in the studio, I am shooting with my smartphone. If I have a camera, you can throw me anywhere in the world, and I will be fulfilled. I do not need anyone else — this is what I see on these photographers that inspires me, that photography is enough for them. Photography is also a powerful thing in my life. I could not run away from it. I have no plan B.
I always wanted to go back to cinematography, and I have had the opportunity to go back to it. My dream, at first, was to become one. I do not know at what point in my life it changed, but I know that Still Life photography got me. I love it like I love the cinema. After the experiences I had, I understand that photographing still images is even more difficult than photographing cinema, as incredible as it may seem. Cinema has that movement, and it accepts mistakes — it accepts to frame wrongly or have lighting problems. In Still Life photographs, you can’t — that photo is eternalized like that.
What tips would you give to someone who is just starting in photography?
I think that, first, you have to really believe in what you are doing. I think that knowing the technique is super important, but it is not everything. I invested a lot in technique and knew the light very well. I loved to make things difficult and set traps for myself to challenge my knowledge.
Photography often comes from error. The best photo is often not the one you get right, but the one you get wrong. This is something I wish I knew because before, I didn’t allow myself to make mistakes. And today, I allow myself to make mistakes, and this has changed my life.
Have you had much experience with copyright infringement? If yes, how do you normally deal with it?
Yes, it wasn't easy to control your images before, especially with the internet and global sharing. With the tool offered by RYDE, I think it is essential to take back control of your images so that people don’t use your work to advertise companies or things for free. Your work has a price.
#14Questions with Pedro Dimitrow
Pedro is a fun guy, and he got really into our word association game. By seeing his answers, you can feel that photography is his absolute passion. Please read it now.
4. Perfect Shot
5. A place
6. A movie
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
7. A Song
Lost in Silence, Depeche Mode
8. One Book
A Grande Arte, Rubem Fonseca
9. A Food
10. A Motto
“I am what I am,” as Popeye