October 23, 2014

From the Editor

Listen to nesti mendoza talk about being kissed on the lips once by Liz Taylor. Feel his passion. Listen to him recall photographing Raquel Welch once a year. Feel his passion. And listen to him describing his fashion shoots for Gulfshore Life. More passion. Nesti is one feeling man, and hearing him bubbling over about the art and craft of creating our fashion spreads (see "Summer Play" on p. 46) can be quite enchanting.

First, a little of his back story. Born in Cuba, he came to the United States in 1960 at the age of four, initially to Miami and then to Milledgeville, Ga., where his father was a psychiatrist at Central State Hospital. "It was wild living on the grounds of this place housing thousands of people with mental illness," Nesti remembers. Some would say it was great training for a guy who would one day be working in the fashion business.

His career? He studied architecture at Carnegie Mellon but found it limiting. He preferred photography but, as he picked up the skills, took graphic design jobs at ABC-TV in Chicago and CBS-TV in New York. "I wanted to be a fashion photographer," he says. And, with some hustling in his spare time, he soon landed some sweet jobs—for magazines like Mademoiselle, Glamour and Essence, among others. Wanting to deepen his experience, he moved to Milan, Italy, for three years and worked with many top models and publications, and accounts like Nordstrom and Talbots. The Liz Taylor kiss, by the way, came after he had been particularly attentive to keeping her looking flawless at a photo shoot. He began shooting Raquel Welch every year for wig commercials. "Believe it or not, she doesn’t think she’s beautiful. She is, but worries that her flaws will show. She’s truly charming, funny and down-to-earth—not at all the like glamor-puss image that’s been marketed to us."

When Nesti began doing our fashion shoots three years ago, he was relieved to be free of all the second-guessing you get when working with advertising clients. "I found my voice again," he says. That first session, he had the model on stage standing on a chair in the fog—thanks to smoke and wind machines—and was able to create the feel of a Fellini movie. "I just fell in love with the girl and the clothes," he remembers.

"I may not remember names," he says, "but I recall everything I see. I have a visual library in my mind." And so, when he saw the model and the setting for the February 2011 issue, he immediately thought James Bond. The hair, the way she was lying in the sand … he just felt he had to go for the Goldfinger look. Another time, the location was a local ballet school, and Nesti instantly thought of an ethereal Degas. With both that and the James Bond theme, he achieves a lot of the effect through his post-production work. "With Photoshop, you can get rid of the information you don’t like and build in, say, the magenta, faded palette for Bond and the cool blues for the ballet," he says. "If you just saw the photos, you’d be disappointed. This way, I can enhance my imagination and really create what seems like a painting."

A lot, of course, depends on the models. Nesti wants them natural, not posed. One shot required the model to be in a mermaid dress playing a violin. They rehearsed while she was still in her jeans, and the result was magical. Once she put on the dress, though, she posed the way she thought she should. "No, no," said Nesti. He reminded her of the more relaxed appearance she had achieved and was able to work her back to that mood. "You can’t pretend to be beautiful," he says. "You have to be real, joyful. If I love what you’re feeling as a model, it shows up in the photo. If a model is self-centered or selfish, she will look ugly on the page—even if she is technically beautiful."

So have a look at the summer fashion he’s captured in this issue. Of the process he says, "We laugh all day playing dress-up in fancy clothes." Works for us. You, too, I hope.

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