Alexa Mazzarello’s new lookbook “APART” takes an unconventional approach to sharing work with potential clients during the pandemic.
Traditionally, a “lookbook” is a portfolio of images of a model, or photographer, immediately geared to show off their style to a commercial client.
With a mix of images from test and client shoots, it often feels more like a catalog or mood board than a personal body of work.
But what happens when a photographer uses it to tell a larger, more nuanced story?
Enter Luupe photographer Alexa Mazzarello, whose new lookbook reflects fashion and photography and human interaction in a time of social isolation. Titled “APART,” this part-look-book, part-narrative photobook designed by Monashee Alonso is a collection of landscapes and portraits that teeter between art, fashion, and lifestyle photography. Mazzarello’s light, yet challenging images highlight the distance we continue to experience in our surrounding environments as our routines forever shift.
We speak with Mazzarello to learn more about her innovative and thoughtful approach
The Luupe: It’s interesting to think of this work as a “Look Book” versus a traditional photography book. A look book often feels more like an overview for clients vs something narrative driven. Apart uniquely gets into both arenas….
Alexa Mazzarello: YES! That’s exactly my aim with this type of ‘book’. I’ve always wanted whatever I make to feel like I could hand it to any client and they could get a sense in general of who I am as an artist more generally.
I’ve found a lot of solely commercial books boring. Here, I want to portray a sense of my voice as an artist, getting a bit more at the heart of who I am and what I actually LOVE to shoot. In this way it bridges client and personal work and I want those boundaries to be blurred.
The term “look book” or “lookbook” is actually a bit of an SEO experiment. Yes, they are look books but in a less traditional sense. As I was wanting to include them in my portfolio online as opposed to something just printed I struggled with what to name them. They are, in essence, little time capsules of work. I had been working with an SEO expert and she found that look book was a fairly searched term but not used often… so I’m trying it out.
The Luupe: SEO – of course! As you describe, it’s essentially a portfolio piece, with a closer look, you get into some deeper issues of pandemic-related isolation, distance, and (lack of) human connection.
Mazzarello: Related to the pandemic, I had moved to a new city one month prior to the pandemic starting and so my initial plans of integrating my business into Montreal were halted.
Instead, I focused on slowing down, making more work with a totally different lens (more personal) since all my commercial work stopped completely. It was lonely being in a new city with no friends. I spent a lot of time with my camera, my partner, walking and biking around.
You see pieces of these wanderings throughout the book. The super intimate portraits are of my partner Justin. I made them while taking a portrait course online with Andrea Modica through Maine Media. Isolation offered such restrictions so making work became both challenging and fun. I was stuck in our condo with this one person.
The Luupe: How did the pandemic impact your work? And how has it impacted how you’re working as we gradually (hopefully) get out from under it?
Mazzarello: It was a huge ‘pause’ for me. It did help me refocus on what I WANT to be shooting and it gave me some time to redesign a portrait offering for the retail side of my business which has been a wonderful thing to see come to life because it sustains me financially and I just love making portraits.
I also got a part time gig with a stock agency that I love. All of these aspects have provided stability, focus, and creatively contribute and expand on each other. I feel I am able to continue growing as a person/artist/business owner because of this ‘pause’. It was actually a gift… though didn’t feel that way at first.
At the end of 2020 I also became pregnant and moved AGAIN to be closer to my parents in Ottawa, Ontario. So there’s been a ton of change but all in the right direction. I gave birth to my son at the end of May 2021. My initial fears about becoming a mother and not being taken seriously anymore as an artist have started to dissipate. I’m determined to integrate him into all aspects of my life. He is such a gift and will make me a better person/artist/partner/everything. He already has in many ways.
The Luupe: Congratulations! What’s interesting about a lot of this work, and what you’ve described so far is a sense of togetherness, despite the distance. Which gets us thinking about the book’s title “APART…”
Mazzarello: Naming anything is hard, but I wanted it to be simple and encapsulate some feeling of isolation without being negative, because the book doesn’t feel that way overall. My consultant Monashee helped me choose this. I like the play on ‘a part’ (2 words) with the one ‘apart, ‘ which is why I ended up adding the spaces in between letters to leave it a bit up to the viewers imagination.
The Luupe: What’s your relationship to the people in these images?
Mazzarello: It’s a mix of hired talent, creative work where I’ve asked to make portraits of people I found interesting, my partner Justin – and there’s a self-portrait in there as well – the woman on the bed is me. You’re able to literally sense the relationship ‘closeness’ parallel by how close my lens is to the subject’s. Talent is a bit pulled back, Justin super close/intimate, for example.
The Luupe: How about the landscapes and places?
Mazzarello: The landscapes are a mix of surroundings where I’ve lived and traveled to over the last few years. I’ve lived in Vancouver and Montreal, Canada. In 2020, just before the world shut down I took a wonderful trip with a friend to Mexico City and shot exclusively analog – which feels challenging and like a TOTAL TREAT.
There’s also landscapes in here from two road trips. Again, I only photographed those with film so I could stay in the moment and not obsessively look at the back of my digital camera screen. I drove from Vancouver to California to meet my siblings in wine country for my sisters birthday. Justin and I also moved across the country from Vancouver to Montreal. We drove in the literal dead of winter. It took 7 days.
We traversed Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Michigan… it was such an adventure. Road trips are some of my absolute favorite things to photograph.I also made an Instagram story of our move cross country you can check out here. It was a monumental move for me – coming back to where I’m from after being away for six years.
The Luupe: Building on that, can you talk a bit about the interplay between the people and places as metaphors for isolation?
Mazzarello: I think being forced to ‘isolate’ allowed me to experience my immediate surroundings newly. The way I relate to landscapes when I’m on a road trip, where everything is new and I endeavor to discover it with fresh eyes. I had to now do the same with my home, my partner, the walk to the coffee shop, the river I walk by every day but don’t notice. So in that sense personally my experience of isolation also lent itself to newness. Restrictions allowed me to look deeper instead of wider.
The Luupe: What was it like collaborating with photo consultant and designer Monashee Alonso on the design? Did working with her impact/ influence the sequencing, pacing and how you think about the larger ideas in this work?
Mazzarello: I’ve worked with Monashee for a few years and yes she definitely influences the sequencing. That’s actually (in my opinion) her greatest skill. We do an initial consult about the theme and intention of the book and then she pulls together a draft. We then do a few revisions together and I add in my thoughts/requests for some modifications.
It’s totally a collaboration and it is so helpful to have someone else to SEE the work. She’s really, really great at that and has helped me see myself as a real artist. She is the one who heavily pushed me to make portfolio pieces that feel more narrative, as that is what she saw in me. Super grateful for her influence in the direction of my work.
The Luupe: Most of the portraits in this book are of women. Is that intentional/happenstance?
Mazzarello: I’m deeply committed to my feminist voice and perspective. I want to amplify women’s voices through portraiture and give them a space to show up powerfully and complex and not buying into a narrow ideal of how they (we) should look/feel/be/sound/dress, etc. However I also really love photographing men and don’t want my work to be limited to solely women. I photograph my partner a LOT and love bringing in a softer side of portraiture when my subjects are male.
The Luupe: Did you initially envision this work as being a book, or was there a moment in which you realized it all made sense that way?
Mazzarello: No, I haven’t yet had a long form project come together with the idea FIRST and then I make the work. I just make work and then revisit it and compile it this way.
I find patterns, themes, narratives after the fact – I really do learn iteratively and shoot very instinctively without too much concern or obsession about what I’m capturing (which is very freeing.) Then every year or 2 it’s the loveliest experience to look at it all. To notice it. To PAUSE and see the work and notice who I was and what I was experiencing or wanting to say at that time.
The Luupe: One of your missions as a photographer is to elevate marginalized voices. This seems to come across subtly throughout the book…
Mazzarello: Yes, this is a mission of mine. My background is actually in social science and more specifically sociology/public health. I had a deep knowledge of the social determinants of health and did my masters project on inequality/inequity. This naturally comes into how I see and understand my own privilege and what I want to do through my work to make a difference.
While I really feel I am not doing enough, I do my best in small ways to continuously bring this mission to the forefront of my public voice, donate to organizations where I can (this one I give to monthly), and be super mindful on sets that I am hiring diverse talent/voices.
It’s also super important for me to critique where this isn’t happening – as in – how siloed communities really are and working hard to break that down. This DOES take extra work. When I moved to Ottawa in March 2021, I wanted to get to know this community in a different way. I ran a portrait giveaway for a local woman-owned small business. I did a ton of research to make sure that everyone who participated in the giveaway belonged to communities that I didn’t necessarily know about/belong to. It was a wonderful way to connect to artists and work/stories/voices that are different than my own.
The Luupe: As much as this gets into isolation and distance, a sense of hope seems to come across…. Something about the warm light…
Mazzarello: Definitely. Making images is catharsis for me. I’ve always turned to making images to process my intense feelings, or heartbreak, or sadness/anxiety. It’s always there for me and in that way it IS my ‘hope’. It’s perhaps the softer side of who I am, the lightness, beauty, finding that outside myself when my emotions are actually super intense and difficult to process.
This work also has come about during a time in my life when I was healing, falling in love with a wonderful person and building a life with them. That may be what you’re feeling as well. It’s the most amazing experience to feel loved and accepted, and I see that ripple through my work even now. The healthy and stable relationship that allows you to grow vs shrink. I’ve reached some personal milestones in this time that I don’t otherwise think would have been possible because of this love.