How I Got Started – Mario Testino, Ellen Von Unwerth and Emma Summerton

capri Carla Coulson published work

Copyright Carla Coulson

If there is one part of a photographer’s or creative’s journey that we all want to know about, it is how they got started.

The getting started bit is always the trickiest and there are so many different paths and ways to get started depending on what you want to do.

I put my own travel stories together under the guidance of my photography teacher and I was blown away when Marie Claire Australia published not one but two..You can read about the whole sheebang here

But I had my fair share of knock backs and dissapointments. A couple of months prior to the Marie Claire story being published I hauled my butt to London with a suitcase full of positives to do the rounds of the magazines with whom I wanted to work at the time including Conde Nast Traveller, Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar, Red and Eve.

I was a novice photographer with nothing published (but I didn’t tell them that) and I really wanted them to publish one of the stories I had created.

After 4 days in London I got back on the plane empty handed, with my heart in my boots and my hope of becoming a photographer dashed. It seemed like the longest plane ride of my life, I looked out into the sky and saw my old life closing in on me. I went home to bed that night with a heavy heart.

The next day I walked into a local photography studio and got myself a part-time job? There was no way I was quitting or leaving Florence. In the meantime I continued to fine tune my stories and make contacts for my coming trip to Australia.

A month later I was crossing the Ponte Vecchio on my bike and my phone rang. This in itself was an event and on the other end was the art director from Eve giving me an assignment to shoot a portrait in Tuscany.

In the middle of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence I did a little war dance of joy, hugged a local vendor I knew and screamed out aloud (lots of freaked out Florentines). I was so happy I couldn’t believe it.

Sometimes the seeds we sow take a little while to grow! But if you sow them they will grow..


Mario Testino

I would like to share with you three fabulous photographers who share their stories via Ground magazine on how they got started. Mario Testino, Ellen Von Unwerth and Emma Summerton. These 3 photographers have huge careers now but there was a time when they too were just like you ‘getting started’. Over to them..

“Testino recalls that she (Madonna) was the first one who asked to be photographed by me. She spotted my work in a magazine. She’d been booked to do Versace by Richard Avedon and something didn’t go right and she asked Versace if she could do it with me and I was really unknown at the time out of our business. I was doing OK within the fashion business but it’s only when I photographed Madonna that I became known outside of my business and people on the street started to hear my name. When I delivered the photos to Gianni Versace he said that I really understood how to photograph clothes because he said it’s a talent that few people really have — how to make a dress look the best it can possibly look. He decided to put on the first page where he introduces the whole photograph that we had done, he wrote in Vanity Fair, in Vogue: “Versace presents ‘Madonna by Testino.’” At the time I said to him, “Don’t you think it’s a bit pretentious to put my name?” He said, “Yeah, but it’s my choice. It’s me putting it, not you.” That had a big impact on my business.”

 You can read the full fabulous interview with Mario (the god) Testino here 

Ellen Von Unwerth

The dynamic Ellen Von Unwerth was a model and had spent a small lifetime in front of the camera. When she turned it on others she created magic and her unique sexy, fun style was like no-one elses.

“Ten years after her debut in the fashion industry, Von Unwerth moved to the other side of the camera lens and began shooting.  At the time, she was living with a photographer, who gave her invaluable photographic insight in order to get started. Just a few years after she became a photographer, a shoot she did of Claudia Schiffer for GUESS put her on the map, and by 1998, she was listed as one of the Most Important People in Photography by American Photo Magazine.

Since her big break in fashion photography, Von Unwerth has constantly been on the map as one of the best photographers of women, with an innate ability to capture a woman’s sensuality in any type of setting.  Thanks to her days as a fashion model herself, Von Unwerth has a specific insight into the mind of the model that most photographers miss.  Von Unwerth hated the static nature of modeling, having to stand still in different poses for hours, and in turn promotes kinetic motion and playful progression of poses and gestures by the model.”

For the full Ellen Von Unwerth (love her) interview click here

 Emma Summerton

Aussie photographer Emma Summerton now works for Carla’s dream mag, Vogue Italia. Her photographic journey included working for an artist and this was a catalyst to start taking pictures.

“Did you know fashion would be your niche? Was a love for fashion already imbedded in you, or was that incidental?

I always loved fashion, and my mom was an amazing seamstress. I would draw first and she would make outfits for me – we’d create these things together. To be honest, when I studied photography in art school, I never thought of photography and fashion photography as having anything to do with one another. I went for an interview to assist a photographer when I was heading towards the end of art school, because I felt I needed to learn more technical aspects. He was a fashion photographer, and he asked me what magazines I looked at –and I didn’t look at magazines at all! Through that experience, I learned that fashion photography could be more than what I thought initially back in the early ’90s. When I shot for Vogue Italia for the first time, it opened up this world for me that allowed me to realize that fashion photography could be a creative expression as well.

The full Emma Summerton interview is here.

I hope you enjoyed these stories on getting started and that your journey is on it’s way.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”





PS: Know anyone who is getting started and could do with some inspiration? Please feel free to share..

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9 Responses to How I Got Started – Mario Testino, Ellen Von Unwerth and Emma Summerton

  1. Millie says:

    FABULOUS post again Carla, encouraging and inspiring. Love these stories xx

  2. It is WONDERFUL to read how others have gotten their start in a career and thank you for sharing your story along with the bumps in the road.

    xoxo TT

  3. Katie says:

    Thank you, Carla, for another inspiring post. I just returned from a cooking class/photo gathering trip to Paris and had such a wonderful time doing both. I must say, seeing Paris “through the viewfinder” was an experience in beauty and detail, the latter being something I have missed on previous trips. I’m not sure where I take it from here, but your timely words are certainly the motivation I need to keep planting…thank you.

  4. I read every word of this fab. post + Loved it!

  5. Dear Carla

    almost weekend again and you did it again ! to give us soooo much homework, links to look at, magazines to explore, interviews to read . H E L P !
    I am making a Blurb book edition of This is Belgium and have a tough time sticking to it after reading all of your excitement.
    but seriously, I see what you are saying, i feel for you in your early firenze days , thank god for the phone call on ponte vecchio and for francesco etc

  6. La Contessa says:

    SO< if VOQUE ITALIA is your REACH YOU shall have it!Anyone out there know anyone at VOQUE???We have a winner here!

  7. Anya Jensen says:

    Ah so nice to know that even Godlike photographers started out just like us/me – FAB :) Thanks for sharing these – and more of your story Carla – love coming here – so inspiring. Happy evening,

  8. Catherine says:

    Really inspiring post. Ah the creative life! So many defeats and so much hoping. And yes it seems as though determination and fortuna count almost more than talent! Thank you for these uplifting stories of true artists and good luck with your own work xxcat

  9. Enjoyed reading “How I got Started,” and viewing your splendid photos as well. I love shooting in this location when in Paris. I usually start at Sacre-Coeur, then work my way down to the Boulevard de Clichy, stopping at Le Cafe’ des 2 Moulins along the way. Many Street Photography opportunities there. Thanks for posting!

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