Fashion photography is one of those genres that open up a lot of creative possibilities and often yield stunning and poignant results.

I enjoy seeing how photographers bend the genre and combine it with other approaches and kinds of photography to communicate a visual message or convey brand personality. A great example is the work of Perth-based photographer and filmmaker Matsu for fragrance brand Le Labo, where he tackled fashion photography with a documentary approach.

As a self-taught creative, Matsu’s visual storytelling began around the Perth music scene and was shaped by his passion for music, stories, light and color. Today, he makes use of this passion and flexibility for his multi-disciplinary approach for projects like “Le Labo Santal No.33.”

A cinematic touch with rich, earthy colors

In this series, Matsu turned to documentary photography instead of a fashion editorial to introduce the Santal No.33 as a luxurious fragrance. He unveils the provenance of the sandalwood used as the key ingredient in the Le Labo scent which the project was titled after.

Set in the Santanol Indian Sandalwood Farm in Western Australia, the series gives us a glimpse of the production process behind the classic scent, from planting and cultivation, to harvesting the prized sandalwood.

As with the rest of his work, color sets the mood and narrative of this series. “I really enjoy the creative use of color as a storytelling element within my work, whether it’s an explosion of energetic color or muted tones for that cinematic finish,” he noted. “For my work with Le Labo, I wanted an earthy and rich feel that complimented the brand of Le Labo and the rough Australian Outback.”

To satisfy my curiosity about his projects like “Le Labo Santal No.33,” I asked Matsu about how he gravitated toward a strong cinematic style. I find that it works well to heighten the mood of a narrative even in documentary photography, as this series demonstrates. As a big fan of cinema and with his background as a TV commercial and music video director, he says it was inevitable.

“There is something so refined about the cinematic look that really draws me in. The cinematic combination of composition, light, color, lens and production that for me personally represents a peak in visual storytelling and the standard to work towards.”

Finding a middle ground

On the choice to do a documentary-focused body of work, Matsu said, “From the beginning, the conversations were about finding the middle ground between documentary photography and fashion photography.”

This emphasizes the importance of being on the same page as your client regarding the vision for the project.

I believe that being aligned with this vision also allowed Matsu to learn more about his subjects, the mission at hand for the project and other lessons valuable to him as a multi-disciplinary creative.

“Connecting with your talent is the lesson I took away from this shoot. The talent involved where all real people working their day to day jobs, having a photographer run around a document your day is not an easy thing to be comfortable with. I was able to connect with the talent and this connection helped me to capture honest moments with people who are not used to having a camera following them around.”

Don’t forget to visit Matsu’s website and Behance portfolio to see more of his work.

All photos by Matsu. Used with permission.