Speaking to Kestutis was a revelation. He believes in himself and his work, works incredibly hard to achieve his goals, and really puts himself out there. And he’s a nice guy. I’ve added a couple of extra images not in the original copy.
From a dead-end job in a fish factory to highly sought-after fashion photographer, Kestutis Anuzis found his dream job entirely by accident, but then pursued it with a passion.
After his father died six months ago, it opened his eyes to the need to take even bigger risks. Now he’s expanding his focus from fashion to boudoir photography, where he hopes to work with ordinary women instead of models, to show them how they can be just as beautiful.
Sitting in his Cork city centre studio, the 30-year-old Lithuanian who had never picked up a camera before he came to Ireland told the Echo the secret to his success.
“Be really annoying!”
Kestutis, Kest to his friends, says this with a big, easy smile. But he’s not joking.
“I knocked on every door, and chased every person to give me a chance until they did. That’s how I got my first break, and how I keep creating opportunities. You have to push, and bang your head against every wall until it comes down.”
Now he has taken the leap, quit his day-job, sold his car and moved to the city, so he can focus exclusively on his work photographing for Cork’s hairdressers and model agencies, as well as portrait photography.
His work is striking and creative, and while he’s only just started really, he’s already knocking on more doors.
Kest came to Ireland 10 years ago where he did what was expected of him and found a job, gutting fish in a stinking factory in West Cork. Life didn’t expect too much from him, and he returned the feeling, living low, not pushing. He was miserable, but played his role.
He did find a girlfriend though, and together they started to travel around Ireland. Kest’s father had been a photographer, with his own darkroom at home, but Kest had never taken an interest in it. So, with his girlfriend and their compact camera, he took the same sloppy snapshots we all do when all we’re doing is tracking time and places.
It was at a friend’s party that Kest experienced what the French call a coup de foudre (a flash of madness usually used to describe the moment when one falls in love). Someone had brought a DSLR camera, like the ones professionals use. Kest picked it up and snapped a few shots, just playing around. Then he turned it over to see the results. The moment was a life-changer.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything looked. It totally blew me away.”
And with that, he was hooked. He got his first camera, spent an hour trying to work out how to even take a shot, and then just didn’t stop.
Starting off with landscapes, as most photographers do because it’s less embarrassing, Kest had a second moment of bliss when he took his first portrait.
“Once I took the first one, that was it. I don’t really photograph anything else now. It’s all about people. I love the eyes,” he says.
Relying on dogged persistence, he managed to blag his way on to a fashion shoot, which was a complete disaster.
“I didn’t know anything and the photographer kept shouting at me because I didn’t understand the simplest things. But when I saw how much effort went into it, I knew I wanted to do that.”
Undaunted, Kest kept honing his craft and investing in his education. He bought himself a flasher camera and discovered the awful truth that if you take rubbish photographs with a €500 camera, you’ll take rubbish photographs with a €3,000 camera too. So he invested more in his knowledge.
His big break came when Wayne Lloyd, the multiple-award-winning hairdresser, agreed to let him shoot the images for the Irish Hairdressing Federation Awards in 2012. To Kest’s delight, they made it into the finals, although they didn’t win.
That near success pushed Kest further, but it took a tragedy to make him realise that he needed to do more to catch his dream. Back home in Lithuania, his father died suddenly.
“He was just 55 years old and the shock made me realise that I needed to get off my butt and do something.
“It was so scary. As much as I didn’t love my job, it paid well – it gave me all this equipment (pointing at his camera gear, computer, lighting rigs, screens and reflectors), and it’s hard to throw away that kind of security. It’s a sickening feeling inside.”
But he did. Last summer, he quit his secure job, sold the car that he loved and made the leap from Leap to Cork city so that he could focus on his studio and agency work. The payoff was swift in coming.
At the 2013 Irish Hairdressing Federation Awards, the snip and snap team practically swept the floor. Wayne Lloyd Hairdressing won awards in three individual categories including stylist of the year, and were runners up in virtually every other category.
The images used, directed and shot by Kest, have since been published in Irish Hairdresser and Estetica USA magazines. He still lights up like a kid at Christmas when he remembers the evening.
Now Kest is looking at realising a slightly different vision. Boudoir photography is sensual photography that relies on suggestion rather than revelation. It is becoming increasingly popular among women who wish to make gifts for their husbands or partners that are gently erotic, without being over the top. You wouldn’t have to leave the country if your mother ever found them. Though possibly you would if his mother did.
For Kest though, the real gift should be to the woman in the photograph: to see how beautiful she can be in ways she may never have imagined.
“They see themselves as they’ve never seen themselves before. So many women come, and they do it for their husbands, but they say to me ‘I’m not this or that’ or ‘I’m not pretty’. It’s so nice to show them the photos and they see a different and beautiful version of themselves. You hear them sigh, and you know it has worked.
“I photographed a woman last week who’s had two children, and didn’t think anything of herself anymore. But she was beautiful. Of course we all have imperfections, but it’s my job to minimise them, to show people in the best possible way. When I showed her the pictures, she couldn’t believe it. She was thrilled.”
Unlike with his fashion photography, Kest aims to steer clear of models. Instead, he’s looking for women who may be feeling less than lovely so that he can show them that, actually, yes they can still be beautiful. “I’m not trying to be a Playboy photographer. I’m looking for real women,” he says.
Meanwhile, he’s going to keep working hard and is setting his sights on more international work for the coming year. He’s found his dream, and now he’s busy, and happy, chasing a new one.
“It sounds so clichéd and stupid, but it is how it works. You can waste energy worrying, or spend it chasing your dream. You have to work hard, and dedicate to your craft, but you can get there. And once you’re any good, then you can start being annoying and persistent. They’ll eventually say ‘yes’ whoever they are.”