Maria Teresa Salvati is a personal branding consultant. She helps photographers and creatives to find their own “spot of beauty” and personal vision, advising them on how to build their identity, and communicate via the most appropriate channels.
John Donne wrote: “No man is an island”. How do you relate with this sentence, and above all, how do you feel while getting involved in so many lives?
“No man is an island” is something that resonates with me, and always has, even before I started to work and teach personal branding. I’m aware of the individual responsibility each of us has, and the impact even small acts can have on a bigger scale, or in the Universe if you are a spiritual person.
Getting involved in so many lives in a such deep way makes me feel, in fact, responsible and grateful at the same time. Responsible because I see people trusting what I say, and in this sense, I need to make sure I say things that are coherent and truthful to their own practice; and grateful because I see the gratitude in their face when I write their ‘spot of beauty’. Most of them get emotional, some say things like ‘wow’ or ‘this is illuminating’, and so on.
There’s when I feel I’m doing the right thing.
How do you address your “patients”? Which is the typical tone of voice that you find yourself using with them?
I wouldn’t call them ‘patients’ both because I don’t solve personal issues, and because I’m not a therapist. I work with photographers, storytellers, visual artists, but also creatives and freelancers in general.
I guess I pulled together all my learnings, hard and soft skills and made them available for the people I work with. Probably empathy and ability to listen help a lot in understanding the others, and most of the time, helps them to trust me. I don’t reveal anything new: the ‘spot of beauty’ is something they have within, but most of the time they are not aware of it, or don’t know how to use and formalise it as their inner voice, or to use it actively as their driving motivation for the creative practice.
The tone voice is obviously very friendly and reassuring, but this is part of who I am, above and beyond work.
Before starting to work as personal branding consultant, you experienced working in the creative industry. How this past experience has shaped what you do now, and how deep you have to enter people’s lives in order to reveal their ‘spot of beauty’?
What I do today is the natural consequence of some key moments and learnings of my life. I’ve been working in advertising for many years, and the last years of that career, as creative strategist. Always been fascinated by people’s behaviour, and if you work as a strategist you must have also some basic knowledge of the principles of sociology, psychology and anthropology.
At a certain point I took the distance from the commercial world for ethical reasons. But I’m nevertheless grateful for those years (and my degree in Communications Science) as I learned the key rules of communication, and is helping me today to be able to interpret people’s info, turn them into relevant content, and understand the usage of social media, for example.
In the last ten years I’ve been working with contemporary photography as curator and writer, and launched a platform for multimedia called Slideluck Editorial. I felt photography was something more coherent with my way of living, or with my eagerness to know what’s happening around the world, and with my humble need (or utopic, if you like) to try to make this world a better place.
In 2011 something happened, which I think has been the epiphany, leading to what I do today: I took a painting course in London. I was in a class of around ten people, we all had to paint some industrial objects lying on the floor, in the centre of the room. Same objects, at the same time, with the same light, with the same oil colours, all with the canvases turned towards the walls.
When we finished the course, we were asked to turn the canvases in. I remember my astonished reaction: they were all different. How could we have come out with so many different creative results with the same conditions? Obviously it had to do with our own individual way of seeing.
Over the years I got more and more interested in psychology, and read a lot of researches and studies. Psychologist Gustav Jung has really opened a world in my learning process. Among others, he has written a number of essays about the way art, and its symbolic content, reflects the seemingly tumultuous psychological nature of the artist; and the way art can be used to decode the artist’s life. He says that the difference between artists and “neurotics” is that artists know how to channel their energy.
I guess all the above points, experiences, passions and coincidences represent the roots for the ‘spot of beauty’. My fascination for psychology gives me the ability to read answers, interpret words and connect work of visual art with a deep motivation and personal inclination and wide experience, as well as understanding the inner voice. So, to reply to your question, I need to go deep when we work together, and inevitably touch on personal and private information and stories.
But I need to stress the point that I’m not a therapist.
As said, you help people finding their own “spot of beauty”. Is it related to how they perceive beauty, or rather to how they communicate it?
I work mostly and officially with photographers, but also creatives and freelancers in general. I analyse the portfolio, try to identify a red-thread that unite the work, which becomes a base to start and understand the roots and personal motivation behind the authorial gaze.
I use a model called the Personal Branding Canvas – invented by Luigi Centenaro – that helps me to go through important questions touching different fields of the photographer’s life, such as identity, cultural and personal background, soft and hard skills, reasons to believe, promise. These elements are fundamental to understand the person’s positioning.
The positioning is a marketing jargon that represents the point of difference with the others; what makes you special. This is what I call ‘spot of beauty’: it’s unique to each photographer and expresses the personal visual voice.
Once this is identified and agreed, it becomes the focus of the artist statement and the hook upon which you build your identity and storytelling via the most appropriate communication channels (for example, social media, but not only).
The “beauty” part of the ‘spot of beauty’ is more related to the substance of a practice, it’s not a formal aspect. Is about being conscious of your own inner voice, and intimate motivation and use it as an authentic guide for your creative expression. The communication is just an expression of that, but the “beauty” is substantial rather than formal.
Does actually everybody own such spot of beauty?
This is a question I get all the time. Yes, is the answer.
Everyone has a story, a personal point of view that makes him/her unique. And, everyone has the potential to use personal experience, even when’s negative or traumatic, and use it as a guide for creative and artistic expression.
What’s not easy, or granted to everyone, is the capacity to translate that uniqueness in an artistic production that is really interesting, coherent, strong or credible. And, for that you need to study, practice, experiment and have talent.
Which is your own spot of beauty?
Five years ago I moved to Bari, after 7 in Milan and 10 in London. I was in crisis; I didn’t know what to do with my experience, also considering the photography market or the advertising industry, were very different from London – and I didn’t want to go back to advertising.
It happened to have a good chat with a lovely lady I met through friends, which is a “zen manager” consultant, called Daniela Mattia. She told me “have you thought of doing personal branding”?
I remember being pretty intrigued by the idea, so I started to research videos and info about it. I stumbled across the ‘Personal Branding Canvas’ and decided to apply it to me.
While back then I wasn’t very proud of my background in advertising, I realised that my experience in the commercial world, my knowledge of the photographic language and the eagerness to learn of what’s happening around with my idealistic propensity to make a difference; together with and a passion for psychology and human beings and behaviours, was my ‘spot of beauty’.
I actually found this very useful and revealing for my life.
I think what I do now is the most natural landfall: the sum of everything I learned and who I am, made available to whoever may find it useful.
Through the crossing of my crisis, I took a couple of sessions with a life coach – which seemed a coincidence back then – and after our exchange she told me “you guide people to take leaps of faith, and you do it by being the example”. I guess I was already doing it before this was formalised into a job.
My father thought me that “if you have learned something in life, you have the moral duty to pass it to others, otherwise whatever you learned will die with you and your life would have been worthless”.
Apart all wonderful and generous people I met on the way, I must thanks the forerunner of this job, which has been the photography school in Bari called F.Project, where I still teach, and the artistic director Roberta Fiorito for trusting the proposal. It’s really been a gymnasium for defining my course, adjusting it and making me feel comfortable to take it around.
What is truly beautiful to you? Don’t think too much, just reply going with your thoughts.
Beauty for me is much related with authenticity and imperfection.
Authenticity has to do with showing one’s true nature and beliefs, and for me this is extendable in many areas of living, from external factors to the inside world, which necessarily comes out in whatever one does, the relationships built with others, the connections with the world, or the work of art produced, which becomes the language to communicate with the others.
Imperfections, asymmetries, flows and cracks, being them physical or emotional are things I consider beautiful because they allow to show the most vulnerable side of a person, and so to reveal light – quoting Leonard Cohen, “there’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”.
Founder and editor-in-chief at Slideluck Editorial: an online platform for contemporary photography and multimedia (www.slideluckeditorial.com). The platform launches biennial open calls and global tours showing works that deal with important social and cultural issues.
Maria Teresa conceived and curated the project BORN THE SAME: a selection of ten different works exploring sub-cultures and micro-stories working as reminder that we are all born the same, despite cultural, emotional and political conditions. The project was presented at Les Rencontres De La Photographie Arles 2017, during La Nuit de l’Année and then travelled globally through festivals and public squares. The new call has just been launched on the theme LOVE ME TENDER.
Contributing writer at GUP Magazine.
Now she teaches in Bari at F.Project School of Photography and Cinematography; at IED Roma and Officine Fotografiche; she’s also guest lecturer at the London College of Communication (LCC) and the University of West England, Bristol.