First things first, it’s pronounced Pah-pin-deeck. But to make things easier, let’s just call him Max. I’ve known Max since he first arrived in New York in 2012. The Australian-born, model-turned-photographer has one of those fairytale stories: He was scouted to play American college basketball as a high school teenager in Adelaide; a chance encounter with one of the world’s most famous photographers in Miami kickstarted his modeling career; and his ability to network like a pro enabled him to transition from modeling into photography, a career he’s now pursuing full-time, shooting the likes of Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima for Maybelline and more. Not bad for a 29 year old
former jock. I caught up with Max to chat Bruce Weber, fashion industry politics, and what it’s like shooting those supermodels. So without further ado…
How did you go from American college basketball to fashion?
I was hanging out with one of the cheerleaders from my team, she was signed with an agency in Miami, and I was waiting in the lobby, her agent came out and asked if he could take some pictures of me, and then that night he called me and said, “You’ve gotta come to dinner with Bruce Weber and his team.” So I went.
Did you know who Bruce Weber was?
I literally had no idea.
So you weren’t intimidated at all.
It was so random to me. I was a basketball player with a shaved head. I had no idea what was going on. But he liked me, and he shot me for some pictures the next day, then later that day I had a fitting, and then I shot Spanish Vogue with him the next day. I got nervous at that point being on set with five other models and all the crew, but it must have worked, because he booked me for another magazine, and Abercrombie, and then a Ralph Lauren fragrance. I worked with him five or six times that summer — which is pretty unheard of I’ve later found out. And then I transitioned up to New York, and that was 2012.
So at what stage did you think photography might be your next thing?
I was looking for something more. I got to a point with modeling where I just needed something else.
Because as a model you’re never really in control of what you’re doing, right?
That’s it. And as a male model you’re the minority in the industry. So why be in an industry like that where it’s harder to work, you’re not going to make as much money, supply exceeds demand. I’d always loved photography, so I met with some of the photographers I knew to ask their advice. Bruce helped me out a lot.
How much do you think networking has to do with how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time?
About this time last year I decided to make more of an effort to get out there and network. We’re in New York and we pay this stupid amount of rent, and I just realized I’ve gotta get out and make the most of it, and I saw my work increase a lot as a result.
What are some of the difficulties you’re facing trying to make it as a photographer?
A lot of the feedback I get is, “Your name hasn’t been out there for long enough.” I’m 29. A lot of the best photographers are 39 or older. So I find that a lot of people don’t take you seriously until you’ve been around a long time. And from the client’s point of view, I get it. You want to get someone whose name adds value to the campaign.
Then there’s the politics of the magazines and the agents…
Is it as cut and dry as something like, if you work for Harper’s you can’t work for Vogue?
I have to be very selective of what I shoot. If you wanna shoot Vogue, they might not look at you if you’re shooting for a less respected publication. You’ve gotta be patient, which is hard for me because I’m a go-getter. I want to do this now, I want to shoot, shoot, shoot. But sometimes you’ve gotta sit back and you’ve gotta let it transpire. That’s hard for me.
How true are the legends of the straight male photographer?
I try to keep work and my private life separate. Sometimes it overlaps, but I know I shouldn’t cross that boundary with anyone on my team or the model or whoever. But I’m so focussed on my career right now I can’t date anyone. I’m dating my camera (laughs).
Okay, so: How did you get in with Maybelline?
Social media, funnily enough. I shot a few girls they’d used in the past, they contacted me and I put them in touch with my agent. The first shoot I did for them was a behind the scenes job doing digital content. I had a little place where I’d take the models and shoot them in my own lighting setup, and that lead to bigger and better things with them. They’re a great client of mine, really good people, and they’ve opened up a lot of doors for me, which I’ll always appreciate.
One of the perks of working with Maybelline is that you get to shoot these supermodels like Adriana Lima and Jourdan Dunn and Gigi Hadid. What sets them apart from the rest of the girls?
They’re beautiful, but it’s all personality. I’m a nobody photographer, but these girls will even work their asses off for me.
Do you have a favorite?
I can’t pick a favorite, but I’ve known Cris Urena and Emily Didonato since I first started modeling so it’s pretty cool that things have come full circle and now I’m shooting them for Maybelline.
I LIKE YOU!