Photography by Austen Amacker
A few days before the debut of Prince Michel de Yougoslavie’s first photography exhibition in the United States, the debonair royal, comfortably ensconced in the vibrant surrounds at Coe & Co. Photography Gallery on Royal Poinciana Way, chats amicably about how a self-taught hobby evolved into an all-consuming passion for the visual arts.
While holding a successful marketing job at a Geneva-based, due-diligence company, the grandson of Italy’s last king and the last regent of Yugoslavia experienced a moment of clarity. Craving something more existential than the self-gratification he received from his work, he discovered he was searching for a lightness of being. His business coach and former Palm Beach resident, Nicole Petschek, suggested he find a hobby he could practice daily.
“I remembered thinking back to when I was young and living in Versailles,” he says. “I would carry around a little Kodak camera and take photographs on weekends and during lunch and dinner. I was always very happy with them.”
He purchased an inexpensive camera, then spent the next five years practicing an hour each day, shooting things like doorknobs, streetlamps, and other commonplace objects and themes.
At the time, “All my friends were saying, ‘Michel, we like your photos, you should do a show,’” he says. His response was usually the same: “I would tell them I didn’t even know how to do photos and that it was private or part of my therapy.”
“A friend helped me pick some photos, images that mostly represented nature [including one of a live bug in a dead flower].”
When the show concluded, the prince learned he had sold 30 photographs, while the other participants had only sold one each.
Today the former real estate broker and hedge fund executive, who now proudly shoots with a Leica, is rarely without his camera. When he’s not traveling around the world, he typically clocks six or seven photographic exhibitions a year and regularly gifts his works to charity, including a recent donation he made to a Palm Beach nonprofit supporting children with autism.
Here, he spills on inspirational shots, overcoming shyness, and snapping happy photos.
What do you receive from seeing life through a lens?
When I first look through my camera lens, everything is really small. Then, you transport [the images] onto your computer and they’re bigger. You print them and put them on the wall and they’re even bigger. Seeing the finished project feels like giving birth. It makes you feel very happy at the end.
When I started taking portraits, I was very shy about stopping people in the street, but I used it as an exercise to build confidence. I’ve found that most people are delighted to have their portraits done. My camera has Wi-Fi so I can send them to my phone then directly to the person via WhatsApp. Also, participating in exhibitions is very self-gratifying. It’s like unveiling and opening myself up to people at the same time.
Do you ever look to others’ photography for inspiration?
I love looking at photos, especially [those from] the old days. Right now, I’m in the gallery [Coe & Co.] looking at Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” that was on the cover of National Geographic. It’s only $75,000, which makes me hope my $2,000 photo may get that someday.