arthur elgort photographs supermodel perfection
The photographer renowned for documenting the golden age of the supermodel presents his iconic portfolio, Arthur Elgort sees The Big Picture.
Photography Arthur Elgort
On calling the Manhattan studio of one of the most important fashion photographers of all time, one would naturally expect a certain amount of deserved ego to ricochet down the line. Instead we're warmly enveloped by a kind, thick New York accent, belonging to an all-round charming man. Born and raised in the capital, Arthur Elgort started out studying to be a painter before realising it wasn't a particularly social path to take and instead photographing his beloved ballet dancers. Talking his way into a few magazine commissions, he forged a place for himself within the fashion world through his unique snapshot approach, with emphasis always placed on movement and the moment. Since his British Vogue debut in 1971, he has worked extensively with the likes of Apollonia, Lisa Taylor, Christy, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi. - the original supers - as well as shooting campaigns for Chanel, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. Having received the CFDA Board of Directors' Special Tribute Award for his indelible contribution to fashion, Arthur is compiling his iconic work and personal images to form The Big Picture, a book of beautiful highlights from a portfolio spanning almost 50 years. We caught up with the legendary figure to discuss a life shooting the most beautiful women in the world.
Beauty is the people I shoot. Especially the girls. I shoot men too, but it's all abut the girls!
"Beauty is the people I shoot," he explains, quite plainly. "Especially the girls. I shoot men too, but it's all about the girls!" Arthur spent much of the 70s, 80s and 90s travelling to exotic places with exotic faces. A dream job for any young photographer and he agrees. "I didn't mind it at all! And they really listened to me. I don't think I would've been a good postal worker, you know what I mean?" A quick flick through his book and you'll see photographs from days spent rafting with Linda Evangelista in China, journeying through Morocco with Shalom Harlow, and endless adventures in Nepal with Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, who recently declared the elephant-filled shoot the "best trip ever!" But it's not just models that represent beauty for Arthur. His three children would often accompany him and his fashionable tribe on their dreamy treks, more often than not ending up in the photos too. Experiences such as playing the cowboy kids of a wild, wild, west Stella Tennant in Vogue became commonplace activities for the trio, clearly inspiring their own creativity. Now all adults, his daughter Sophie, 28, is also a photographer; his son Warren, 24, is a director; and his youngest Ansel, 20, is an actor. "As they get older they just keep getting more beautiful. Ansel is in London at the moment actually. He's in a film and I'm so proud of him." Arthur then proceeds to tell i-D which hotel his teen heartthrob son is staying in and urges us to meet him because, "He's a riot! You'll love him!" Sophie recently got married and, naturally, Arthur was on hand to document her special day. "Are you married yet?" he asks, before offering to shoot any future i-D weddings too. "I'm very lucky to have these children, and my wife, of course," he says of his stunning theatre director wife, Grethe Holby.
Now 74, has his perception of beauty changed over the years? "I still find the same things beautiful. The girls I've shot are still very beautiful as they get older. Not that I ask how old people are, because it doesn't really matter." Nowadays, Arthur finds that "there are lots of beautiful models but there aren't really any new supermodels. The originals are still working though, and still stunning - Christy Turlington and Kate Moss are still perfect. They don't have plastic surgery either and that's wonderful." Despite the lack of modern supers, there are new models that excite him, particularly Stella Maxwell and firm favourite Karlie Kloss. "She's just brilliant," he says of the i-D cover star and ex-ballerina. Dancers will always be important to Arthur, who loves the way they understand their own bodies. Laura Love (daughter of US Vogue's Lisa Love) is another on Arthur's list of favourites. "I remember her from when she was maybe five years old and I was working with her mother. Now she's a ballerina and a model, and she moves so well."
There are lots of beautiful models but there aren't really any new supermodels.
Arthur once told i-D Founder Terry Jones that beauty is made up of every little scratch, scar and freckle. Today he drives this home, explaining, "I don't like retouching. I like things to look natural. My wife wouldn't change a wrinkle, you know?" He goes on to tell tales of times in Paris when Azzedine Alaïa was just starting out. "He came to us and saw my wife and gave her an entire wardrobe because he found her beautiful." Always one for artistic honesty, Arthur loves film and still prefers to use his faithful Hasselblad or Rolleiflex over digital. "If I'm shooting someone I really like, I'll definitely use film. It's more special that way."
Rediscovering both forgotten and unforgettable photographs, Arthur dipped in and out of his archive for The Big Picture. 18 times i-D cover star Kate Moss features; her tiny frame constantly reappearing throughout, even gracing the cover - laughing as she dances on a table at Cafe Lipp in Paris. "We don't smile enough," Arthur points out. "When we go to shows, there's no smiling. We should all smile once in a while." He's also not afraid to point out his first impressions of Kate, admitting that he didn't think there was anything special about her until he shot her and saw the results. "I couldn't believe it myself," he exclaims. Also starring both as subject and creative in the book is the brilliant Grace Coddington. Lifelong friend and conspirator of the photographer, she went from model to fashion director, and the dream team bonded over the belief that there's more to fashion than clothes on a white background. They went on to work on many a project together, most recently with Arthur shooting Grace for the cover of i-D's The Wise Up Issue in Winter 2012, which is also featured in the book. With over 400 pages, he doesn't have a favourite image from The Big Picture. "Maybe I haven't even taken my favourite photograph yet. Maybe I'll take it in a few years and then realise that I've taken the perfect picture," he muses. "That's why it's important to never stop. David Bailey is like that too. He's always working. Rei Kawakubo as well. I've shot her and she's wonderful."
We don't smile enough. When we go to shows, there's no smiling. We should all smile once in a while.
Throughout his long and illustrious career, Arthur has always stayed true to his own aesthetic, never faltering. "I think that's what makes the book so interesting. Other than the age of the models, you can't tell when the photos were taken because they don't change in style." He's right. Arthur Elgort is the seldom-found lovely legend, responsible for taking fashion from the studio to the streets and still inspiring the industry worldwide. "I hope I get to live for a long time and get to see a lot more life and a lot more people," he concludes. We're sure he will, documenting it as he goes.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Arthur Elgort