You've seen his photographs of Sunset Boulevard rock 'n' roll icons in their natural habit: vibrant images of John Travolta kissing Olivia Newton-John, David Bowie starting his dirty old Mercedes, Joan Jett eating french fries. Brad Elterman, the Los Angeles native who started taking photos of famous people at 16, has a particular talent for catching candid and playful moments.
Now, the legendary photographer invites you to join him at his home. Fashioned after Henri Matisse's famous residence in the South of France, the energy of Brad's Villa Le Reve is no less enticing with its slew of muses and characters. Featuring everyone from a lingerie-clad Caroline Vreeland, rosé bottle in hand, to Jeremy Scott (in the pool fully clothed), this new photobook brings you into Brad's personal world.
Tell me the story of how you found your house.
Back in 1989, my cousin told me that his lovely elderly neighbor Mary was interested in selling her home and we should buy it and rent it out. I was really taken with its charm and I knew there was potential. It's actually not a villa, but a tiny cute bungalow in a secret canyon just up from Sunset Boulevard. We put very little money down and signed our life away with the bank. Right afterwards, the entire real-estate market collapsed. We had a rock and roller renting it out so I bought out my cousin and moved in. I had lived in the same apartment for years and it was a big emotional change for me. I always thought that it would be temporary, but it clearly wasn't. A decade later, I purchased the land next door where I created a European garden and built a swimming pool. The garden is still young and now after 15 years, the trees are maturing. I really had no idea what was about to emerge when I planted everything over a decade ago. It just sort of happened.
How did the name come about?
I was inspired by Hotel Le Yaca in Saint-Tropez and of course Matisse's home in Vence. I always enjoyed Matisse. I loved the beauty of his work and all of the nude muses hanging around his house. One day, I got down to Vence and I was able to tour his villa. It needed work, but there was plenty of magic in the garden with the lovely light of the South of France. When I started my own garden I always had Le Reve in mind. Then a decade later, I started to take photos of muses for Purple Diary and I made the name official. It's not really a villa in the sense of a massive home, but I don't care. It's quiet, peaceful, and very private and I like it that way.
Why do you think so many people are ok with getting undressed at your home?
Well, it's a European house so people feel comfortable here.
Have things ever gotten particularly wild?
Once or twice, but I am a bit more reserved these days. I only wish I had this little house and swimming pool when I was in my 20s!
How many people's careers have you launched from photos taken in your home? I know you mentioned actress Chelsea Schuchman before, and model Justin Gossman.
I think with Chelsea it was all about timing and the story was really cute, that she would pose topless in my swimming pool surrounded by construction workers. She is a stunning and very California with a wonderful look of innocence and that made the photo work. I explained to the workers in advance what was about to come down and told them, "No gawking!" Purple Diary published the story first and then the phones started to ring and we were on our way!
What was the impetus to create a book?
Villa Le Reve is such an important part of my life and I am really proud of this little cabin in the hills. Los Angeles is all about more is better. There are so many massive, tasteless, vulgar homes here. For me small and cozy is better. The book is a salute to Le Reve and the amazing friends who have come here to visit and have their photo taken. These memories are so precious to me.
Text Paige Silveria
Photography Brad Elterman