Meeting of the minds: Fashion photographers and designers working together

Editorial commissions offer fashion photographers unfettered creative freedom, whereas commercial projects are only ever done for the money, right? Perhaps not. It depends on who you work with, says Juergen Teller. Some magazines have become so commercial, he doesn’t want to work with them, while some advertisers will fund such interesting, creative campaigns that he’s happy to exhibit the images with his personal work.

“You have to choose carefully who you work with,” he says. “When I listen to some clients who request my services, I feel like I can’t achieve what I want to get out of this, apart from earning money. Then I have to be very careful and very clever at turning them down. You have to really look at the history of the company and listen to what they want to do.”

For Teller, the key is working directly with the designer, as he has done with Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood, Phoebe Philo (at Céline) and many others. Other photographers echo his words, whether they’re established or just starting out. Erik Madigan Heck, for example, has worked with Mary Katrantzou on three collections and is planning the fourth. He finds working with designers more fulfilling than shooting for magazines because it’s “a collaboration between two artists”, while Katrantzou describes their work together as “a creative marriage”. After their first shoot, she asked Heck to develop his vision of her designs, “to become a distinctive language that is associated with my work”.

“Artist and shaman” Matthew Stone created a limited-edition book for Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato that was so uncommercial it included hardly any clothes. “I wanted to embrace the inspiration source for this collection,” says Nakazato. “Since I usually don’t let my inspiration source surface, it really felt vulnerable and initially took a lot of courage. However, the result was the exact vision of my world made into reality.”

Photographers and designers have long worked together, the image-makers creating “the imaginative embodiment of a couturier’s vision” through a process of “mutual artistic promotion,” writes Olivier Saillard, director of Paris’ museum of fashion. From Irving Penn and Balenciaga to Peter Lindbergh and Rei Kawakubo, in-house designer at Comme des Garçons, this “collaborative image-making process” has a long and distinguished history that extends far beyond the simple act of selling clothes. Here, BJP picks out five recent examples that show how art and commerce can sometimes fit together.

Juergen Teller
Juergen Teller has one of the closest, longest-lasting relationships with a designer in the business – he has been working with Marc Jacobs for 15 years, creating ads for the men’s and women’s collections, shoes, handbags and perfumes, and the Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line. Teller has photographed models, artists and celebrities for the ads and also takes care of the layout and graphics (initially working by himself and now with graphic designer Peter Miles).

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Marc Jacobs, Men’s Collection S/S 2007 (William Eggleston and Charlotte Rampling). Image © Juergen Teller

“I love working with Marc because it’s very instinctive, very spontaneous, and the ideas are pretty 50-50 as to who we think we should use,” says Teller. “He respects it if he suggests someone and I say, ‘Oof, I can’t really see it’, and equally if I say, ‘I really like the work of this person’, he might say, ‘Oh yes, work with her’ or, ‘No, I don’t think that’s right’. There’s constant discussion about where we should go, but once we’ve established who we want to shoot, he really gives me free range.”

Teller and Jacobs started working together in 1997, having met a few years previously through Teller’s then partner, Venetia Scott, creative director at Marc Jacobs. The two instantly clicked, so when Jacobs had the opportunity to make his first ad, Teller was the obvious choice. “Marc said, ‘Friends of mine who are really into my clothes are playing in London. They’re Sonic Youth, and Kim Gordon is wearing a Marc Jacobs dress on tour.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to use that as our first ad?’,” recalls Teller. “I was in London and I like their music, so it was a really nice thing to do. It really made sense. That’s how it started.”

Teller also shoots campaigns for Vivienne Westwood, Céline and Moschino, and in the past has worked with Missoni, Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Lang (shooting for the latter from 1993 to 2004). As with Marc Jacobs, he always works directly with the designer, rather than via art directors or ad agencies. He says this makes the conversations more direct and means it’s easier to take risks – for Marc Jacobs, he has shot unlikely models such as William Eggleston and Cerith Wyn Evans, for example, and he hasn’t been afraid to hide all but Victoria Beckham’s legs or Sophia Coppola’s arm.

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Marc Jacobs, Collection Bags A/W 2000 (Sofia Coppola). Image © Juergen Teller.

“We’re interested in people, not just 16-year-old models, because everybody can look glamorous,” says Teller. ‘That’s the exciting thing. It’s people who we like, and who do things we like or are inspired by – that’s very important. We want to photograph the character, not just sell – we’re trying to sell an idea of somebody who does something interesting.”

Teller doesn’t have complete control over the images he shoots for Jacobs, however – he can shoot where and how he likes, but the clothes are pre-selected and styled as they are on the catwalk. Shooting ads is very different to shooting editorial or your own work, no matter how creative they are, he says, and you need to be aware of your responsibilities. “If I choose to do a book about the plants growing in Nuremberg, nobody tells me to crawl around on the floor doing these plants,” he says. “That’s entirely different to doing a Marc Jacobs fashion campaign, where I have to photograph sunglasses and certain aspects of the collection in the best possible way I can.”

He says the trick is to work with people who want to do something interesting, and he carefully thinks through propositions and companies’ creative histories before accepting a project. It’s an uncompromising approach but it means he has done commercial work he can be proud of, and which he has exhibited alongside his personal images. It also means he has enjoyed some of his commercial work so much that he has wanted to continue it – when he photographed Cindy Sherman for Marc Jacobs, for example, they kept going after the shoot and ended up publishing a book with Steidl.

Teller takes a similar approach with his editorial clients, turning down magazines if he feels they’re too commercial. The titles he does work with – Modern Matter, Paradis, The Journal and 032C – give him complete editorial freedom and are proving that doing so can be commercially viable. “Of course magazines need advertising, but they want to do exciting things – and because it’s exciting, the advertisers put their ads in, even though their clothes aren’t in the editorial,” he says. “Before, the advertisers felt bored and the magazines felt obliged.

“But I don’t think it’s a particularly good time or bad time [in advertising or editorial],” he adds. “It’s just your time. You just have to take control of what you want to do and what you want to achieve in all this.”

Miles Aldridge
Miles Aldridge‘s shoot for Jean Paul Gaultier came about almost by accident. Sent by The New Yorker to photograph the designer, he set up his usual complex lighting arrangement in the atelier and sparked an idea. “I had a dozen or so lights positioned around Gaultier and he said, ‘They’re really fascinating, all these lights – like a forest on stands.'”

Over dinner the designer revealed that he’d been to a theatre production in which the backstage was the show, and that he’d been inspired to use the idea for a catwalk production including a live fashion shoot. Aldridge recalls: “He asked me what I thought and I loved the idea, but I was anxious because it really ran counter to my usual way of working.”

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Jean Paul Gaultier, S/S 2012 campaign by Miles Aldridge. Image © Miles Aldridge.

As Aldridge’s comment suggests, he wasn’t an obvious choice for the job – he usually works in-studio, with everything carefully worked out in advance and strictly under control. He says he only got the job because Gaultier liked him enough to take him to dinner and talk about it, and while he’s being modest (he’s a well-established Italian Vogue regular and had been in touch with Gaultier in the past), there is a grain of truth in it – probably only the head of a fashion house could propose such a risky idea. Thinking it through, Aldridge realised it wouldn’t be so different to his portrait shoots if he could get everything set up in advance.

“I thought that if I could get enough things secured, a photograph can be taken in less than a second and for a campaign you only need two, so this 17-minute problem [the duration of the show] isn’t necessarily a problem,” he says. “I’ve done quite a lot of portraits for The New Yorker and when I’m commissioned, I always ask if I can go and see the place where they want it done. I get there two hours before, set it all up, then they walk in and I take the picture and get it done. I thought that if I could do that then adding the instantaneousness and adrenalin might be interesting.”

Aldridge knew he would be given a 4mx4m spot on the catwalk, so he taped out a square that size and worked with a set designer to create a mini studio containing his camera, lights and an interesting backdrop. It was “rather Heath Robinson”, he laughs but he decided to go with it, reasoning that, after all, Gaultier had been attracted to his “forest of lights”. On the catwalk, the models walked into the studio for a few seconds, with Gaultier’s director of communications “directing traffic” and Aldridge inside shooting on film. “When I said ‘I want to shoot this on film’, he said, ‘Erm, OK,'” says Aldridge. “A monitor is just one more thing to go wrong.”

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Jean Paul Gaultier, S/S 2012 campaign by Miles Aldridge. Image © Miles Aldridge.

Aldridge also shot exactly what he wanted of the collection – whereas a normal campaign shoot might include a rail of clothes carefully selected for their saleability, he just picked out what looked good. The acid-yellow jumpsuit [5] in the campaign, for example, probably wasn’t at the top of any marketing wishlist, but Aldridge spent extra time with that model because he knew the colour would look punchy. In fact, he had little time to view the clothes before he started shooting. He got clues from Gaultier’s team before the show but only saw the collection a couple of hours beforehand, “which of course is too late”.

At the end of the shoot, Aldridge picked out four images he was happy with and two he wanted to use, and proposed those two to Gaultier. He also had extra shots of models simply striding by and tried adding them to the frames to give an impression of the live event.

“I said, ‘What do you think?’ and luckily – rightly, I think – Gaultier liked it a lot,” he says. “It’s the way it should be. I think he assumes he’s hiring people because they know what they’re doing. It doesn’t make sense to monkey around.”

Gaultier’s team then added the designer’s logo, checking the colours with Aldridge, and the campaign went live in January. It’s an unusual advertising campaign, but it’s not the only one Aldridge has been happy with. He has worked with MAC Cosmetics for about five years, shooting about four times a year, and says each time has been “like being on the best magazine shoot you’ve ever been on”.

He works directly with James Gager, senior vice president and creative director of the company, who encourages him to shoot interesting images on the proviso that they can always create the products afterwards. “The whole thing is amazingly fluid,” says Aldridge. “You have complete freedom, more or less, and the budget behind you too.” 

Synchrodogs
Young Ukrainians Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven, aka Synchrodogs, initially got together as a couple. They started making photos for fun because “we understood we couldn’t be involved in several serious activities at the same time and be professional, and photography appeared to be our main entertainment at that time”.

“Meeting each other helped us to shoot our ideas as we had them because we were always hanging out together. It never seemed like work for us.”

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Clothes, Masha Reva; styling, Julie Pelipas; hair/make-up, Helen Khodos; model, Lola Dikova; retouching, Igor Primak; assistance, Anna Shapovalova. Image © Synchrodogs.

Even so, they are doing well as professional photographers, featured in Vice USA, Dazed & Confused and Disturber magazine, and shooting for clients such as Harper’s Bazaar and Urban Outfitters. They’ve also worked for a couple of Ukrainian designers – Anna October and Masha Reva. Their work with Reva initially started out as fun because the three are pretty close friends. “When we go to Kiev we always stay at Masha’s,” say Shcheglova and Noven. “One day, we just decided to do a shoot together, with zero ideas and no clothes ready.”

They’ve worked together a few times since, though, and have become more organised, preparing in advance and bringing together a team of people to help on the shoots.

Reva says she thought about the visual representation of the clothes even as she designed them, and believes this is why they “look natural in a photographic environment”.
“Masha is an independent artist when it comes to designing clothes, so we knew her ideas would suit our vision. We were communicating all the time about shapes and colours and even did a trial shoot,” say Shcheglova and Noven. “Later, Masha started working with a great stylist, Julie Pelipas, so we became more confident about how the pictures would look.”

The trio discussed concepts with Pelipas and came up with the idea of visual illusions, plus a connection to nature. “The main idea was about the growing amount of information we consume every day, our screens overloaded with lots of visual data that looks like a mash,” explains Reva. “At the same time, the most important thing is our connection with nature – this is the reason why we have to merge with it first of all, not with the virtual reality that dominates us today.”

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Clothes, Masha Reva; styling, Julie Pelipas; hair/make-up, Helen Khodos; model, Lola Dikova; retouching, Igor Primak; assistance, Anna Shapovalova. Image © Synchrodogs.

Reva kept an eye on the shoot but says she didn’t interfere – if she thinks people are on the same wavelength, she’s happy to let them to do their thing. Synchrodogs are proud of the pictures and say they’d like to work with more designers in future, but they still draw a boundary between their commissioned and editorial work. “Working with designers means the style is more or less determined by someone else. This gives you less freedom, but on the other hand shows you the direction needed,” they say.

“Working with magazines is completely different for us – this is where we can shoot anything that comes to mind. Mostly we just drive our motorbike far away from the city, looking for locations, shooting, just having fun. Later there are always magazines asking for those pictures to be printed.”

Erik Madigan Heck
Erik Madigan Heck has worked with many designers over the years, including Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann, Valentino Couture and Mary Katrantzou. He says he’s only really interested in working with designers these days as the attraction of magazines has waned.

“I find working with one vision, or one designer’s ideas, much more interesting than, say, doing a ‘belt story’,” he explains. “It becomes a collaboration between two artists, which creates a more interesting result than imposing my own view on the world. It’s a pure vision as opposed to being watered down by 10 art directors.”

[…]

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Clothes from Mary Katrantzou’s S/S 2012 collection. Image © Erik Madigan Heck.

His collaboration with Mary Katrantzou is probably his best-known and longest-lasting – the pair have worked together three times and are planning a fourth project. Heck contacted the designer to ask if she would like to contribute to his publication, Nomenus Quarterly, because he was attracted by her use of patterns, textiles and eye-popping flattened perspective. “Her design affords me the opportunity to experiment with colour and colour studies in ways I wouldn’t be able to get into in fashion with other designers,” says Heck. “Her use of patterns and textiles allows my thinking to expand to surreal places and explore ways to converge the worlds of illustration and photography.”

“I had seen Erik’s work with Valentino and Ann, but I didn’t realise it was him until he requested to shoot my A/W 2011 collection and I looked at his body of work, which is incredible,” says Katrantzou.

“We collaborated on two collections before we met in person. I really like his aesthetic and the surreal world he created to contextualise my pieces – the pictures look like paintings and heighten my work’s connection to art. We have now worked on a triptych and every season it becomes even more surreal. I trust his vision – it’s a creative marriage.”

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Clothes from Mary Katrantzou’s S/S 2012 collection. Image © Erik Madigan Heck.

Heck comes up with the concept for each shoot, “then I hope Mary likes it, bully her around and explain why I’m right”. Once they’ve agreed the basic idea, she leaves him free to work as he pleases and says it’s one of the few times when she lets go in her work. Each collection is inspired by a particular theme, but after the first collection they worked on together, Katrantzou was keen for Heck to develop the same vision “to become a distinctive language that is associated with my work”.

For A/W 2012, Heck was inspired by Marc Chagall, creating “a feeling of suspended reality that is now characteristic of how he works with my designs”, says Katrantzou. Heck created 18 images, which he and Katrantzou edited down to 11. Called ‘The Surrealist Ideal’, the series has been printed in Nomenus Quarterly and appeared on A Magazine’s website. “He treats the pieces like works of art and blurs the boundaries of photography, painting and fashion,” says Katrantzou. “My work is an assemblage of layers and references and he adds to that depth, tricking the eye further and creating an environment that embraces my work.” 

Matthew Stone
Matthew Stone is good friends with young British designer Gareth Pugh and has contributed to Dazed & Confused and Visionaire, but he isn’t a fashion photographer. A self-styled “artist and shaman”, he prefers to shoot nudes in unselfconscious abandon, as well as performing, curating, writing and creating sculptures. “People are savvy to brands and styling, and I don’t want this to be a focus,” he says. “I have shot a few fashion editorials that involve clothes and there always seems to be this effort to include clothes to please advertisers.”

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Image from The Body Beyond, published to mark Yuima Nakazato’s S/S 2012 collection. Image © Matthew Stone.

So when Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato approached Stone about a photographic project, he was sceptical; and when he insisted he wanted nudes, Stone took a while to believe him. But Nakazato’s S/S 2012 collection was inspired by Stone’s nude work and the designer wanted to pay homage to his source in a book.

“When I first saw his photography, I was strongly drawn into the Matthew Stone world,” says Nakazato, “so I wanted to show and embrace the inspiration source for this collection.”
“I now understand that he felt confident to communicate the starting point for his collection as a way for people to enter into the clothes further down the line,” says Stone. “There are some garments in the book and we just used them as they were relevant, which felt like a really honest way to work.”

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Image from The Body Beyond, published to mark Yuima Nakazato’s S/S 2012 collection. Image © Matthew Stone.

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Image from The Body Beyond, published to mark Yuima Nakazato’s S/S 2012 collection. Image © Matthew Stone.

Stone looked at images of the clothes online and the pair discussed the project via Skype. They then met up in London and “quickly became friends”. Nakazato wanted to convey a utopian community in which nudity is not shameful, but Stone says he didn’t feel he was shooting to a brief as the idea was so close to his work. The shoot took place at a friend-of-a-friend’s house on the two hottest days of the year, and while Nakazato camped along with everyone else, he volunteered only the odd suggestion. “I pretty much entrusted the photoshoot to him, but if I had an idea he would willingly take it on,” says the designer.

After the shoot, Stone made a large edit of the images and sent them back to Nakazato. The designer suggested a few images he wanted to add and the pair then worked with an art director, Robert Brenden Patrick, to further refine the series. The Body Beyond was printed in a limited edition of 1,000 and published by Junsuke Yamasaki in January. It was also featured on the Nowness site. “This kind of collaboration, borne out of strong, trusting relationships and the support of countless people, is not something you come across every day,” says Nakazato.

“If I had another opportunity I would love to challenge myself again.”

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