Photography is a strange phenomenon, you trust your eye, and you cannot help but bare your soul.
When I read this quote by Inge Morath I wonder what am I bearing in regards my work. Does it reveal and talk of who I am as a person and artist? I think of many great photographers who I love and respect and try to see through their work and understand what is it about their character and personality that allows them to shoot as such. What is driving their style and approach to taking photographs? And when we look at the images what are we learning about the photographer?
One of my favourite fashion photographers is Bruce Weber. I had the pleasure of meeting him once back in the mid nineties. I wanted to be his assistant and I turned up at his hotel on Sloane St. uninvited. Incredibly he came down from his suite and sat and chatted to me. The fact he took time out to meet me when I had not even arranged a meeting was amazing and an indication of the kind of person he is. Sadly I didn’t get to assist him but I am continually in awe of his talent and work. When I look at Bruce Weber’s work what characteristics of his soul and personality am I seeing. Well for sure he is someone that is incredibly passionate about life and people. His subjects are healthy and beautiful but it goes further than that. He is celebrating their beauty and observing them freely as they love, engage, play, pose and immerse themselves in their worlds. He shoots people of all ages from the very young to the very old. In each case he holds them up for us to appreciate their style, character and natural beauty. Whether it’s a celebrated poet, writer or artist or even if it’s a famous actor or even just a regular person that is caught up in the street fashion he shoots, you can clearly see that he adores and loves the people he encounters. He gives each and every one of his subjects the same attention whether they are rich or poor, celebrity or just a regular person. They each shine in the glory of his unique talent and appear powerful and so beautiful no matter their background and status. There are people of all races, ages, sexual persuasion and all genders. For his love of people transcends all social barriers and there is something so wonderfully inclusive about his work. I have always been utterly fascinated by how Bruce Weber managed to be a brilliant fashion photographer by not actually shooting fashion. So what I mean by this is he shoots lifestyle and his subjects immersed in everyday life. Or at least he creates these scenarios and places the subject in this scene. The everyday scene is not always glamorous and the shoots never look over produced, or over stylised fashion sets. Its simply people hanging out and having fun and enjoying life. Mostly outside on location and its rare you see a studio shoot by Bruce Weber.
His subjects wear beautiful clothes but the clothes never take over and it’s never the clothes dictating the story. The real hero is the person and the energies between each of the subjects. So by this I mean the sense of romance and love that is depicted in each of his images and stories. Its as if each scenario is a fairly tale of love and romance and he is quietly observing the lovers. Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet then Bruce Weber would have shot the picture story. You look into the lives of the subjects and feel their love and are not overwhelmed by the styling and clothes. The clothes are the second act to the real stars. The star is the romance and love depicted in each frame and the lovers live such a fairy-tale existence of escapism and romance. It’s as if Bruce Weber is simply taking family snap shots of his brood hanging out and just chilling. I always felt like I’ve just spent a day kicking around his house or garden after looking at his fashion stories. It never looks and feels like an overdone, manipulated fashion set. The endearing feature about Bruce Weber’s images is the message of love and romance. The images are sexy and wonderful but always with a sincere sense of innocence and love about them. Not aggressive, overly sexualised people either but happy, serene people who appear so in love with each other and life. Sure his subjects are sexy but they are not pushing that in a overly provocative manner. Its not only people that Bruce Weber appears to love and want to celebrate. He is known for his love of dogs and elephants. Numerous shoots involve playful giant elephants that appear to know his work well, have been prepped by their agent and are able to perform gracefully in the romantic setting adding natural beauty to the scene. The contrast between these giant rough wrinkled skinned beasts and the fragile texture and wispy fashion garments works so well. Then there are of course Bruce’s movies about jazz players and boxers and more.
Dotted around my flat I have a good number of Bruce Weber images and so each and every day I am exposed to them constantly. I will include some of the shots here in this blog. I have them framed and laid around and so I’m often picking them up and moving them around the flat. Its sort of interactive art. The shots of Carolyn Murphy have been so utterly inspirational and each and every time I pass them I pause and I smile. I remember once being in a lift with Carolyn Murphy in Vogue House in New York. I was showing my portfolio to Vanity Fair that day. I wanted to say hello and at least make some connection but I didn’t. I think I just asked her what floor she wanted and I pressed the button (still waiting for that call from Vanity Fair too). But when I look at these images of Carolyn Murphy I am filled with a surge of romance and longing for love. She is the perfect model for these shoots and appears to embody so much beautiful energy. She’s an entire romance novel and an entire romcom movie all in one expression, in one Chanel dress, in one pose and in one frame. The other image that has stayed with me for so many years is the iconic shot of Talisa Soto and Bruce Hulse. I would say that this image alone could be one of the most inspiring images for myself as a photographer. It has everything you want in a fashion shot. There is the narrative, allowing you the subject to make of it what you will. Narrative in the sense that this image alone is part of something so much bigger. What is happening between these two lovers here in this image. What’s happening, what have they been doing and experiencing? Again, like so many of his images its as if they are not posing and we have just happened upon them. The elegance and style hits you from the start, as they appear to be travelling in a Riva yacht. Bruce Hulse is lost in some far off place as he coolly smokes and Talisa is away in her own world but still lovingly connected to him. His shiny polished leather shoes and the way the socks are falling down just so. And the way Talisa’s collars are pulled up elegantly and skywards. Then the placement of her hands gently on her legs. I love the fact that his pose too is not overtly masculine but so relaxed and at ease with himself as he daydreams that moment. His cigarette almost burnt down completely. He is not posturing and gesturing with exaggerated machismo but simple relaxed with his love. I am also fascinated at how both Bruce and Talisa are clearly both caught up in their own worlds, thinking about something and lost in thought but at the same time they are both still connected to each other. Talisa is leaning in lovingly and Bruce’s protective shoulder cradling her. In this one image there is romance, love, style, a narrative, fashion, style and glamour and more. It appears so effortless as is Bruce Weber just nonchalantly turned on the yacht and saw this hip gorgeous couple and discreetly took a snap. It is not only the most perfect fashion shot but also embodies everything that make Bruce Weber so utterly brilliant. When Bruce weber was shooting constantly for magazines I would always buy the issue regardless of what language it may be. As long as I cold see his images there in some wonderful fashion spread I would need to have it. His work without doubt is the biggest influence on my own portraiture, fashion and social photography.
If I can channel a fraction of that Bruce Weber style and effortless beauty into my social photography I am delighted. On this occasion the celebration was the wedding of Mr. W.L.P Jaffray and Lady Olivia Marquis. I was second shooter to my good friend Alex Lloyd. Alex is a very talented photographer who I have known for many years. It is a privilege to work with him and our styles are similar. So it makes sense to work as a team and cover such large-scale events. On this occasion my duties included the ushers lunch, the guests arrivals at the church, the décor shots at the venue and of course tables and dancing. So this is why there are not group portraits and set portraits of the bride and groom alone. The church was the magnificent St. Lukes on Sydney St. Chelsea and the celebrations continued at The Institute of Civil Engineers in Westminster. When you shoot any social event such as a wedding or party you long to discover an image that stands out as being strikingly different to anything you have shot before. Or at least one that is original. On this occasion it was the unique architecture of the Institute that allowed one such shot to happen. The entire wedding party stood below on the ground floor as thousands of flower petals rained down on them from the oval opening on the second floor above. Smiling faces looked up and hands reached out as the petals descended.
I absolutely love shooting such incredible weddings and when the gusts are as beautiful and wonderful dressed as these guests I hope there is a chance that I may take an image that comes just slightly close to the brilliance of Bruce Weber.