Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

10 Questions for Patrick Demarchelier

How did you get into photography?
My stepfather gave me a Kodak camera when I was 17 years old. I started working at a local photo store in Le Havre, France, taking passport pictures and photographing weddings.

What made you start shooting fashion?
I moved to Paris when I was 18 or 19 to work in a black-and-white photo lab, to do printing. I did that for one year, and then I worked for the movie magazine Cinémonde, which doesn't exist anymore. After about a year I left that job and started to look for a job in a photo store, like the one I had in Le Havre. But nobody gave me a job, so it was my lucky day! Finally, I got a job working in a modeling school shooting portfolios for the girls there. After that, I went to assist a photographer for a couple of months. The first break was to work for Elle magazine in Paris, then Marie Claire. Then I worked a lot in Italy and Germany for 12 years. My big break came when Alexander Liberman called me to work for American Vogue and then British Vogue.

What was it like to photograph Princess Diana?
To photograph her was a great honor. She called to ask for me when I was working at British Vogue. I was surprised at the time, because they always used British photographers to take royal portraits. It was the first time they used a foreigner. I liked the idea of breaking protocol. The first time I shot her, I went to the countryside. She had long hair and kind of awful makeup. So the second time she called me, I offered to bring hair and makeup, and she said yes. I went with the hairdresser Sam McKnight and the makeup artist Mary Greenwell, and we gave her a more modern look. We cut her hair and changed her makeup.

How do you make your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera?
Photography is like a moment, an instant. You need a half-second to get the photo. So it's good to capture people when they are themselves. The idea is to make people express themselves. You catch this moment before they realize you are taking their picture, to catch them off guard. I usually work very fast for that moment. So I like to put people in a situation to make them feel good and then to forget the camera. There is this moment when they forget everything, and you have to catch this moment.

Your favorite portrait?
My dog, Puffy. The dog is the perfect portrait subject. He doesn't pose. He isn't aware of the camera.

Is there somebody you haven't yet photographed whom you've always dreamed of photographing?
I love the Dalai Lama, I would like to take his portrait. I like his face and his spirit. He is interesting to me. Also Nelson Mandela I like a lot.

Who is the photographer you most admire?
When I was young, I liked all these photographers like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Frank Horvat. Photographers from almost 50 years ago. I also like Robert Frank, although his photos have nothing to do with fashion.

Where does inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, from movies, from other photographers. When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera. The camera is just an accessory between you and the subject. So you look at things all the time — the street, the landscape. Everything around you influences your photos.

If you weren't a photographer, what would you do?
I don't know. Maybe I would be an artist, although I'm not a very good painter. I love the arts.

What is your greatest luxury?
To be healthy. It is the biggest luxury in life. And then to have your family around you and to have a job you like is fantastic.