TORONTO - Famed Vogue photographer Arthur Elgort says he can t predict what the future holds for the fashion magazine, but he doesn t foresee longtime editor-in-chief Anna Wintour leaving anytime soon.
No, I don t think so, unless she s going to be a French ambassador, he said in an interview, referring to long-standing rumours that Wintour has been in the running for such a diplomatic post either in London or France.
But why bother? Wouldn t you rather be Vogue than French ambassador? I think it s more fun, he added with a smirk. You get better seats at the (Paris fashion) shows too.
Elgort stopped in Toronto this week to open The Big Picture, the first solo exhibit of his work in Canada. It s running at Izzy Gallery in the city s posh Yorkville district through Nov. 29.
It s one of several projects the beloved shutterbug has on the go as he awaits word on his next assignment from Vogue, for which he s shot the world s most famous models and various celebrities for more than 40 years.
They re not using me at the moment. I don t know why, said the genial 74-year-old New York native, who suffered a stroke in 2011. I m going to wait and send (Wintour) a Christmas card and say, I m ready for you anytime you re ready for me. But I think she s so busy now because I think now she s the head of everything, and that s a lot of things to do.
And I can t complain because she kept me. When Grace Mirabella left and Anna took over, most people got kicked out except me and (creative director) Grace Coddington. So we still talk all the time, but I never ask the question (about the next assignment). I feel funny asking the question. I don t feel like I m good at that.
What Elgort is good at is capturing his subjects in an animated, light and relaxed snap shot style with lots of movement — a stark contrast to the mannequin style of modelling that permeated the industry when he started.
The Big Picture encapsulates his unique style with 22 of some of his most revered black-and-white photographs of mostly models, including Kate Moss posing with elephants in Nepal, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington holding cigars, and a topless Gia Carangi talking on the phone.
It s an approach he developed through a love of jazz and dance, particularly ballet.
It influenced me a lot, but I realized I couldn t make any money from dance, said Elgort, who has also shot for many other top fashion magazines as well as advertising campaigns for leading fashion houses.
So then I said, What s the most close to dance I could find? Fashion. I always liked fashion anyway because my mother used to collect Vogue magazines.
Elgort was interested in photography as a kid, but he didn t pursue it seriously until many years later.
I broke my camera, he recalled. I beat it at a bee and it broke the strap and it went in the water and my mother wouldn t buy me another, so ... I quit photography for a while.
He studied painting at Hunter College, but his instructors were more interested in teaching expressionism whereas he preferred naturalism.
Also, I was lonely painting pictures, he said. All my nails were always dirty, really dirty, and I was a waiter and they didn t like the nails and they saw me and they said, You re going to serve me dinner? I think not. So then I took up photography.
Elgort went on to shoot catwalk pros who — like him — were just starting out but quickly achieved worldwide fame and supermodel status.
They liked me because I was very quick and I said, Do what you want. If you want to kick, kick, that s fine with me, or, We re finished with this picture. Get in another outfit, he said.
I think I did a good job fast, and a lot of models get bored when they take their time, you know, he added with a laugh. They want to finish and go out (and get) drunk or something and have fun.
Elgort has also published several books of his work and made several films, including Colorado Cowboy, which he partially shot in Calgary.
Among his favourite models to work with: Turlington, Apollonia von Ravenstein, Jeny Howorth and, most recently, Karlie Kloss.
One of his favourite shoots: A 1986 one for French Vogue in which Mikhail Baryshnikov posed as a duck with a gaggle of models including Turlington, Paulina Porizkova and Uma Thurman.
Then there was the time he snapped rockers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in an unexpected moment: exchanging a puff of smoke between their open mouths.
There was no light where they were doing whatever they re doing, and I got Patti Hansen to hold up a light for me and I took two snaps and it was over, he said. Then all of a sudden they said, You took our picture when we were smoking? But I love that picture.
Elgort said he still shoots on film as well as digitally these days, and he plans to one day try to shoot on an iPhone.
His advice for photographers starting out at a time when smartphones allow many to become amateur photographers?
I would say learn how to do film, one, and maybe learn how to do movies also.
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