Until October 10th, the Salon de la Photo at Paris Expo offers some 80 000 visitors the opportunity to enjoy a unique exhibition designed and organized by Karl Lagerfeld.
He is presenting both a number of his own previously unseen photogaphs and about thirty legendary photographic portraits he has chosen from the collection at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, by photographers such as Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Arthur Penn, etc.
Did you come to photography, or did it come naturally to you?
KARL: I never thought I could be a photographer until I was literally pushed into it one day, when I urgently needed some photos for a presskit. The push came from my friend and co-worker Eric Pfrunder, in the late 1980s.
You do most of your photos in black and white. Why is this?
KARL: This choice is clearly linked to my fashion creations. Black and white has become emblematic of my style; it expresses my vision of modernity. In fashion as in photography, only perfection will do. Working in black and white is a demanding but fascinating choice. When I do portraits or silhouettes, as I did for the Pirelli Calendar, this approach perfectly highlights the beauty of the body and, thanks to a particular way of using light, it gives a very special three-dimensional perspective to the subjects.
Do you prefer portraits to still lives?
KARL: I do a lot of portraits. I really take the time to choose my models: I don’t think one should ever be a ‘model-guzzler’. One must give the model a spirit. I also do landscapes and still life – I prefer this expression to its rather odd French equivalent ‘nature morte’ dead nature.
Do you have a fondness for certain shooting and printing techniques?
KARL: In a purely rational way, I use what I need, whether it’s gelatin-silver negatives, 6x6 reversibles, or Polaroid. My black and white gelatin silver prints are always done on very matte emulsions to enhance the very graphical texture of the picture, with very deep blacks and strongly contrasted tones. In the same very graphical and modern vein, I have had prints done on matte aluminium sheets: here the effect is cold and metallic, and the contrast between light and shadow is very interesting. I’ve also been interested in resinotypes and Fresson prints for soft-coloured four-colour work.
What about digital?
KARL: I love modernity, I never look back at the past, I don’t worship nostalgia. As far back as the late 90s I naturally started experimenting with these new techniques, and made Fine Art inkjet prints made on canvas, textured Cristal paper, pure cotton Arches paper, and so on. The medium must always correspond to a precise idea I have about a landscape, a portrait, or a nude,.
It’s easy to imagine what connects you to fabric and pencils. But what is your relationship to the ultimate photographic medium, paper?
KARL: Paper is my favourite material in the whole world. It is the starting point for a drawing and the finishing point of a photograph. I could never do without paper. For my photos, for example, everything begins with a drawing. I compose a photo in the same way I do a drawing. But the play of light gives it a new dimension. What are your working methods? I do a lot of studio work. The camera isn’t very important: I work indifferently with 20x25, 24x36 and digital cameras, always with assistants. My photo studio works in a similar way to an haute couture workshop: the work is collective, everyone has a clearly, defined role and contributes something: an expertise, a skill.
What are your influences and inspirations?
KARL: I love the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Clarence Hudson White, as well as German photography of the 1920s. My cosmopolitan education led me to take a very early interest all forms of art and to observe the world at large. As in fashion, I can’t imagine limiting myself to certain disciplines as a photographer: painting, film, and architecture obviously inspire me. So you can see that ‘Hommage à Oskar Schlemmer’ is inspired by Metropolis by Fritz Lang and the films of Murnau.
Could you now imagine life without photography?
KARL: Today, photography is part of my life. I can’t imagine life without its vision. I look at fashion and the world through the eye of the camera. This gives my basic work a critical detachment that helps me more than I could ever have imagined.
Photo: Edgar Ramirez by Karl Lagerfeld
Salon de la Photo
Parc des Expositions, Pavilion 4
1, place de la Porte de Versailles
Uma Thurman, Sean Lennon, Charlotte Mulh Kemp, Clémence Poesy, Poppy Delevigne, Leigh Lezark, Florence Welch
Interviews by Elisabeth Quin