Chris Moore: 'I'm just a fly on the wall'

Veteran photographer Chris Moore has recorded the fashion world for almost 50 years and he's still at it. He talks to Susannah Frankel about the great designers, changes in his craft and his new exhibition

To say that fashion has changed immeasurably over the past half century would be to state the obvious.

However, very few people are still working in the industry as it is today who experienced the catwalk's transformation from determinedly elitist and intimate affair to full-on media circus first-hand. One who has is Chris Moore, at 77 the grand old man of catwalk photography, although he's far too modest and gentle a soul to ever make such a claim. Given that, for almost 50 years, Moore has made a living capturing the work of some of the wildest egos in history, he remains, conversely, quietly self-deprecating almost to a fault.

Next month his contribution to fashion will be acknowledged in an exhibition at the Kings Place Gallery in London. Showcasing his photographs from the 1960s – "we only have very few of those" – to the present day, it will doubtless serve as a brilliantly colourful, fly-on-the-wall documentary of a world that continues to excite, now almost to the point of hysteria.

For his part, Moore is the calm at the eye of the storm, crammed at the foot of the catwalk with his colleagues, the majority of them younger than him by 30 years or more, who show their respect by reserving a prime spot for him. "It's quite jolly with the gang in the back really," he says. "We're all good friends." His pictures are used by everyone from Suzy Menkes at the International Herald Tribune to Vogue and from the red tops (rarely – his take is generally not racy) to the front cover of TIME and this very paper.

In 2000 Moore launched a website, catwalking.com, where, in the throes of and after the event, writers and editors browse the collections and choose their own pictures, compile trend reports, designer profiles and so on. Pick a look, any look, from any show, and it will be there. There is no better research tool of its kind. Moore's archive, equally, is second to none and there are backstage images too: like all great photo-journalists, Moore's unobtrusive presence decrees that even the more shy and retiring designers allow him access.

The rise of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen were both followed by Moore's gaze. He witnessed the emergence of the supermodels on the runway and celebrity culture, from its nascence front row at shows courtesy of Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani, to the full-blown, all-encompassing beast it has become today.

"I occasionally try to take people's pictures front row," he says, "but the terrible thing is I don't know who anyone is. It's absolutely appalling but I don't. Somebody once said to me: 'Will you go and photograph Sylvester Stallone?' I said: 'Alright then, but where is he?'"

Before that, in London in the 1980s, Moore photographed collections by Rifat Ozbek, Katharine Hamnett, Helen Storey and, of course, Vivienne Westwood. In the 1960s, he captured British couture – the type of bespoke looks beloved by the British aristocracy and her Majesty the Queen.

The business of fashion never ceases to interest him. "I should really be thinking about planting the spring greens but I do still enjoy it. It keeps me fit. I walk about with all this stuff on my back. I've got to stop soon though, otherwise they'll be pushing me round in a chair. I want catwalking.com to be my legacy."

It is true that the sheer physical energy required is considerable. Moore follows the fashion caravan from New York, to London, to Milan, to Paris for the women's ready-to-wear shows – he attends over 10 shows each day. He photographs the twice-yearly haute couture season – in the French capital again – pre-collections and menswear, although he readily admits the latter isn't the main draw of the job for him. "I've always liked pretty girls. Looking at pretty women in beautiful clothes and wonderful situations. That's what makes the job so brilliant."

Sitting in his Islington office and home he flicks through images reflecting thus. "Here's Marc Bohan for Dior in 1984. There's Princess Caroline of Monaco front row. She was only recently married. This is this season's Prada. I loved that show. There was something so ladylike about it, but modern too. Here are the beautiful girls at McQueen, walking around a tree wrapped in tulle. It reminds me of a Maypole. He did such lovely shows. It's so sad he did what he did." Moore has some fine pictures of the supermodels in their heyday. "They seem to have suddenly flowered and then faded away. I can't say that there's anyone who's taken their place yet. Here's a John Galliano image. I'm pretty sure that we waited three hours for that show to start but it was worth it." Equally challenging was Nicola Formichetti's debut for Thierry Mugler for the autumn/winter 2011 season, a show made all the more frantic because it was opened by Formichetti's friend and colleague Lady Gaga. "That show was a total nightmare. We were absolutely jammed together. I could hardly move my arms," Moore says, laughing: "There's a lot of torture doing these shows and I do lose my temper very occasionally." He says he can't remember the last time that happened and neither, for that matter, having witnessed his professionalism for more years than I care to remember, can I.

Born in Newcastle, Moore moved with his family to London when he was four years old. "I was 16 when my father found me my first job in a print studio." Terence Donovan joined him six months later. "I didn't go to college. Courses in photography didn't exist at the time. I got a job making up the developer every Monday, getting the tea, that sort of thing." Aged 18, he became a photographer's assistant at Vogue working with Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton. Starting out in his own right, as well as photographing the catwalks, he also shot fashion in the studio. "It was so different at that time. The models did their own make-up. There wasn't such a thing as a stylist. You just had the clothes and she'd turn up, get ready and you'd take her picture."

By the 1990s, he was photographing the catwalks full time, represented briefly by Camera Press and then on a freelance basis. He remains independent to this day. When Moore was a young talent, only a handful of photographers were allowed entry to the hallowed portals of the collections. Now they number in their hundreds, all working at breakneck speed – the move from analogue to digital has made the schedule more gruelling than ever. "I used to walk gingerly into the hotels with a very large bag of processing materials," he says. "We used to develop the pictures in the bathroom. In those days everything had to be processed. Everyone had to wait. You had time to have dinner. Now we work until 11 at night and start at 8am the next morning."

Not that hard work ever put this consummate professional off. "It is more difficult mentally these days," he says, "because you're always on such a tight deadline but I enjoy the fact that it's evolved. I enjoy the fact that it's digital now. Occasionally I still use film but it's such a pain. I embrace the newness of things."

Above all, Chris Moore still loves fashion and while he admits his opinions are not always aligned to that of the writers and editors he works with ("sometimes I come out of a show and you all think it was awful but I thought it was great – I suppose we're not always looking for the same thing"), his judgement as far as a great image is concerned is impeccable.

"Of course, loving the clothes has a lot to do with it," he says. "But you know I owe such a lot to the designers. That's why I've got these pictures. I just happened to be there, happened to be a fly on the wall. They've produced the shows that have enabled me to end up with some rather nice pictures and I'm very conscious of that."

Chris Moore: Catwalking is at Kings Place Gallery, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, from 2 December to 10 February, kingsplacegallery.co.uk

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