Inside Story: My favourite cover shot
Delivering a sensational magazine front is almost routine as far as the world's best fashion photographers are concerned. But which ones mean the most to them?
Monday 15 January 2007
MAGAZINE: THE FACE
SUBJECT: KATE MOSS
I love this cover. It was taken in Paris in 1996 for The Face magazine. I like it because it shows a side of Kate Moss that we don't usually see. Kate has always been a favourite model of mine - she's such great company and a truly nice person. Shooting this cover was refreshing as, nowadays, most cover images are done in a very commercial way - after all, it's through the cover that you sell a magazine. But working for The Face wasn't about selling, it was about turning heads, catching people's eye and grabbing their attention. For most of the covers I do today I have to bear in mind that they have to sell, which gets away from this is what made this shoot with Kate so memorable.
MAGAZINE: OBSERVER MAGAZINE
YEAR: 1967 SUBJECT: THE QUEEN
It would have to be a toss-up between an image I took of Mick Jagger for the cover of the Rolling Stones' albumSticky Fingers and the portrait I took of Her Majesty the Queen - the two extremes of rock royalty and royalty, you could say. But if I was pushed, I'd choose the shot of the Queen. It ran on the cover of The Observer in 1967. I was 25, and it was to be the first informal portrait of her. I shot her sitting on the floor, in front of a fireplace, with her corgis at her feet.
I'd been called up to Balmoral and told that I wouldn't have a lot of time with her, but as it turned out we spent over an hour together. There was no prior meeting, this was it. I remember her walking into the room with an equerry who then left and I was struck by the enormity of being alone with the Queen. My nerves were shot! She was very gracious and, I thought at the time, quite shy.
I took four shots in total and at one point we went outside, myself, my assistant and Her Majesty. Suddenly, there was this shrill whistle, like someone hailing a cab in New York. Shocked, I turned and looked at my assistant, wondering where it had come from. Then we realised it had come from the Queen! Out of nowhere, all these Shetland ponies appeared at the gate and stood waiting for her.
I suppose I've always been fond of that shoot because it changed a lot of subtle things for me. As an American, I was always aware of being an outsider when I first arrived in the UK in 1969. My neighbours, a sort of dignified gentry lot of majors, would always criticise my dirty car, but once that image had run in the paper they would call and invite me round for sherry - though I didn't accept. Yet still I suppose it's a sense of pride, national pride.
SUBJECT: MICHAEL CAINE
The shot was taken back in the mid-1960s. I like it because it amuses me that the image was published more than 20 years after it was taken. Paul Croughton, the deputy editor of Arena, says: "It's an iconic image that made for a great cover. There's something extremely cold and magnetic about Michael Caine here. His eyes - a mixture of menacing and engaging - really draw you into the magazine. Despite it being an old picture, shot in the Sixties, it didn't feel out of date. In fact it had such impact that we recreated the image in November 2004, when we asked Bailey to shoot Jude Law in the same pose for the release of the remake of Alfie."
MAGAZINE: DAZED & CONFUSED
SUBJECT: AIMEE MULLINS
I have to admit that the premise of a "favourite cover" is alien to me as I don't see my work that way. The notion of making a trophy out of a specific shot just isn't how I approach what I do. If I'm honest, I've always been far more interested in creating the next image than reflecting on anything I have already executed.
I see photography as a conversation, as an ongoing process. So to select a single picture would be comparable to removing a single word from a sentence and hoping that one word would or could convey the weight and complexity of an entire conversation. It would be like looking at a single frame of a movie and expecting it to evoke and encapsulate a whole movie. I suppose I've always tried to avoid that kind of arrogance, and it's undoubtedly why I shy away from producing books and exhibitions of my work.
But if I had to highlight one cover that really sticks out for me, which, as I have explained, I'm not comfortable doing, it would be a Dazed & Confused shoot from the late Nineties. It's a shot of Aimee Mullins, who has since become a good friend. A paralympic gold medallist, I shot her when Alexander McQueen asked me to produce a series of pictures that presented people with disabilities in the mode and format that is usually applied to fashion models.
Aimee was born with no major bones in her lower legs and they were amputated from the knee down on her first birthday. I had seen a picture of her on the cover of American I D Magazine (International Design) with her prosthetic running legs, so I showed it to Alexander and we flew her in. The image appeared on the cover of Dazed & Confused and has always been important to me as I felt it represented a significant moment - a widening of the parameters of what is considered acceptably beautiful. Emotionally, I feel it articulates something that needed to be said.
I do enjoy the whole construct and power of cover imagery. I think with covers it's that brevity, the conciseness and speed of comment that works for me. Like photography, a great cover delivers its many messages fast.
This, of course, is the romanticised view. When the marketing men get involved it becomes about rules and regulations - the model must make eye-contact; never use yellow, etc etc. This can take the pleasure out of the creative process, but I am known for my robust imagery and I don't mind battling my corner. It's a struggle between creating a beautiful innovative image and the men in suits wanting to play it safe with tested formulas.
MAGAZINE: DAZED & CONFUSED
SUBJECT: KATE MOSS
This is a hard one, as there are so many to choose from. But this was the first time I'd worked with Kate. It was great to meet her as all of the things I'd heard about were true. She was dynamic and keen to try something new for the cover.
It was a concept that Katie Grand, the fashion director at the time, and I had come up with. We wanted to use Kate as a blank canvas and spray-paint her - like a graffiti-covered wall. The idea worked and Kate was great to shoot. As a photographer, when you get someone who delivers every shot, it's just so refreshing. She was consistently brilliant and it gave me a real buzz.
I suppose it was the first time I realised the true meaning of what it is to be a supermodel, that special dimension they bring to a shoot. Kate and I became good friends.
SUBJECT: AMBER VALLETTA
Without a doubt it's my second i-D cover, taken back in 1999 of Amber Valletta. Funnily enough it was the same day I shot my first cover try for them too, but it's this image out of the two that really sticks in my mind. I like it for a number of reasons, notably and most sentimentally because it meant working with make-up artist Pat McGrath and hair-stylist Eugene Souleiman again - both people I had collaborated with when I was really young and just starting out back home in London.
The fact that i-D is such a British institution was important too. I'd been away in New York for a while so there was a certain patriotic element and some nostalgia as I'd worked for them years before and it was a real honour to shoot their cover.
I remember - as is the tradition with i-D cover shoots - that we'd all been working on separate projects throughout the day and came together late at night for this job. We ended up taking this shot in the early hours of the morning, and despite it being a long, tiring day, I still look back at it fondly.
It was the first time I'd shot Amber - she's got such an extraordinary face, and we've worked together a few times since. While the image shows the classic i-D wink, I feel there's something really special about this cover. Especially as it's so different from many of my other covers, which tend to feature a lot of text and straplines. This image is clean and uncluttered, with only the single word "kinetic" overlaid on to Amber's face. I like the purity and simplicity. Then of course there's the fact that this image was the springboard for my shooting many more covers for i-D. I guess I can't have been the only one who liked it!
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