|Patrick Demarchelier is one of the world elite among photographers and has seen his work published in the portfolios of the major international fashion magazines. He has also regularly been recruited to shoot extravagant advertising campaigns for high-profile brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Estée Lauder, Armani, Versace, Calvin Klein, L’Oreal, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic and Christian Dior. He spent 15 years at Vogue before signing an exclusive contract with Harper’s Bazaar and Hearst Publications in 1992 that continues to this day. Patrick Demarchelier’s images have been shown at a large number of exhibitions and he has published three books, Patrick Demarchelier: Photographs (1995), Exposing Elegance (1997) and Forms (1998).|
Patrick Demarchelier was born outside Paris in 1943, spent his childhood in the northern harbour town of Le Havre, and moved to New York in 1975.
What led to your becoming a photographer?
My uncle gave me a camera when I was 17 and I started taking photographs. My first fulltime job within photography was printing and retouching passport photos for a small photo lab in northern France. When I was 20, I moved to Paris and began working for a lab, printing newspaper photographs. After a while, I left the darkroom and got a job as an assistant for a photographer shooting film magazine covers. Six months later I became house photographer for Paris Planning Model Agency and did test shoots for different model agencies. A year later I became assistant to top photographer Hans Feurer. He worked for the successful English magazine Nova and was about to do his first assignment for Vogue. Hans Feurer gave me a solid base in photography and after working for him I started taking my own fashion shots.
What kind of photographic training do you have?
I have no formal qualifications, just the school of life. I learned most by just taking pictures; a lot of pictures. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but it’s often from your mistakes that you learn most. Being a photographer is like being an athlete. You must practice every day.
Most photographers have idols, from whom they learn and draw inspiration, and this includes Patrick Demarchelier. Without pause for thought, he names three photographers: Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn.
“These are great people. And photographers. They work hard and manage to elegantly meld commercial assignments and personal projects. They’ve taken photographs I wish I’d taken,” says Patrick.
At the moment, Patrick is busy with a couple of exhibitions to be shown in Moscow and Rome this year. He’s also working on a new book. Then there are a few more personal projects underway, but he’d prefer not to discuss them until they are completed. Patrick Demarchelier works out of his three-storey studio in Chelsea, Manhattan. His photographic equipment is extensive and comprises several camera brands, including Hasselblad.
Partly because the Zeiss lenses are incredible, but also because the construction of the camera is of the highest quality while the design is so simple – the camera fits your hand like a glove. The extent of the system is vast, with everything you could need. I had the opportunity to shoot with a prototype of the new H1 for a day last year and immediately fell in love with the camera.
What do you think about auto-focus?
Today’s systems are far less complicated than earlier systems. There are situations where auto-focus has its advantages, but I still prefer to focus myself. It’s the physical feeling. My eyes still work and I often work with the widest aperture while focusing.
What do you look for first in camera equipment?
High quality optics, mechanical reliability, and the way the camera “feels” in your hand. Photography is a very physical activity. So I prefer to hold the camera rather than use a tripod. This allows me to react much more spontaneously to the subject I’m photographing.
What do you think about the square format?
I love the square format. It’s very neutral to the eye and has a visual balance. Unfortunately, the commercial world is 98% rectangular, the other 2% being the music industry and portraiture.
Describe how you go about taking a picture?
It depends what I’m photographing. For commercial assignments, I take a variety of cameras, lighting equipment, and films. It’s not until the actual shoot that I decide what camera, lighting, film, and exposure to use. I’ll try several different approaches, studying the Polaroid results. Finally, I’ll decide how to proceed. Producing successful results requires a team that gives its all. This applies to models, hair and make-up stylists, the editor, the art director, and the assistants. Everyone has to work with the same visual goal in mind. We’re to create the perfect image together.
Do you have any advice for young photographers at the start of their careers?
Take pictures, take many pictures. And learn from them. Once again, being a photographer is like being an athlete. You must practice every day. Professional photography isn’t a 9-to-5 job. It’s a lifestyle. At the beginning of my career, there weren’t as many photographers as there are today. Today the competition is much harder. And there are very many good photographers.
Is there anything you regret?
Yes, many things. But I don’t dwell on the past. Life lies in the future not the past and I channel my energy in that direction.
What are the most important aspects of your life?
My wife Mia and my three sons, Gustaf, Arthur, and Victor. And my dog Puffy too. And sailing of course.
How easy is it to combine family life and work?
I’ve been married for over 30 years. A relationship and a family is a fulltime commitment. It’s never easy to combine a family with a career. Sometimes it’s been difficult, but you just have to get involved, try to work out any problems that crop up.
What do you think you’ll be doing ten years from now?
Taking photographs and sailing, but perhaps not in that order.
Link to Patrick Demarchelier´s website.