Meet The Fashion Week Photographers Who Are Obsessed With The Models
The Debrief: Welcome to the dark side to the photographic scrum
London Fashion Week is on. You can’t move around Somerset House for leggy models and Ubers ferrying stressed-out editors from one venue to another. Oh, and the flock of photographers snapping every wannabe street-style star and Made in Chelsea celeb that walks past the show tent.
But there’s also another side to the photographic scrum. Every season, there’s a revolving clique of up to 20 photographers who traipse between Milan, Paris and New York to take pictures of models. Most of them don’t get paid for it, even though some have been doing this for almost a decade. Their photographs never get published in the papers. They are the hobby photographers – and their private passion is the subject of filmmaker Salome Oggenfuss’ short documentary, The Other Side of Fashion Week which she is turning into an as-yet-untitled full-length film.
Salome first came across this group of unlikely outsiders in 2011. At the time, she was working in casting. ‘My friend Damian who photographs outside of Fashion Week introduced me to some people he had met outside the shows,’ she says. ‘He knows that I am always up for meeting people who are a bit out of the ordinary, and he introduced me to Bobby at the Oscar de La Renta show.’
Bobby Lee wasn’t your average Fashion Week photographer. He’s no Tommy Ton or Sartorialist; he’s a retired teacher from Florida armed with a DSLR camera and a waterproof mac. In an extract from her documentary, Salome shows him at home in the US. His house is filled with boxes and boxes containing framed portraits of the models he’s shot.
‘Maybe I’m just trying to overcome loneliness or something,’ he chuckled. ‘They asked John Dillinger, “Why do you rob banks?” And he told them: “That’s where the money is!” “And why do you photograph female models?” Well, that’s where the beauty is!’ he says.
Salome tells me that Bobby is a ‘pro at travelling on a budget’, which helps when a trip from America to Paris can cost up to $2,000.
Salome calls the hobby photographers ‘birdwatchers of female beauty driven by love or loneliness’. Their intention isn’t to land show invites or rack up blog hits (although they do have websites); they prefer to remain on the fringes of Fashion Week, photographing models as they dash out between shows.
‘They are all quite tight, follow each other’s blogs, connect online, and like to wind each other up,’ Salome says. ‘There’s a playful sense of competition.’
And while they are a mix of gay and straight, there does tend to be more men than women – and the subjects of their lens are always female. Salome acknowledges the gender discrepancy: ‘I would say there generally is a gendered element to men photographing women. Advertising has always portrayed women as an object of desire (perhaps less so these days), and, of course, this influences the way men see women and also how women like to present themselves.’
But Salome believes this isn’t just about the aesthetic allure of photographing beautiful women. ‘I think the motivations are very multi-faceted,’ she explains. ‘It’s about status, beauty, glamour, being a part of something bigger, and so much more.’
Crucially, the models themselves don’t appear to care much about being photographed. Kel Markey, who last walked for Alexander Wang in New York, says in a video on Salome’s website that she admires the photographers’ dedication and considers them a ‘really interesting microcosm within the industry.’
‘The models don’t know anything about the photographers, but definitely recognise them,’ Salome says. ‘It’s a cordial relationship. The models aren’t celebrities in their day-to-day lives and enjoy the attention they get in Fashion Week.’
I was once ‘papped’ by fashion paparazzi at LFW – I’m talking about 20 camera bulbs going off in my face. It wasn’t me they were after; it was super stylist and J Crew model Julia Sarr-Jamois. I was about three feet away from her, and that was enough to accidentally pull me into her irresistible photographic orbit.
For a non-genetically blessed prole, this was as close I got to being part of the industry that people dream about. I could feel the invite-only velvet rope slide back for ten blinding seconds – and then I was back on a wet, rainy London pavement, wearing heels that were too painful for me and an outfit cobbled together from Topshop and Zara. Also, I may have been an intern.
So when I think, ‘Why would somebody spend their whole life photographing models for a hobby?’, I think back to those ten seconds. Why wouldn’t you want a taste of that glamour? Why wouldn’t you want to be able to shout Carine Roitfeld’s name, and see her turn her head? If fashion is about fantasy, these hobby photographers are living the dream.
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