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King Arthur’s Court

In a rare interview, photographer Arthur Elgort delves into his vast archive and shares the stories behind the iconic images in his new book, “The Big Picture.”

By Jessica Michault

Arthur Elgort is a man who loves the unexpected. Over the past five decades, his photographic work has been characterized by its ability to convey the feeling that his subjects have been caught unaware, as if they are just going about their business in a nonchalant way, and yet still maintain a sense of glamour—a snapshot, if you will, into the lives of supermodels, celebrities and even Elgort’s own family.

A lifelong proponent of shooting with natural light and giving a sense of movement to his shots, Elgort was the first photographer to take models out of the studio and onto the streets, arguably making him the grandfather of the current street-style and concrete catwalk approach to photography. He is even credited with creating the now-famous “Vogue Jump” shot, a self-explanatory style of image known to any fashionista worth her salt.

Arthur Elgort.

To celebrate his monumental photographic achievements, Steidl is publishing an impressive coffee-table book, “Arthur Elgort: The Big Picture.” Inside, 280 Elgort images, both iconic and personal, come together to highlight the artist’s unique and engaging point of view.

Bal Harbour chatted with Elgort about his impressive body of work and discovered that for this photographer, it all comes down to trying to capture those fleeting magical moments in life.

Looking back, which particular photo shoot in the book stood out for you?
I liked the Mikhail Baryshnikov shoot and the Rolling Stones shoot—and pretty much anything I did with Grace Coddington.

Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell in New Orleans, 1991

What made you decide that you didn’t want to do your fashion shoots in a studio? That was a bold decision at the time.
It was circumstances, really. I didn’t have a studio when I began my career, so I met people on the street and took their photos on the spot. I was just lucky that it worked out for me.

Your images always look very natural. Nothing looks posed.
Yeah, you can’t tell what time they come from; they are ageless in a way.

Keira Knightley in Kenya, 2007.

There are quite a lot of photos in your book of your kids. Why were they important to include?
You know, they change so quickly. And I didn’t want to miss those moments. That’s why I always took breakfast photos of them growing up.

Is there a piece of advice you would give someone starting out in photography today?
You really have to be able to do film—digital film—now to make it.

Nadja Auermann in New York City, 1995.

What about digital for you? Switching to digital photography from film, was that difficult?
It was hard at first. Before, I could show the people around me just one Polaroid at the start and that was it. I didn’t have to show anything else until I was done. It was much quicker. Now, everyone is huddled around the computer screens all day and they are endlessly changing the shoes, or the hat, or the dress. But I got used to it. And now I enjoy it.

There are quite a lot of photos of ballet dancers in this book. What is the fascination?
I started out shooting ballet dancers. But I realized there wasn’t enough money in it, so I began doing fashion shoots. Fashion shoots were also a good way to pick up girls.

Mad Max in Death Valley, 2000.

Who are some of your favorite models to work with today? 
Karlie Kloss, probably because she started out as a dancer. I really like dancers because they are in tune with their bodies and know how to move.

What made you decide to do this book now?
I really wanted to do a large book for a change. Up until now, all of my books could be put in your lap. This one is much more substantial. I am now working on a ballet book, which I am also excited about.

Stella Tennant in Watermill, 1995.

What do you do for fun?
I love music, so I am always going to classical music concerts and jazz concerts. I have taken a lot of jazz photos over the years… maybe I should do a book with those photos next.

You have shot some unforgettable images all over the world. Is there one place that you would like to go to shoot that you haven’t yet visited?
I would love to go to Australia. But it is so far away!


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