Beyond the Frame

Black and white portrait of Wendy Whitelaw walking in New York City

Wendy Whitelaw, New York City, 1981, from “Arthur Elgort: Personal Fashion Pictures” (Conde Nast Publications)

On a late summer’s day, Sophie Elgort and her father, Arthur Elgort, got together to pore over a pile of books and countless images that are forever a part of the fashion canon. The Lensman—who rarely leaves the house without a camera around his neck—revisits some of the images that hold a special place in our collective memory.

SOPHIE ELGORT: We could sit here all day and talk about photos, but we should pick one to begin with… Let’s talk about that Wendy Whitelaw photo.

ARTHUR ELGORT: I was shooting for American Vogue, in New York City—on Park Avenue. And it was hot as hell.

SOPHIE: Tell us, who was Wendy Whitelaw?

ARTHUR: She was a makeup artist.

SOPHIE: So did she come to set in that dress?

ARTHUR: Yes. Yes.

SOPHIE: That’s amazing. I love her gloves.

ARTHUR: Yeah. She’s perfect, she’s like a model. So I used to walk with Wendy back to the trailer in between shots, and on that day I had my Leica camera, a 50 millimeter lens.

SOPHIE: Wait, what about the doorman, was he just sitting on the car?

ARTHUR: Of course. This was all real, this doorman worked there. He was just waiting for somebody to come.

SOPHIE: Such a great shot. So was this your favorite shot from the day, and it wasn’t part of the shoot?

ARTHUR: Of course. That’s what I’m famous for.

SOPHIE: It’s the in-between moments, right?

ARTHUR: Kind of, yeah… I couldn’t ask for more. I mean, we could have set this up, but it probably wouldn’t be as good.

Black and white portrait of students at Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia 1999

Students at Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1999, from “Ballet,” (Steidl)

ARTHUR: I was a ballet photographer first. Back then, my brother said, “I think what you’re doing is beautiful, but what about fashion instead? Think of fashion as dance.”

SOPHIE: Why did he want you to do fashion instead of ballet—he thought you could make more money?

ARTHUR: Yeah, he didn’t want me to be a waiter forever. So I started working for [fashion photographer] Gus Peterson at his studio. But even when I was on a shoot, I still tried to get ballet in…. It’s like this picture, when I was shooting for Vogue with Christy Turlington, I would say we’re going to [the ballet] school to shoot Christy with the dancers…but I didn’t really want that.

SOPHIE: Yeah, yeah. So you would say it was, like, part of the shoot but really, you were trying to get some personal work in there also. Well it’s beautiful.

ARTHUR: Could be worse, right?

Portrait of Linda Evangelista in Scotland, Vogue, 1991

Linda Evangelista in Scotland, Vogue, 1991

SOPHIE: Okay, so tell me about this one. This is Linda Evangelista, 1991, in Scotland. I remember we included this one for our Instagram series, Behind the Lens with Arthur Elgort.

ARTHUR: Linda gets into the mood of everything and figures out what she can do… She makes it a little more fun. She makes it an interesting picture.

SOPHIE: Beautiful.

ARTHUR: And the bagpiper didn’t know that Linda was not kicking him, but…

SOPHIE: Was he just walking there randomly or he was an extra?

ARTHUR: No, I told them where to stand. I said, “I want a double page spread, so you go here and you go here. Don’t come too close because it’s a double page spread.”

SOPHIE: And they’d end up in the gutter, otherwise.

ARTHUR: Exactly. I took maybe five pictures of it and I was finished.

Golf course, Ireland, 1974

Golf course, Ireland, 1974, from “Arthur Elgort: The Big Picture” (Steidl)

SOPHIE: Is this more like a personal shot?

ARTHUR: Yeah. It’s on a golf course.

SOPHIE: Oh, it doesn’t even look like a golf course. What were you doing there?

ARTHUR: I was there on vacation and my friend was driving…

SOPHIE: Thank God, because you are not a good driver.

ARTHUR: And so I was just doing this [motions that he’s shooting through a window].

SOPHIE: Oh, you took this from the car?! What a great shot. It almost looks like they’re looking at you. So you just had one of your little cameras around your neck? It’s so good. I mean, it looks like it’s off a movie set. You always have your camera.

ARTHUR: Yeah, exactly—so I’m ready for this.

Black and white portrait of Naomi Campell backstage doing her lipstick

Naomi Campbell, Paris, 1988, from “Arthur Elgort: The Big Picture” (Steidl)

SOPHIE: Okay, so this is Naomi Campbell in 1988 in Paris. So tell me, what is going on here?

ARTHUR: I was shooting backstage with Azzedine Alaïa. And I saw Naomi doing something with her lipstick. So I took a picture of it.

SOPHIE: So you have your camera and then it was just a snap.

ARTHUR: Well, you do that all the time, too.

SOPHIE: Right. But, you know, it’s amazing when it’s these iconic images and then you hear that it was really just one snap—you saw it, and you got it, and that was it. You didn’t even bother her.

Portrait of Karlie Kloss posed mowing a lawn in Atlantic Beach, NY for Vogue 2012

Karlie Kloss, Atlantic Beach, NY, Vogue, 2012

SOPHIE: How about this one?

ARTHUR: Did you know I was the first person to shoot Karlie [Kloss] for Teen Vogue? I remember she showed up at their office with her aunt, and someone there said “I like this girl. Give her a chance.”

SOPHIE: So you rented this house on Long Island? Did the surf board and truck come with it?

ARTHUR: No, it belonged to a lifeguard down the street.

SOPHIE: So you just asked if you could borrow it?

ARTHUR: Yes, and he said, “sure, no problem.”

SOPHIE: Love that.

ARTHUR: Grace [Coddington] thinks this is a wonderful picture.

SOPHIE: Right. Grace also likes to have a lot going on. This is almost like one of those scenes that you would have seen out the window and snapped.

Black and white portrait of Illinois Jacquet performing in Paris 1988

Illinois Jacquet, Paris, 1988, from the book “Jazz,” (Damiani)

SOPHIE: When did you start photographing jazz musicians?

ARTHUR: Oh, that was when I started working for Vogue, because they wanted shots of Wynton Marsalis.

SOPHIE: What did you like about photographing jazz musicians?

ARTHUR: They’re good at what they do. These are the best players.

SOPHIE: Let’s talk about the picture on the cover of the book. Illinois Jacquet. So where was this picture?

ARTHUR: It was in Paris. He was playing in a nightclub there. I was in front and he was up on stage. He’s not very tall. But this way he looks tall. And he loved the shot.

SOPHIE: And, you know, whenever you can, you use the available light.

ARTHUR: You’re damn right. So I had to hold it [still so it didn’t shake].

SOPHIE: And you held it. You got it.

ARTHUR: Not bad.

Black and white portrait of Christy Turlington posed in the sunroof with gem eyeliner

Christy Turlington, New Orleans, LA, British Vogue, 1990

SOPHIE: This is a great shot. This is Christy in the car, with the gems on her eyelids. Were you outside the car?


SOPHIE: And she was in the car and the car was stopped? For some reason I always thought the car was moving, because it looks like it’s moving!

SOPHIE: When you first wanted to shoot with Christy, didn’t you call up the modeling agency and say, “I want to shoot with her,” and they said, “No, we have much better girls”?

ARTHUR: I said, “You keep the better girls and I’ll keep Christy, okay? We’ll make a deal.”

SOPHIE: And so that was before people were shooting her, and then you shot her for Vogue right away.

ARTHUR: I said, “She is going to be the next model.” I think I was right!


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