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Ever just stared at a photo you just took? Admired it. Looked at the colors in the shot, felt the emotions it evoked when you held it or hung it on your wall. It is not just an image, it is an opening of emotions in our heart.
Even the earliest cave drawings show how important it was to retain an image that perceptibly meant something and show it to others. After the invention of the camera came the creation of permanent images starting with Thomas Wedgwood in 1790 and culminating in the work of the French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepcein in 1826.
Since then, photography has been used to capture some of the most important moments in our history. Like the pain in the eyes of the victims of the Holocaust or the collapse of the tallest towers in Manhattan on 9/11, as they slowly fell to rubble.
One living icon that breathes and sleeps fashion is photographer Bruce Weber. Weber was at the 92Y this past Wednesday evening, being interviewed by Fern Mallis, the award-winning creator and organizer of Fashion Week in New York. She hosts the fashion industry talk show “Fashion Insiders with Fern Mallis” on SiriusXM’s flagship celebrity talk channel, Stars.
The Kaufmann Hall was filled to capacity with colorful, conversant, and sophisticated eyes and ears, ready to take in every sight and sound coming from Mr. Weber.
Sixty-eight-year-old Bruce was born on March 26, 1946 on a farm in Greenburg, Pennsylvania. He was surrounded by animals and a set of parents who loved clothes and, in his eyes, should have been models. His parents were always showing physical affection towards each other, which Bruce said is where his love for romance and nudity stems from. Taking photos of this is his favorite.
Every Sunday, young Bruce, along with his parents, sister and grandparents, would spend the day together, relaxing with such activities as taking photos, doing oil painting and watching old films. This is what sparked his interest in photography. ” [the] First supermodels I photographed were my mom and dad” he said.
The shy Bruce, remarkably enough, started off in the business as a model after college to earn extra money. But the experience proved to him that his heart belonged behind the lens, not in front of it.
Hard work and meager earnings got him through life in the Big Apple on East 75th street and later in Paris. Despite hardship, he never gave up and started showing his work in the late 1960′s.
By the late 1970′s, he started doing ads and commercials for Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. His work have since appeared in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Interview, Vogue Italia, GQ – just to mention a few.
As the years past, he traveled extensively and continued to work with Ralph Lauren and Valentino, who became good friends of his. He even came to work with the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. Throughout his career, Weber has maintained great relationships with film directors, models, fashion designers, editors and chiefs of fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Bruce became the preeminent photographer of the fashion industry in the 1980′s and remains one of the world’s most popular and influential photographers.
More than 15 books of Weber’s work have been published. His photographs are in the permanent collections of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. He has exhibited at venues including the 1987 Whitney Biennial in New York city; Musee de I’ Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland; Palazzo Fortuny in Venice; the Florence Biennale; the National Portrait Gallery in London; the Parco Exposure Gallery in Tokyo; Fahey/Klein in Los Angeles; Galeria Corso Como in Milan; and the Russell Senate Building in Washington, DC.
Fern posed a lot of questions, including how he conduct and choose models for casting calls. He answered that he shoots anyone who has a soul. He would pick people right off the street, and particularly for Ralph Lauren, the designer himself also prefers randomly choosing a person rather than going through an agency. He said confidently, “I don’t want to pick perfection, I want character.”
When asked abouts his favorite shoot of all times, he named a safari-themed shoot by Ralph Lauren, because they had brought animals over from Africa to L.A. or where ever they needed them. He especially remembered a favored elephant that allowed one of his six dogs to sit on her.
Weber was like a happy but bashful child, sitting in his chair during the interview, holding a red book and the headband he became so famous for in his hands. To the question “how did you brand Abercrombie and Fitch?,” he answered that he worked with the CEO and they came up with the idea to put the models’ photographs on the bags. He also commented on the incident where people became upset and protested about the images on the bag, “I [would] rather see people be romantic and sexual [...] than seeing violence.”
On set culture, he described how some photos become great and intimate because “crushes are part of the photographic process. Crushes on set drive motivation.” He misses the intimacy today, such as the time he shot with Elizabeth Taylor.
“I always feel like I’m 18 going on 19,” he said with a chuckle.
Fern asked how he felt about technology today and how it is effecting photography. He answered that he has no problem with technology, he just dislikes how people take photos then quickly upload them online without looking at the photo and admiring it or printing it out and holding it in your hands. “Today’s technology takes the intimacy out of taking photos,” he said.
Bruce has created so many long-lasting relationships in his business that over the years, it has turned into a second family to him, especially since his older sister and parents have passed away. Even his assistants have been like family to him, “I love to see them grow and succeed. I have judged them not on how hard they work but their character and personality.” One of his former assistants is now a famous cinematographer. He likened them as his children, since he never had any of his own.
When asked who inspires him the most, he saidd his wife of 40 years, Nan, whom he met years back at a model go-see. Even when he fell ill, his wife pushed him to keep doing what he love most. “I thought if I had to, I would teach or go back to school to be a better writer,” he said. But his wife motivated him during and after his illness to stick with photography.
You could tell from his presence on stage that Bruce Weber is a happy, humble and gifted soul. He has a talent that will live forever in this world.
He has said in one of his upcoming documentaries, that it is not the clothes that stands out the most in fashion, “the photos are the image that remains, the imagine that stays in your mind, creating a lasting image in fashion.”
Image credit: Joyce Culver for 92Y