Legendary Photographer Arthur Elgort Looks Back

I first met photographer Arthur Elgort in late 80s on the set of an American Vogue shoot. We worked together almost every single week for years, together with some incredible models including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Amber Valetta. A day with Arthur was always entertaining and inspiring. While he is now a legendary fashion photographer, Arthur was and is always really easy to work with (not always the case in the fashion world). He’s incredibly funny with a sort of light around him, which makes everyone happy and relaxed. He sets a vibe that makes for incredible pictures.

Now 75, Arthur has shot every major model from Kate Moss to Karlie Kloss for magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. He’s photographed hundreds of stars including Madonna, Uma Thurman, and Julia Roberts along with top ballerinas and jazz musicians. His work is stunning, incredibly glamorous, artistic, and so original. I believe he really changed fashion photography. His shots feel like you’ve stepped into some exciting, cool moment.

If you haven’t seen Elgort’s newest book The Big Picture, check it out. It showcases his work spanning over 50 years. You’ll spot a ton of iconic images, and also his favorites subjects his children, photographer Sophie, filmmaker Warren, and movie star Ansel.

Bobbi Brown: Arthur, I’m thrilled to talk to you. Where are you now? In New York?

Arthur Elgort: At the beach. I bought a house 35 years ago and it’s very nice. I spend the summers out here, because I get more work out here during the summer. My next job is for Dutch Vogue.

I want you to know that I think of the time I spent working with you as my happiest time as a freelance makeup artist.

Aww. You’re kidding me.

I’m serious. I loved watching you work. You photographs are truly art. And going to your studio, besides the best lunches in the world, you never knew who was going to come by and become a subject. Your family, your amazing agent, your friends, it was like one big family which you created.

When I was an assistant years ago, I worked for Carl Fischer for six months, and you didn’t meet anybody. You brought your sandwich and then he might give you a Coke. I said, “If I ever become a photographer I’m going to treat everybody to lunch and we’ll sit down together.” The only other person I know who does the same thing is Azzedine Alaia but he’s a designer.

We shot Azzedine together. We shot Naomi. We shot Grace Jones, some of these pictures are in your wonderful new book, Arthur Elgort: The Big Picture.

It more or less tells my life story. The first pictures I took in the 1940’s with my mother’s camera, they are in there too. I’m also doing another book on ballet. I’m doing a jazz book at the same time. So I’m busy. You know I still work, not as much as I would like to work because they usually want new people. Although I still send out cards and say: “Give me a chance!” I’ve worked with Saks Fifth Avenue recently for Elle magazine in Paris.

You are such a legend and so beloved. Most of those photographers from early on, I don’t know where they are.

Albert Watson’s still there. He does gallery shows, more like art shows. I don’t think he works in Vogue magazine anymore. I see him once in a while. Of course, we have the same deal in Canada. It’s called Izzy Gallery and it’s in Toronto.

Do you prefer editorial or advertising?

Always editorial for me, but it’s a little different now. Before we gave them one Polaroid and then we shot. Now everybody looks over your shoulder at the monitor and they say ‘You’re not finished yet, we’re changing the shoes.’ Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind it at all, because sometimes it really helps.

Who was your favorite editor to work with?

Probably my favorite is Grace Coddington. And then Polly Mellen.

I learned so much from all those incredible talented people. Whether it was Jade Hobson, or Polly Mellen or Grace Mirabella.

I still see Tibby, and I still see Grace [Mirabella]. She’s in a wheelchair. But she comes to my shows. I still remember I had a showdown with Grace Mirabella once in my life, because I liked this girl named Julia Roberts. I thought she was a very good actress and a good model and everything. I loved her. But she wasn’t that tall. And Grace said, “No, she’s never going to make it as a big star.” And I said, “You’re wrong, Grace.” She said, “No, you have to do Gregory Peck’s daughter.” I said, “Why is she going to make it and the other girl isn’t?” It was because she’s the daughter of Gregory Peck. And not only that, she was taller. Then the next thing that came out was Pretty Woman!

You definitely know how to spot a star.

Then Grace got fired from Condé Nast [and replaced by Anna Wintour at Vogue]. And I knew it because I felt it in my body. Alex Liberman was the [Editorial Director] of Condé Nast. All of sudden, this Anna Wintour came along and dressed sharper than Grace. Every time Alex saw her he said ‘I love your dress,’ and I knew it’s going to happen. And now Anna is still there.

Do you still work with Anna over at Vogue? You’ve worked together for years.

Not too much anymore, but I don’t even ask. I think they got tired of me because I was a wise guy, maybe not a wise guy. I don’t know, maybe because I’m 75, and maybe they thought that’s too old

No! Everything goes around in trends. You’re hot, you’re not. I’ve always had great luck when the trend is natural nude makeup, and when the ugly stuff comes back less so.

I still work and I enjoy myself. And if I didn’t work, I get some model over here and somebody to take pictures of. I use Ansel a lot. It works.

Arthur I’ve loved talking to you. I look forward to seeing you. If you promise me a good lunch I’m in.

Thanks Bobbi I would love that. We’ll do it.