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T he M a g a z ine f or L e ic a M p ho t o gr a p h y

No. 4

04

14 ¤ · 16 US$ · 25 CHF · 2000 ¥ · 12 £ 01. 2 016 / e n g l i s h

4 192346 214008

This issue featuring:

Patr ick Z achmann R am S h e r gi l l J u l i e n M i gn ot Cé dr ic Ge r b e haye Co r e n tin Fo h l e n Tomas van Hou t ry v e And eight M photographers show: style is not everything, but everything has style!


R a m S he rgil l


Timeless Beauty Pictures valued for their rarity: Ram Shergill and his pictures encompass an area that is often closed to 35mm cameras – the world of studio fashion. Having grown up in the time before the internet, and even though he makes full use of the potential of digitalization, his pictures remain defined by the aesthetics of analogue photography. They are imbued with an inner calm that occurs only when there are no distractions.

Photographed with a Leica M9

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R a m S h e r g i ll

You studied visual communications. Was it a matter of chance that you decided to make a career of fashion photography? In fact, I even started out studying mathematics – not because I was interested, but rather because my father is a maths teacher. However, I was soon playing truant, missing out on lectures and spending time in the library instead. It was there that I discovered photography books by the likes of Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange. I would spend long hours immersed in these books. It wasn’t that I was trying to understand how the photographs were taken, but rather that I was imagining how it would feel to slip inside the pictures. It was like going on a fantastical journey. It was at the beginning of the nineties, in the days before we had the internet and before social media became so predominant. There wasn’t a constant barrage of distractions, things were calm and you could concentrate, you could get totally immersed in things. So then I attended a two-year intensive photography class at college, and afterwards continued by studying at Wolverhampton University for Visual Arts. They offered a diversity of different modules. My fellow students all chose film, so the course was hopelessly overfilled. I was left with electronic art and design, what we call animation nowadays; and I soon realized that that wasn’t for me either – the work was much too intense and unsatisfying. The only thing I really wanted to do was grab my camera, head off for Paris and take photographs. Alone, spontaneous and independent.

Beautiful women with intricate head dresses, a young man, lit from the side and wearing ornamentally embroidered clothing, a wavy-haired blond with a cigarette between her fingers, nails painted bright red: British photographer Ram Shergill’s pictures alternate between masterful stage settings, modern compositions and surrealistic imagery – at times in warm saturated colours, at times in cool black and white. Shergill’s images are as multi-faceted as his biography, which he is happy to talk about. Punctually at 9:30 he sits on the sofa in his hotel room. It is Paris Fashion Week and he is waiting to introduce his latest project, the bi-annual magazine The Protagonist, to customers. He has not yet had any breakfast, but he shows no sign of hunger or tiredness – on the contrary, he is radiant. This is also due to the fact that he is wearing a jacket made by the Indian designer Abu Jani. It is covered in thumbnail-sized, golden sequins, that sparkle in the light every time he moves. How do you regard Paris Fashion Week? As an Indian, a British or a cosmopolitan photographer? You were born in London, but you always like to point out that your parents were originally from the Punjab. My roots are very important to me, and India as a country fascinates me. It’s a place where pictures seem to turn out great without any apparent effort, just because the place is full of colours and contrasts. I’ve spent a lot of time there during the last twenty-two years of my career. In the ‘India Fantastique’ book project – for example – there is a picture of a woman standing between two elephants. The customer actually wanted me to take photos of the elephants in front of the former Umaid Bhavan Palace of the Maharajah. I myself preferred to take them in a familiar setting, like their stables, so I took along some bananas for them and just got going. By the way, at the end of the shoot, one elephant lifted the hat off the model’s head.

And then you had a stroke of good luck because you met Isabella Blow, an icon of fashion who encouraged and supported young designers, and who worked as a journalist and a stylist… It was one of those meetings that seemed destined to be. I was standing outside the door of the famous Irish hat maker, Philip Treacy, because I wanted to borrow one of his eccentric hats for a study project I was doing, and I had no idea that, on principle, he never lent anything to students. The mood was very frosty when I was led into his salon, but there was Isabella Blow, sitting in the middle of a landscape of fantastical hats, dressed like a diva, and she offered me a biscuit.

With this picture you are paying tribute to one of your role models, the photographer Richard Avedon, who photographed ‘Dovima with Elephants’ – an elegant model flanked by elephants. Time and again I see references in your work to the great fashion photographers of the west – such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn – as well as to the idea of classic beauty and timeless fashion photography. I consider Richard Avedon a true artist and, above all, a real gentleman. I met him once at one of his exhibitions and I just had to go up and speak with him, because I’m such a great admirer of his work. He was perfectly friendly and extremely obliging, and in retrospect I’m really happy I had the nerve to actually go and talk to him.

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And she took you under her wing, so to speak? Yes, absolutely! She introduced me to the world of fashion. It was thanks to her that I met the British designer Alexander McQueen and because of her I also became friends with Philip Treacy. She soon dragged me over to British Vogue, and smoothed the way for the career I was to follow.  •

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Can you actually remember the first photo you took? Absolutely! It was the first thing I had published, and it was in the magazine Fashion Weekly. I still keep a torn out copy of that page. I had borrowed items from Andrew Heather’s collection, at the time when he was still studying fashion at Middlesex University. Later on he went to work for Givenchy. I applied the stuff that most fascinated me and disgusted me: the morbid fantasies of Alexander McQueen, where everything revolves around death and greyness, and the gloomy and unorthodox work of the photographer Joel Peter Witkin. I must have really hit a nerve because shortly after its publication – when I was with Isabella Blow and introduced to British Vogue for the first time – that actual picture was hanging there on the wall. “That’s my picture,” I burst out. If Vogue had been a bit quicker, then my very first published pictures would have appeared in Vogue. Fashion photography has had a complete transformation over the last 22 years of your career. A new generation of photographers, including the likes of Jürgen Teller for example, no longer places the fashion at the centre of it all, but rather as something on the sidelines. Has that influenced your style? I don’t treat fashion as something that belongs on the side­ lines. Clothing is the first wrapper we use to cover ourselves up on the outside; it’s often the expression of our frame of mind, and in a fashion production it sets the mood. Jürgen Teller has achieved a lot with his work. In particular, his campaigns for Marc Jacobs, where celebrities take the mickey out of themselves, spring to mind. Originality is the key to a good picture. From that perspective, I consider the work of people like Paolo Roversi, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Nick Knight or Tim Walker significantly more interesting. Fashion is at the forefront of your work. And the models you work with are not blank canvases, and they’re not young girls or boys. You use models who come across as having real characters. Why is that? I want them to be able to present the clothes they are wearing with self-confidence. A young person is lacking the experience to be able to do that.

of a ­picture. At the beginning, everything is fresh, but models who have to stand around for ages get tired and the resulting pictures are no good. Just recently I dis­ covered a shop in the Marais in Paris where I absolutely wanted to take pictures. It had exuberant wall decorations and Renaissance materials. I called a friend, a model, and she came by. We were finished in ten minutes – without any styling, hairdressing or make-up; at most I brushed her hair. I really like the pictures. Speaking earlier, you seemed to allude to how much you enjoyed the peace that reigned before we got the internet and social media. Have these developments also influenced your work? Unfortunately, pictures – especially in fashion magazines – have become disposable items. Some fashion spreads even look as though they’ve been pulled out of a fashion catalogue. They are empty and they have been retouched so much that the models appear to have no soul. The crisis in the print media is also responsible. We are living in a time of absolute abundance. Every person who owns a smartphone has now become a photographer. In one sense this is wonderful, but when a model at one of my photo shoots takes a selfie wearing the make-up and the clothes that are part of my story, and then posts it, then she takes some­ thing away from it beforehand. I can’t put a stop to it happening, but it weakens the strength of the statement I am trying to make. With your new project, the magazine The Protagonist, you’re working in the opposite direction. The magazine appears only twice a year, and it looks a bit like a luxurious, coffee table photo book. It’s dedicated to ­creative people involved in the arts and culture, and includes elaborate features and photo spreads. I’ve been producing pictures that belong in the area of visual arts for a long time, and I’ve shown pictures in a number of solo exhibitions. I do these particular pro­ ductions independent from commercial constraints, and just follow my personal inspiration. How one is able to create images that can stand the test of time is something I don’t know. I think that the simpler a picture is, the more enduring it is.

Do you spend a long time composing a picture? What kind of working process do you follow? I like immediateness. That’s why I so love working with a Leica – I see the picture exactly like I’m photographing it, without any mirror in between. In my case, the first ­pictures are always the best, even when I’m working for a commercial client who wants to see a lot of variations

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Alex Bohn works as a Fashion Journalist and Director. She runs the Faire-a-porter blog and writes for Die Zeit and Süddeutsche Zeitung, among others.

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Photographers

C é dr ic Ge r be h ay e

R a m S he rgil l

“What does homeland refer to? Our place of origin, or that which we are and know best?”

“I love the immediateness. That’s why I love working with a Leica – without a mirror in between.”

While studying journalism, Gerbehaye realized that photography was his particular form of expression. Born in Belgium in 1977, he first travelled to Israel in 2002 to document the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Up until 2006, he reported regularly from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the border region with Lebanon. In 2007, Gerbehaye’s work as a war reporter earned him the Prix Bayeux-Calvados, and he became a member of the VU’ Agency. That same year he travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time. During the following three years his reportage travels gave rise to ‘Congo in Limbo’, which earned him the World Press Photo Award and the Amnesty International Media Award. After reporting from war zones, Gerbehaye turned to his homeland Belgium in 2012. Two photo books have also appeared to date: ‘Sète #13’ (2013) and ‘D’entre eux’ (2015).

Ram Shergill’s parents moved to Great Britain from the Punjab in India. He himself was born in London and, after finishing school, first went on to study mathematics. He soon began spending time at the library, poring over photo books by Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange. Finally, he turned away from applied sciences completely and took a two-year, intensive photography course. He then changed subject and studied visual communications at the University of Wolverhampton. He met journalist and patron ­ Isabella Blow by chance, and she introduced him at the fashion magazine Vogue. Today his work is exhibited in nu­merous galleries and museums. Shergill publishes the magazine The Protagonist and lives in London.

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Cédric Gerbehaye prefers using a wide angle lens to photograph people in his homeland: the Summicron-M 28mm f/2 Asph and the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 Asph.

From wide angle to tele: Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 Asph, Summarit-M 35, 50 and 75mm f/2.5, Macro-Elmar-M 90mm f/4.

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Leica M Magazine No. 4 Ram Shergill