Horst

JOHN SWANNELL tells Kathrine Anker which photographers he admires, and who gave him those oh-so necessary techniques for putting his subjects at ease KA: Who are your heroes? JS: I worked with David Bailey for four years so he was the one who taught me and he was my early inspiration. Then there s Richard Avedon in America, Irving Penn and a chap called Horst, also American, who died about ten years ago. Those four are my heroes. KA: How has Avedon inspired you? JS: Avedon is probably the most all-round photographer there is, probably the best 20th century photographer. I donthink there is anybody better than him. If you look at his pictures, 95 per cent of them are of people on a white background or a light grey background, and to actually take somebody and put them on a blank background with nothing there, yougot to produce something special and he always did. If you look at all his books and exhibitions, the man is a genius. He s never used any tricks, he retouched and all that kind of stuff but it s pure photography. All before the digital age as well which is nice. KA: What do you like about Penn? JS: Penn was a wonderful daylight photographer, all these photographers tended to use big 10x8 cameras and the quality was absolutely wonderful, and nobody uses those anymore, except a few anoraks out there. David Bailey still uses it, but it s a long drawn-out process. It was all transparencies in those days, which was very different from digital, because if you were a third out on your exposure it was just no good. It was really difficult. Now it s so easy, anybody can be a photographer. KA: What did you like about Horst? JS: Diana Freedland, one of the greatest American Vogue editors in the late fifties and sixties, said about Horst that shenever met a photographer who had such an eye for detail. He used to shoot fashion and he did lots of very grand houses in Europe —she used to send him over from America. I liked him because his lighting was beautiful. Ita little bit Hollywood, you know, he would use those spotlights —and this was before flash of course. Whereas Penn and Avedon would use one light, whether on the side or the top, or a flash with an umbrella, or a window light in Penn s case, Horst would use multiple lights. He had a lovely eye. I met him actually, and photographed him towards the end of his life. I remember I was nervous, this was a long time ago, and wearranged for me to come and photograph him. Isure he was incredibly good-looking when he was younger, but now he was about 70 or 80 and his skin was leathery, and he said: Swannell, I want you to make me look like Clark Gable, is that okay?" And I looked at him and my heart went into my mouth and I thought  look like Clark Gable! Hekind of opposite, heold and short, and Gable is beautiful and handsome and tali’. And then he started to Laugh because he saw that I was nervous as hell and he was just pulling my leg. He had a lovely sense of humour even at that age, he knew he wasngood looking and he just threw me completely. He did a famous picture of a girl doing up a corset from behind. It was taken in Paris in 1939, the day that Germany were on the outskirts of Paris, and that was the last picture they shot for French Vogue before everybody packed up everything and Left Paris, so it s quite an important picture. It s a wonderful picture. I think it s the best picture he ever took, so I mentioned it to him and said Ilike to buy a print off you and he said: , it is my best picture," and he sent it to me, signed on the picture, not the border-these days photographers always sign their pictures on the border, never on the picture itself, that s what the old Hollywood starts used to do, so I thought it was really funny. He said going to have to charge you $150 for this”and then a few years after that he did limited editions of that print and they cost ?60,000 now. The print Igot is the only one that exists in the world so it s probably worth twice that. I ve got it in my house, I gave it to my wife as a present. KA: What s the most important thing you ve ever Learnt from a photographer? JS: It has to be Bailey, putting people at ease. You re either a good photographer or a bad photographer, but yougot to have the social skills as well. And Bailey was always good with people, and still is. He was always incredibly honest and relaxed and straight forward. He calls a spade a spade and the way he treated people and looked after people and worked with people in the studio —they always walked away admiring him and thinking he was a really special person. He taught me to put people at ease, start talking to them and make them relax so they forget they are being photographed. I don t think Bailey learned it; he s just instinctively chatty and gets on with people. KA: Do you use those techniques you ve learned from Bailey? JS: If I get stuck or I m on a corner and I don t know what to do, I tend to lean back towards my heroes and use one of their techniques, and I always pull it off. But obviously you have to have your own style and technique, otherwise you wonsurvive.

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