A Breath of Fresh Air

Arthur Elgort understands women, femininity, colors, and dreams. The leisurely, yet ever so graceful aesthetic of his image making came as a breath of fresh air the moment he entered the world of fashion photography. His signature ‘snapshot’ style took fashion from studio to the streets, and gave models, as well as the clothes, life. The optimistic, in-action moments captured through Elgort’s lens introduced a new language style underscored by an aesthetic of ease with elegance, one that was liberating from the stiff and artificial studio atmosphere that photographers pursued at the time. Elgort’s images reflected the fast paced, dynamic spirit of the times, especially in the United States, and his illustrious fashion photographs remain timeless today.

Capturing Beautiful Moments in Motion

Although considered one of the most significant contemporary image makers, Arthur Elgort did not pick up the camera at a young age. The New York native first studied painting in Hunter College, which he gradually found to be too slow and lonely in process. He began photographing dancers, which taught him the fundamentals on working with the subject in photography. He learned how to move with his subjects, capturing beautiful moments in motion. Elgort’s big break came in 1971, when he did a story for British Vogue with then junior editor Grace Coddington. The story was composed of black and white photographs of a model playing with a dog and solidified his entrance into the fashion world.

Beauty through Warmth and Sincerity

Influenced by the greats such as Martin Munkácsi and Richard Avedon, Arthur Elgort wanted to work outside of the studio, and photograph his models, whom in time became his close friends. In an interview for ID magazine he once said,

“Beauty is the people I shoot.”

The beauty in Elgort’s images is often reflected through their warmth and sincerity with models captured in candid moments. His style adopts the immediacy of documentary photography, yet presents a certain aspect of fun in a snapshot.

Arthur Elgort, Romance, Christian Lacroix Haute Couture Atelier, 1998
Arthur Elgort, Romance, Christian Lacroix Haute Couture Atelier, 1998

Romance: Christian Lacroix, Haute Couture Atelier

One of his many artfully composed photographs, Romance: Christian Lacroix, Haute Couture Atelier presents a group of models backstage at the Paris House of the Couturier. The photograph was originally created for House & Garden Magazine in 1988. The models are relaxing backstage for what was the first ready to wear collection that Lacroix presented titled ‘Luxe’. The elevated glamour is apparent through each element within the image. The grand Parisian interiors of high ceilings combined with the ethereal color of the walls lend the picture a fantastical, dream like feeling. Unlike his usual, energetic photographs, Arthur Elgort presents a different, more measured and ethereal approach, which can be read as a show of respect to the nature of haute couture itself. It references the elegant pictures of the 50s yet is re imagined through Elgort’s contemporary vision. Refraining from any form of artificiality, his signature use of natural light further enhances the heavenly state of the image. On favoring natural light he says:

“I never used light at all. Never did. I used my eyes and said, ‘This will look good.’”

Indeed, his use of light creates the overall softness and naturalness seen in each of his images, and allows the viewer to empathize with the subjects.

The Little Moments in between Shots

The title of the photograph, Romance, also speaks for the overall feel Arthur Elgort conveys. In this picture, models are getting ready at their own pace, almost in what appears to be slow motion like swans. The subjects seem unaware of the photographer’s presence in the room, which is typical of Elgort’s style. On Elgort’s idea of candidness he says:

“Some of my best pictures were taken when I wasn’t working, the little moments in between shots.”

It is this understanding of spirited intimacy and sincerity that have given Elgort’s images their genuine, timeless and iconic status.

Liberating Fashion Photography

Arthur Elgort is one of the modern photographers who liberated fashion photography. He had a storied career since he took up the medium in the 1970s, and continues to work and reside in New York. His spontaneous, creative vision has kept his image making in fashion fresh and vital. His pictures feel effortless, and authentic. Apart from having collaborated with fashion magazines for decades, his adverting campaigns for Chanel, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent have also become points of reference for academia. His work is exhibited in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography in New York, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. In 2011, Elgort won the CFDA Board of Directors’ Award.