Arthur Elgort has a stylistic freedom that allows the spontaneous energy and joy of the moment to be expressed through an image. His photographs have the unforced look of a personal snapshot while they are simultaneously iconic chronicles of the culture of our time. Elgort was born and raised in New York City. Originally he was a painter, but that proved too lonely an art for him because Elgort thrived on human interaction. Turning to photography, his first images were of ballet dancers and their fluid elegance has informed much of Elgort’s improvisatory and active approach ever since. In 1971 he first achieved notoriety when his pictures of a model playing with a dog ran in British Vogue, lending a new dynamic to fashion photography. Elgort found a way to break free from the reigning tradition of the day. Setting his models away from the static and classically composed, he allowed them more space to move sending them into motion. The resulting pictures had buoyancy, lightness, and naturalism. In order to achieve this, Elgort often utilized his technique of “moving with the model” during a photo shoot, creating a type of dance shared between the artist and subject while he continually talked and clicked the shutter resulting in a vibrant aesthetic in his images. Highly aware of a personal language of gesture, Elgort was attentive to the spontaneous action or movement of limbs that resulted in an exceptional image filled with life. He often incorporated humorous aspects filled with warmth and humanity, ultimately setting his fashion work apart by being disarmingly natural images creating joy through their charisma.
Perhaps nowhere is Elgort’s characteristic style more apparent than in his iconic image of Kate Moss taken at the famed restaurant, Café Lipp in Paris. Included in the September 1993 issue of Italian Vogue, the mood of the image is euphoric, elevated (both literally and figuratively), and joyous. Breaking with convention, Moss seems to be doing whatever she pleases as she is playfully posed with dangling cigarette in hand atop a table surrounded by equally cheerful men. Perhaps they are surprised at her sudden climb on the white tablecloth in the storied restaurant, her laughter reflected in one of its mirrors above the waiters below. As Elgort himself described:
“Kate was not tall, she was bowlegged—they were not super-bad, but she still doesn’t seem that special. But it didn’t matter. She is incredibly photogenic. Every picture was perfect – she just did it all so naturally. I saw the pictures and realized she never makes a mistake. Kate knows what to do to give me a good picture. She once took me to a famous restaurant for lunch, it was like 4 o’clock, and she got on the table. I thought, Oh, God, something is going to happen. But the waiters loved it! That is the cover image of my book. I only worked with her a handful of times but it seems like more because of how much I got from her. Such a nice girl.”
Elgort continues to work at Vogue where he has for over four decades produced famous images of many of the most defining icons of fashion. His pictures have also appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone and GQ and are found in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the International Center of Photography in New York among others. Elgort recently celebrated his 75th birthday, yet he continues to produce lively and inspiring work that captures the joy in snapshot moments.