French-born fashion and portrait photographer Patrick Demarchelier has become a legend in his own time . . . and in many lands. His ad and celebrity images are recognizable at once for their casual, realistic, and playful qualities, hallmarks of a style he developed in the late 1960s.
A master of light's subtleties, he enhances a subject's beauty and naturalness, using it to great advantage in his portrait photography.
Early in his career, Demarchelier became assistant to Hans Feurer, a leading fashion photographer. Eventually, he began shooting for Elle, Marie-Claire, and other magazines. In 1975, he moved to New York City, where he drew steady assignments for Glamour, GQ, Mademoiselle, Rolling Stone, and Vogue.
In 1992, Demarchelier began a long-term collaboration with Harper's Bazaar, becoming the magazine's premier photographer. In fact, when Studio Photography & Design caught up with the photographer, he was on his way to Europe for another Harper's Bazaar shoot.
His regular clients include such fashion notables as Banana Republic, Celine, Christian Dior, perfumier Guerlain (maker of Samsara and Shalimar), and Louis Vuitton.
THE LIGHT TOUCH
A large part of Demarchelier's magic derives from his ability to ease models into a relaxed mode, encouraging them to display the emotions required for a particular campaign.
"I shoot each person in different lighting," he says. "I look at the face to get the correct lighting; one type of lighting will work for one person and not another. Lighting helps to bring the character out."
The photographer uses large, atmospheric spaces, such as in the Louis Vuitton ads, to get the effect he's looking for. He favors these open, airy, and often natural spaces to invoke a feeling of casualness in his work.
Wendell Maruyama, the photographer's studio manager, assists Demarchelier with subtleties of lighting in the studio, as well as scheduling all aspects of the shoot.
Demarchelier relies on a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II; a Pentax 67II and 645; a Hasselblad 553ELX; a Nikon F5; and a Deardorff 8x10 and a Linhoff Technika 4x5, depending on the image and mood he wants to create.
"The camera helps you decide what you want to do—each gives you a different feeling," the photographer says. Using a certain camera depends on the situation, especially the lighting—indoor with strobes, for instance, or outside in daylight—and on the subject. It's all a matter of preference.
For now, "digital is not a big part of the production process, though it is clearly the future for much of the industry," the shooter says.
"The quality is not what I want yet. Digital has made huge advances in the past few years, but it is still not fully developed. I know what a piece of film can give me, be it a magazine or a giant exhibition print. Also, the capture rate is still too limiting for, say, a girl running down the beach."
The photographer often works his celebrity portraits in black and while (see cover shots of Princess Diana and Leonardo DiCaprio). He focuses on the head and crops tightly around the shoulder line, bringing the hands into view on occasion as an expressive feature.
"He is very spontaneous and works very quickly, reacting to the subject," Maruyama says. This is especially true when working with celebrities who, unlike professional models on commercial shoots, are not used to spending hours in front of a camera.
Demarchelier has had a series of one-man exhibitions, including shows at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York in 1995 and 1999. His most recent show was in 2000 at the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea (Museum of Modern Art) in Milan, Italy. Future exhibitions will be held in Moscow, Paris, and Rome.
The shooter recently started to photograph wild animals, landscapes, and native peoples of the world, such as Tibetan priests and Masai warriors, during his personal travels as well as for clients. Unlike his commercial work, these portraits are mainly for Demarchelier's personal collection, although many have made their way into his museum exhibitions.
Most shooting takes place in the wild, but upon occasion, the animals come to him.
"We've had lions, camels, monkeys, and leopards here, usually as part of a shoot for something else," Maruyama says. "Patrick photographs the animals wherever they are."
TEXT BY SUSAN SCHECK • IMAGES BY PATRICK DEMARCHELIER
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