A classic combination: legendary photographer, Michel Haddi and a plethora of top-of-their-game models and celebrities. Some of Haddi's black and white portraits will be on display as part of Photo London 2023 through 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery. Also, as part of Photo London, Haddi will be signing copies of the latest addition to his Legends anthology, this time focusing on Kate Moss.
Over the years, my public relations connection to 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery has afforded me the chance to talk to some photographic legends. This time, I had the opportunity to chat with one of the photographers that inspired me to aim my camera at people instead of buildings and landscapes, Michel Haddi.
Haddi's images always had a stolen moment feeling to them. They represent a need to seize on to a moment when you can, lest you lose it forever. They also have a boldness to them that reminds you to take chances. This approach is something that speaks to me as both a photographer and as a person.
From Orphanage to Celebrated Photographer - Have No Fear
Haddi's origin story is widely known in photography circles. Haddi spent some of his early formative years growing up in a suburban-Parisian orphanage. Looking around, Haddi figured he'd either end up a gangster or die at a young age, maybe both. It's no surprise then that Haddi was originally inspired by war photographers like Donald McCullin and Sean Flynn, both of whom took enormous risks to get their photographs. As a side note, Flynn disappeared covering the conflict in Vietnam while chasing a story, his body was never found. Perhaps this fed into the younger Haddi's infatuation with risk versus reward. Certainly the idea of the ephemeral moment, that things, people, and emotions pass in and out of life stuck with Haddi.
Haddi's family moved back to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, where his mother, a chambermaid at some of the fancier hotels in Paris, would bring home copies of French Vogue to an impressionably young Haddi. Inspired by one particular Helmut Newton spread, Haddi's tastes shifted to fashion, and he decided that he had to make it as a photographer. Embarking on this path, Haddi promised himself that he'd either work for Vogue by 25 or he'd quit fashion photography.
Haddi's photography education was built around looking at magazines; he learned what he did without the benefit of any formal education. Haddi worked as an assistant in London for a few years, sometimes taking photos of models for the Daily Mail fashion pages. In short order, Haddi scored a major job cataloging for Creative Dressing.
Haddi's work attracted the right attention and within a few years he opened his first studio and began working for GQ, Jardin de Modes, British Vogue, and many others.
Talking about his early years, Haddi wanted me to remind everyone that fear can be a significant roadblock; that as a photographer, sometimes you just have to jump in, ignore the fear, find yourself and your style as you go.
Philosophy on Set
As I mentioned above, Haddi's on set or campaign images have a feeling of impermanence to them. They often feel like Haddi found the critical moment while passing time with his model subjects, picking the frame to immortalize out of dozens. I asked Haddi about how he runs his set to achieve this. By way of explanation, Haddi told me that he's always been interested in movies. For Haddi, each individual frame out of the typical 24 per second isn't important or determinative, instead it's the emotion that is carried over from frame to frame that holds the meaning. Translated to stills or shorts, Haddi is always looking for this emotion, something unique to capture. He compares these moments he's searching for to soap bubbles bursting. One minute there for the camera, and the next they're gone forever.
Similar to his love of movies, Haddi has a deep admiration for Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. In our conversation, he explained to me that he feels that Avedon's images have a distinctive feeling or emotion to them. For Haddi, only Avedon was able to capture the kind of flamboyant energy that he tries to find on his sets.
So, yes, Haddi directs on his set, but he also lets his model subjects do things their own way. For Haddi, they're professionals; they know what they're doing. Haddi would rather work together with his models, to figure out together where they are going and then let them get there on their own, taking their own road. Essentially, for Haddi, he scripts his scenes or shoots and then makes room for the happenstance that comes from giving his models leeway to be themselves. This requires some chemistry or shared understanding, which is something he works hard on set to foster.
Let the artist be an artist.
Working With Moss
In addition to his part of Photo London, Haddi will also be signing copies of a new addition to his anthology, Legends. This installment features Haddi's work with Kate Moss. Haddi first met Moss while working on another shoot. As a friend of a friend, Moss simply showed up on set. Over the years, Haddi had a chance to work with Moss a few times, but, during our talk, it was palpable that Haddi wished he had had more opportunities to do so.
Even at that first meeting, struck by the confidence of a relatively unknown Moss, Haddi wished he had sent an assistant to get more film so that when he was finished with his shoot, he could have started to work with her immediately.
Inspired again by Avedon's 'legend' images for Blackglama, Haddi insists that although legend is a big word, it fits Moss. Here, like in most of his work, it is the connection between Haddi and Moss that distinguishes the images. You can see Haddi and Moss working together to search out and hold on to those fleeting, but evanescent moments.
I should have worked more with her. I should have just picked up the phone.
It's no surprise that some of the Moss images in the book were shot on Polaroids, perhaps the most impermanent of all modern working-photography mediums. Haddi let it slip that one of his next books will be dedicated to Polaroids. Given Haddi's ability to capture transient moments of mutual understanding, I can't wait to see what he shares.
For Haddi, Polaroid has a particular Je ne sais quoi.
I can't wait.
All images provided by Michel Haddi and 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery. Haddi's work will be on display at 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery's booth, G27 during photo London 10-14th May Courtyard Pavilion - Somerset House London.