A Philosophy of Success for Preeminent Photographers: Beyond Fashion and a Pursuit of Perfection With Michel Haddi

A Philosophy of Success for Preeminent Photographers: Beyond Fashion and a Pursuit of Perfection With Michel Haddi

On the verge of a massive career retrospective that would see most sit back and bask in success and maybe take a foot off the gas, Michel Haddi is dedicated to continuing to develop his world-famous style and technique. How'd Haddi get to this level of success? What pushes him on to the next?

If you have a chance, see if you can catch Haddi's forthcoming Beyond Fashion, Part Two, at 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery. The exhibition runs from January 16 to March 16, 2024. You can catch Beyond Fashion, Part One, which just closed online here. Of note for those of us not in Milan, there will be a 3D online viewing room of the gallery for online visitors. 

Michel Haddi - Molly Sims_Citizen K Magazine, Miami, 2005 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

29 ARTS IN PROGRESS will be displaying examples of Haddi's career spanning more than 40 years, part of an endless archive of famous faces, top models, icons and legends from the worlds of music and art. Haddi is renowned for capturing the spirit of the time through the celebrities who have populated the history of fashion, film, and music and people who have embraced social issues of our time.

Michel Haddi - Kate Moss for British GQ, New York, 1991 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

Philosophy For Success

Sitting down to chat with Haddi, our conversation quickly drifted away from the images themselves, and more towards Haddi's approach to life and his photography practice.

Michel Haddi - Patsy Kensit _ Djimon Hounsou, Interview Magazine - Los Angeles, 1991 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

We've all heard the complaints that everyone with a camera is a photographer. Given that cameras are everyone and that everyone carries a highly capable cell phone, there are more people than ever that fancy themselves a photographer. It seems that we're seeing the supremacy of expertise and skill is being eroded with a flood of photographers competing on price, a race to the bottom if you will.

Michel Haddi, Agathe Iracema Gala magazine, Paris, 2006 

Reminiscent of Steve Martin's famous advice, be so good they can't ignore you, Haddi never relies on the success of his last project; he's always looking to learn and get better. Making a comparison to his practice of martial arts, Haddi noted that we need to be humble warriors - humble enough to realize there is always something to learn and warrior enough to push through setbacks - to learn from mistakes.

We need to be humble enough to always be learning.

For Haddi, the trick to staying ahead of an influx of new photographers is to keep practicing. Most of those that are new to the industry, or any industry for that matter, won't have the necessary stick-to-it-attitude. These emerging creators and influences will come and go. It's only those that will rise to the challenge of constantly getting better who will find long term success. 

Michel Haddi - Victoria Silvstedt _ Colin Egglesfield, Stern Magazine, Miami 1996 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

Style Over Substance

Taking a photograph, drawing a picture, or writing out a few lines of verse doesn't make you an artist. Artists have a narrative, a way of looking at and explaining the world around them that is unique to them and somewhat novel to the world at large. The photographers that come and go don't take the time to develop this. The creators and influences who are looking to make a quick and easy buck on the way to some sort of social network stardom won't have the patience and commitment for this. 

Michel Haddi - Molly Sims_Citizen K Magazine, Miami, 2005 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

For Haddi, it's imperative for successful photographers to find a narrative to help them explain the world around them. Then, as tastes change around you, you can allow your style to change to embrace new fashions, staying relevant, while remaining true to your own narrative and substance.

Charged Eroticism

For Haddi, his narrative, if you will, is all about examining relationships, particularly, examining the intimacy and nature of eroticism. To be clear, and Haddi emphasized this, not just for the sake of it, not as outrage, but as an examination of how we identify with each other and how we identify with ourselves. It's no surprise that Haddi grew up heavily influenced by the wave of Freudian psychoanalytical thought that attributed most of our behaviors and drivers to sex. Haddi isn't implying that sex drives everything, but this movement is what inspired him to look deeper at how sex influences or is influenced by our relationships with others and self. 

So, while Haddi's style has changed, decade after decade he has used his camera to try to understand relationships and how they've evolved over time.

Michel Haddi - Sarah Jessica Parker, New York, 1998 - Courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery

Be Who You Are

For commercial photographers, this means that you have to know who you are and be able to deliver that within the confines of any given brief. So, get your brief, know what you're being hired to sell, but sell it through your own vision, and tell your client's story through the lens of your own narrative. Make sure those that hire you know who you are, and, perhaps more importantly, make sure that those who hire you know who you will be. 

Let the mane work, he's an artist.

Linda Evangelista. British Vogue 1992 on the set of George Michael Freedom video Michel Haddi

Haddi shared a great story with me. One day, taking images of Tupac Shakur, with John Singleton in the studio, Singleton made several suggestions about how Shakur should be posed so as to help highly their shared film, Poetic Justice. In the end, though, it was Tupac who said to Singleton: "Let the man work, he's an artist." Haddi sees this as a milestone indicating that ultimate success is being good enough that your clients will know what you bring to the table and will, in turn, trust your unique vision to highlight their product. 

All images Copyright Michel Haddi, courtesy of 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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I wasn't aware of this photographer and now I am an immediate fan. Utterly original and intelligent work. Thanks for the superb article.

Thanks Ivor. He does fly a bit under the radar despite his impressive body of work. Great guy to chat with as well!