BEHIND THE LENSES: ROXANNE LOWIT
Behind the scenes of the best fashion shows or at great events, the renowned artist built a new vision of portrait photography by taking genuine and natural pictures of famous personalities. Roxanne Lowit has made history through her lenses, and through her art, became as much of a celebrity as the people she photographed. She has captured the faces, personalities, and spaces of modern culture like noone else.
When did you start taking pictures and what or who gave you the desire to become a photographer?
I started to take pictures in late 1977, I was given a small Instamatic camera by a friend. Originally I wanted to paint portraits of my friends and people that fascinated me, but my subjects didn’t have the time to pose for me. So I shot pictures of them instead.
« With Yves it was love at first sight, when we were introduced something sparked »
Your style literally changed the vision that people have on celebrities, making them more natural and accessible. I think it’s fair to say that you invented backstage photography. When and how did you choose this approach and was it an instant success?
My fashion career started as a textile designer and I would go to shows to photograph my de- signs that were used in the designers collections. In the beginning I went backstage at fashion shows because I had no credentials to be in front on the runway. I realized that it was magical back- stage and that I could get photos there that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
I attend the Fashion Institute of Technology and always painted. When I traded my paint brushes for a camera I wanted to be sure that my style was coming from me and not in nuanced by anyone else so I never looked at other photographer’s work, I guess my individual approach paid off and the fashion industry was interested in what I was doing.
You met a lot of interesting and successful people in your life, and made portraits of generations of celebrities... Do you think they generally have things in common?
I got to walk through many wonderful worlds, meeting incredible people and what they all had in com- mon was their own magical energy and charisma, something completely unique that I could capture.
Ted Grant once said: “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their soul” Do you agree? If so, is it the reason why you are tak- ing pictures in black and white most of the time?
I think color pictures need a reason to be in color, black and white photographs to me are timeless.
One of your great books is about Yves Saint Laurent and the pictures you took of him. How would you describe your relationship with him and do you have any favorite memories?
With Yves it was love at first sight, when we were introduced something sparked. He was always happy to see me backstage and I was always hap- py to be there. Our creative energies were some- how complementary and in sync.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art did a show for his 25th anniversary as a designer. He was the first living designer to be honored at the Met and he chose me as his photographer. We spent a few weeks shooting in NY, my feet didn’t touch the ground during those days.
The day he left for Paris I was looking for an opportunity to take a portrait of him that would be a timeless memory of him in New York. I found an Empire State Building mock up in a book store and asked to the manager if he would lend to me for a shoot with Yves Saint Laurent, he opened his jack- et and showed me that it was from YSL, and gave me the building.
« I am all about catching the magic of the moment »
What do you like about the Fashion world?
The fashion world has proven to be one of the most open, accepting, astonishing and creative worlds. It stole my heart, energized me and pushed me to give the best in what is my passion.
I dislike that sometimes unnecessarily strict codes and etiquette’s that are enforced at some events. But I do however understand it is now a corporation run industry where managers of big business are in control.
You took both campaign and spontaneous pictures, which do you prefer? Creating a scene and a composition with light, or capturing a sin- gular punctual moment?
I am all about catching the magic of the moment, creating a visual composition that will let the viewer delve into the enchantment of a specific situation. This also applies to my campaigns.
In your opinion, what are the components of a great picture?
Capturing the beauty and energy, that makes magic.
How did you experience the transition between argentic to digital photography?
Difficult, I am from the analog age and I still have a special attachment to lm, contact sheets, negatives and all things that you can hold in your hand. I have a hard time getting used to the fact that my lenses are in a cloud, what if it should rain!?
Do you ever leave the house without a camera?
I never leave home without it!