In the 1970s, when I was working as a junior editor at Harpers & Queen in London, I wanted nothing more than to be cool enough so that Patrick Demarchelier just might talk to me. It wasn’t only his incredible photographs, which were already famous. It was his style of being — his confidence, his warmth, his offbeat creative energy. He seemed to be followed by beautiful and brilliant people everywhere he went. I would simply linger nearby hoping to absorb a little of the glow.
Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Dance Studio, Cuba, 1998. Gelatin silver print, edition 1/5. 49 x 59 in. (124.46 x 149.86 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Nadja, New York, 1995. Gelatin silver print, edition 2/8. 45 x 52 in. (114.3 x 132.08 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
Fortunately, I no longer have to skulk in the shadows to get Patrick to talk to me. Our conversations now are short and straightforward, largely for practical reasons: As anyone who has ever chatted with him knows, Patrick is never more French than when he’s speaking English. Fortunately, the one word I can reliably make out on the phone with him is the one that matters: ‘Yes.’ That spirit of willingness is the heart of his generosity — but it’s also, I believe, a key to the genius of his work.
Patrick takes simple photographs perfectly, which is of course immensely difficult. Working without ornate settings, often in black-and-white, he makes attractive women look beautiful and beautiful women seem real. In Patrick’s kingdom, Cinderella could have arrived at the palace wearing Dior — or she could have worn nothing at all.
Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Puffy, East Hampton, 1999. Gelatin silver print, edition 2/8. 48 x 61 in. (121.92 x 154.94 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Versailles Gardens, France, 1994. Gelatin silver print, edition 2/8. 48 x 54 in. (121.92 x 137.16 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
There is, in fact, a little of the fairy-tale prince about Patrick. Not just because he is a dream to work with — and not just because he’d give a glass slipper the necessary attention. Patrick is princely in his generosity, from donating studio time for benefit auctions to championing humanitarian causes on two continents. And his giving nature has helped him build a meaningful life with his lovely wife, Mia, and their three sons in New York, on Long Island, and at the St. Barth’s property that is both his favorite escape and crucial setting for his work. He’s nowhere more alive than photographing on the water, where he loves to sail. Some artists do their best work under stress. Patrick thrives on joy.
Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Dior Haute Couture, Spring-Summer, 1948, 2010. Archival pigment print, edition 1/8. 44 x 52 in. (111.76 x 132.08 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
Patrick’s joy over the years has been contagious — for Vogue as well as for his audience. It takes courage to say yes again and again, and with a major retrospective such as this, we can all see how wonderfully his confidence has been borne out over time. As Vogue’s photography director, Ivan Show, says of Patrick’s work: ‘It feels modern — because it’s timelessly classic.’
That’s Patrick’s gift to us.
Main image: Patrick Demarchelier (B. 1943), Nude, St. Barthelemy, 1994. Gelatin silver print, edition 1/8. 44 x 52 in. (111.76 x 132.08 cm.) Courtesy of Patrick Demarchelier
This piece originally appeared in an edited form on Vogue.com
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