THE SHOOT: Jeanloup Sieff/Elle Macpherson

Elle MacPherson by Jeanloup Sieff
Elle MacPherson by Jeanloup Sieff

In the third post of an occasional series the Founder and Curator of the United Nations of Photography Grant Scott recounts his experiences working with some of the great photographers of the last century. Here he takes us behind the scenes of a shoot with photographer Jeanloup Sieff and Elle Macpherson in London.

After many years of admiring the work of Jeanloup Sieff I finally in 1998 had an opportunity to work with him when I was art directing Tatler magazine. Elle Macpherson had agreed to model jewellery for the magazine with no conditions or pre-ordained concepts in place. This was the perfect shoot for Jeanloup and so I decided to bring him over from Paris for the shoot.

The first stage was relatively easy to organise. Elle was happy to do the shoot naked, she knew Jeanloup’s work and was excited to work with him. The second stage was was more difficult in a pre-internet age, how would I get hold of him? His French book publishers didn’t have a contact number for him, I could think of no one who had worked with him recently and he didn’t have an agent.

There was only one answer – to find an art director who had worked with him in the sixties, hope that Jeanloup’s number hadn’t changed. Through a series of contacts I managed to get a number and a few minutes later Jeanloup was on the phone telling me that he would be delighted to do the shoot in London. But he had stipulations. The first was that I that I pick him up from the airport and the day before the shoot, take him to the studio I had booked. The second was that he stayed at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair and that he wanted to go on a milk round in the West End so he could photograph the milkman working. He knew it meant a 4am start and a 9am finish, but he didn’t mind. He then planned to go straight to the studio in Islington to shoot Elle.

I booked the hotel and the milkman and waited for Jeanloup to arrive. He was a big man with long, slightly wild straight hair, and a strong upper body that suggested he worked out, due to the way it strained his tight T-shirt. He had on tight jeans and soft white ballet shoes, and around his neck swung a Nikon. His face was strong, his handshake firm and all of the way from Heathrow to Islington he regaled me with stories that had me spellbound.

How he and Richard Avedon and sailed the Aegean with the model Jean Shrimpton and how he once found Avedon so distraught by a request to re-shoot a fashion story that he had banished everyone from the studio while he curled up in a foetal position, unable to go on.

Jeanloup’s studio requests and been simple to meet. One grey Colorama, two supporting poles, and one light and stand with a soft box and no assistant. He had little interest in the studio room itself.

On the day of the shoot I arrived at around 9am to find him already set up. The Nikon body and lens that had been around his neck the day before had been used to photograph the milkman and would now be used to photograph Elle. Rolls of 35mm Tri-X had been unboxed and lined up on a trolley next to the light. He was ready to get started. There was no assistant and he would load his own film because as he stated ” What would I say to someone else who loaded my camera and made a mistake? It is better that I have that responsibility”. He wanted to work with Elle one to one, he didn’t want big teams, stylists, complicated hair and make-up or an art director telling him what to do. I said hello to Elle, realised I was not needed and left.

Some weeks later the prints arrived from Paris. They were beautiful, considered and perfect. Jeanloup and I became friends and the images of Elle saw his career stage a commercial revival with him being taken on by a leading London agent and being commissioned to shoot the first advertising campaign for the ice-cream brand Häagen-Dazs.

© Grant Scott 2014

You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form

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