As his new retrospective opens in London, we catch up with the lauded Danish photographer to talk taking tea with Lauren Bacall and getting steamy with Quentin Tarantino
Over the course of his 25-year career, Danish photographer Marc Hom has captured some of the most famous faces of the modern age, spanning fashion, art, film, sport and everything in between. Born and raised in Copenhagen, Hom’s was a highly creative upbringing. “My father was a filmmaker and photographer, and opened the first arthouse cinema in Copenhagen where he showed Cassavetes movies, Buñuel, and so on,” he tells us. “Then my mother was an actress and both my grandparents were painters so it was a great environment to grow up in.” Hom was keen to carve out his own artistic path and enrolled in a photographic studies course at the Danish Art Academy, before setting his sights on New York. “Copenhagen felt very small in those days, and not so cosmopolitan as it is now,” he explains. After two years in the city – spent assisting other photographers and travelling to Austria to shoot the Vienna Ballet – Hom had a fortunate encounter with Fabien Baron, who had just started at Harper’s Bazaar alongside Liz Tilberis, and was impressed by the 22-year-old’s talent. “It was a great moment for us young kids – it was me, David Sims, Mario Sorrenti,” he recalls fondly. “I was incredibly lucky to get that break.”
In the years that have followed, as well as shooting numerous fashion stories and campaigns, Hom has developed a great passion and skill for portraiture. “Fashion photography is great but it’s a bit like putting an army together; it’s so dependent on having the best girl, the best hair and make-up, the best styling, the best everything before you can do something superb,” he expands. “For my portraiture, I use fashion as an element and I add onto it but it’s not the main priority: the face and the eyes are what I love.” His ability to make his subjects feel at ease, and subsequently to reveal something of their inner selves, is clear from a mere glance at his impressive portfolio – be it a coy Quentin Tarantino peering out from behind a gloved hand or a reclining Amy Winehouse fixing the camera with an intense, appraising gaze.
“You are stealing a bit of the soul every time you take a portrait, and it works both ways” – Marc Hom
Hom views portrait photography as a partnership – “you are stealing a bit of the soul every time you take a portrait, and it works both ways,” he explains – and his elegant, pared-back style allows for total engagement with his subjects. “It’s incredibly important to me to create images that are timeless; that I can look back at in ten years and still like,” he says. “I like rawness and sensuality but I don’t like it when it becomes vulgar: I’ve never been into the shock value of an image, I’d rather it retain a certain dignity.” Hom is in London for the opening of a new retrospective exhibition of portraits at the Paul Smith flagship store on Albemarle Street – a selection taken from his new book Profiles, published by Teneues, which he describes as having “a much looser feel to it” than his previous book Portraits, “[the images] dig a little bit deeper into the soul.” Here, ahead of its launch, we catch up with the celebrated imagemaker to hear the wonderful stories behind six of our favourite shots from the show, spanning a fresh-faced Liv Tyler and a beaming, bouffant-sporting Louise Bourgeois.
Liv Tyler (above)
“This was taken in ‘92 so right before Liv started acting really – she was still a model at that time – and taken on a shoot in upstate New York. This was a behind-the-scenes picture, not one that ran – there are quite a lot of these ‘in-between’ shots in the book and I think they’re really interesting. She looks very beautiful, of course; it’s capturing that moment between girlhood and becoming a woman, and it’s quite sensual in that sense.”
“This was a shoot I did for Harper’s Bazaar UK when Elizabeth Tilberis was there. I’d never really worked with Björk before. She’s a very interesting person – she’s not an introvert but it takes a while to get to know her, and the way her mind works. She’s extremely intelligent and mesmerising. When I’m taking portraits obviously I’m there to take the photo but it’s a little bit like being a psychiatrist at the same time because you have to get to know your subject quickly and then take a photograph that hopefully both you and they find intriguing and beautiful. It’s so interesting meeting these people but a lot of them have been photographed 500 times before so you want to be sure that you own that moment; that it belongs to you.”
“This was taken around the time that I met her: it was the second shoot we did together, and before this I did the cover of her book. I really admire older people because I think they are the ones we can learn from – they’ve been through life, they understand what we’re going to go through – and Lauren was an incredible woman. Also in New York, where I live, you very rarely meet New Yorkers; it’s such a mixed bag of personalities. I’ve been living there for 26 years, so I can almost call myself a New Yorker, but here I met somebody who was a true New Yorker; she’d lived there since ‘56 or ‘58, and it was so interesting to hear about the city from someone who’d been there for so long. She became a really good friend and we would meet every three or four months and have a tea or coffee and talk about things; she wrote the foreword for my last book. She was still stunningly beautiful and in this photograph you can just tell that those eyes have killed a lot of men in her lifetime!”
“This picture was in W originally and, like Liv Tyler, this was taken when Sofia’s career was on the brink of taking off. She had just been in the last Godfather movie, and she hadn’t really directed anything yet. It’s always so great to have these memories of people when they’re young, at the beginning of their career, and they don’t know how their path is going to develop yet. At that time, I think, coming from that family, having that last name and trying to make a mark on her own wasn’t so easy. She wasn’t insecure, but you could tell that she was trying to figure out what direction to take.”
“I love this! It’s one of those memories that I keep going back to because it was a wonderful and crazy day. I had to shoot Faye Dunaway on the same day, and it was a lot to handle having both of these icons on set. Faye was known to be difficult – although she wasn’t with me for some reason – and she kept complaining; she’d told everybody that my assistant had to wear black and she wanted him out of her eyeline and so on. Anyway, all the while I’d had this idea with Louise where I’d asked her to bring a sculpture so that I could photograph her with an element of her work. She’d brought this piece that was taller than her, because she was quite little, and I looked at her and said, ‘Louise, why don’t we try to make your head the same height as the sculpture so then you kind of go together?’ So she was sitting there, dangling from a high chair – she couldn’t touch the floor – with her hair being done higher and higher and higher. Meanwhile Faye Dunaway’s screaming on set. It was just one of those days!”
“This is the image on the back of the book – on the cover you have Anne Hathaway, who is so angelic and beautiful, and then this sneaky kind of pervert on the back. It’s a great contrast! Quentin was amazing; when you see him being interviewed, you have no idea what’s going to hit you – he always seems so frantic – and I just didn’t know what to expect, but he was the nicest guy. This was for W also and a lot of the other pictures from the story are taken with the actress Nichole Galicia. I wanted to make the shoot quite sexy and sensual and raw so I said to him, ‘Why don’t we get Carrie Washington to join the shoot? She’s in New York.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, I know someone who will work much better,’ and he brought Nichole. And it was so cool, they just went for it 100% – after ten minutes she was walking around naked and he was starting to sweat and I was almost getting ready for something to take off! It’s rare that you get people who are so comfortable in their own skin and that is just a complete reflection of who Quentin is as a director and as a person. It’s so inspiring, and this portrait really captures that.”
Marc Hom: Profiles is at Paul Smith, 9 Albemarle Street, Mayfair from December 2-14, 2016.