From André Leon Talley and Diane von Furstenberg reunited in an impassioned embrace to a sea of hurried photographers swarming from a show venue brandishing their cameras aloft, the biannual parade which accompanies fashion week does not always look like the society pages that tabloid newspapers would have their readers believe. At least, not when it’s captured by Landon Nordeman. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the New York-based image-maker was first commissioned to venture backstage at fashion week when The Cut’s Stella Bugbee stumbled across his photographs of dog shows, whose vivid colour palettes and perpetual hive of activity turned out to be excellent training for what would ensue over the following four years. His knack for such work has since taken Nordeman from New York to Paris and Milan many times over.
Behind the scenes at fashion week, Nordeman has made an alternative perspective his bread and butter, capturing glimpses of activity and often awe-inspiring instances where most photographers in his situation would see only missed opportunities. “I feel like that’s the challenge with fashion week,” Nordeman explains over the phone. “There are all of these forces that are trying to get you to take a specific picture, and what I’m doing the entire time is kind of fighting against that, to try and find my own idea of what the picture is.”
His method is born of a journalistic drive to capture a moment which characterises the experience for him personally – whether that be the flash of a camera from a nearby peer, or the enthusiastic clutch of von Furstenberg’s hands within those of her friend. Proximity helps, he says, as does a flash, but sometimes, equally, that shot materialises when he’s waiting outside a show, battling with a security guard to enter the venue.
The resulting images, brimming with colour and drama to such an extent that they almost don’t seem real, are now compiled within a book, Out of Fashion, published by Damiani and swathed in a similarly eye-catching orange cover. They’re frankly irresistible, placing moments of utter peace – the serenity of a golden statue tucked backstage at Rick Owens, or the flutter of Céline’s tentlike blue set – next to lines of models poised post-show, or Grace Coddington’s famous auburn mane mid-step as she walks away from his trailing lens. We spoke to Nordeman to discover some of his favourite experiences.
On his atypical training…
“I first started shooting at fashion week four years ago, but I really started taking pictures of my friends in college, at the University of Virginia, in the late 90s. When I graduated I first worked at a newspaper, and I feel like that training helped. When you’re working at a newspaper it’s all about the pace – there’s no time to explore your artistic vision, you just have to get it done – but in a way you are trained to work quickly, and there are certain habits that they teach you, get there early, and stay late. I still think about that kind of thing when I’m working fashion week.”
On capturing the in-between…
“I love being in the middle of that chaotic, energetic environment, where people are preparing for something and there’s this anticipation, this sense of urgency. I like finding moments that exist within this sort of atmosphere, where people are waiting for something to happen, or preparing. Often I find that the moments or the images that I’m really looking for are not of the main event, but of the before or the after or the in-between. I feel like there’s some sort of energy or quality that I like to find in that atmosphere.
Also, there are so many visual, visually stimulating pieces to the whole fashion week puzzle. You know, the clothes are beautiful and colourful, the sets are interesting, the locations are interesting, the models are interesting, the hair and make-up – it’s all these ingredients put into one. I feel like there are just a lot of opportunities there to make a picture that – for me, anyway – is filled with colour and gesture and moments and history… I feel like it’s all there.”
On his favourite and least favourite cities…
“Let me put it this way, New York is the easiest for me, but that’s just because I know New York; I've come to know many of the people who are working at the New York shows, so I felt like I had the best access, and it’s sort of easier for me to get around there. In Milan, the shows are more spread out – you really need to drive in between them – and I found the Italian security guards were tougher with me because they didn’t know me. So much of having a successful shoot during fashion week is having good access and, in a way, everywhere there are people restricting your access. But I really love Paris, because some of the locations are just mind-blowing. The Dior show, for example, at the Rodin Museum… I mean, it’s just beautiful.”
On making a picture, regardless of the situation…
“There are times when I really like to be as close as possible, but I think that sometimes you find if you actually take a step back and look at it from a broader perspective you begin to notice things that you can’t notice when you’re as close as you could be. I try and always just work with whatever access I have. If I’m in the back, I still try to make a picture. If I’m in the front, I still try to make a picture. And I have this faith, I would say – I don’t know if faith is the right word, maybe trust or belief – that wherever I end up, I’m still gonna try to make a picture from there. Sometimes the picture is while you’re waiting outside, or of the other photographers, or it’s of a piece of the set during the rehearsal. They don’t want you to take pictures, but there are pictures there.”
On one unforgettable image…
“One that really stands out is of a woman on the floor doing push-ups. It was after the Marc Jacobs show in New York, and this woman was so moved by the show that she dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups. She is a fitness trainer. But, you know, this is after the show – people are standing around, most people have left, and I’m just still hanging around because it’s the last show of fashion week, looking around. All of a sudden she just drops to the ground and started doing these push-ups. So I took pictures of her! Of course I said to her, ‘tell me, why are you doing this?’ And she was like, ‘well this is just my way of showing my appreciation, I just felt, that it made me feel like doing push-ups’.
I guess the point is you just can’t even imagine taking a picture of something like that, and I guess that’s kind of what I love about photography – you just never really know what’s gonna happen. So when you have a moment like that and then you add it to the fact that at the Marc Jacobs show they’d created this pink world, a pink carpet, pink gravel – it really becomes something that’s just completely unique. It’s like this blend of this creative fantasy world and the real world, and they’re sort of colliding in this very strange way. I think that’s what I love about the whole fashion week thing.”
Out of Fashion by Landon Nordeman is out now, published by Damiani.