So many of the great photographers – past and present – are French : Atget, Cartier-Bresson, and Doisneau to name just a few. Lately, I came across a name that was new to me on Pinterest only to discover that I’d known his work for years. Patrick Demarchelier was born in the port town of Le Havre on August 21, 1943, rather far from the glamorous world of high fashion photography where he has reigned supreme since he moved to New York in 1975.
At age 17, he was given a small camera by his stepfather. He started off taking photos of friends and family and experimenting in the darkroom. Demarchelier has said that prior to this gift, he had no ambitions in a life that he described as “dirt poor.” Photography sparked an enduring passion for him. He moved to Paris where he apprenticed at a photography studio. Demarchelier worked his way up the ranks, learning his craft along the way. He began to take publicity shots for models in his own studio and to develop a clientele.
Demarchelier has since been employed by the top fashion magazines, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as shooting advertising campaigns for the most elite design houses, including Chanel and Christian Dior. In 1989, Princess Diana asked him to become her official photographer, making him the first non-British photographer of the Royal Family. Demarchelier has also been behind the camera for album covers for musicians such as Madonna and Elton John and James Bond film posters. He often photographs in black and white.
In other words, Demarchelier has photographed any supermodel or celebrity worth naming, such as this gorgeous photo of Carole Bouquet. Many of his photos have a vintage look, while others are much more cutting-edge and sensual. His particular gift is making his sitters comfortable so that their real selves are immortalized by his camera.
He’s become so important in the fashion world that references to Demarchelier or actual cameo appearances have cropped up in such recent films as The Devil Wears Prada, The September Issue, Sex and the City, and an episode of America’s Next Top Model. In 2007, he was made an Officer in l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and received an award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The following year, there was a retrospective of his work at the Petit Palais where 400 of his photographs were put on display. He’s published four books of photography, often personal images from his travels. These days, his son, Victor, works at his side.
Today’s phrase is a quotation by Demarchelier, “J’ai l’impression que le plus beau est à venir” (zjay lam-press-e-on et ah veneer), which means “I have the impression that the most beautiful is to come.” We’d say, “The best is yet to come.” That kind of optimism is appropriate for a man who at 69 is still working, with no plans of retirement in sight.
Dior Couture, with photographs by Patrick Demarchelier
- Not Even Patrick And Victor Demarchelier Can Save Vogue Brazil (madeinbrazil.typepad.com)
- First Look: Bottega Veneta’s Elegant New Jewelry (nymag.com)