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An Interview with Clive Arrowsmith

We ask the celebrated photographer about the inspiration and experiences that helped form 'Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty and Portraits' - an insightful retrospective that charts his illustrious career and chronicles his diverse, captivating subject matter. 



Image courtesy of Fashion, Beauty and Portraits, pg 3 – Clive Arrowsmith Ⓡ


As a photographer, what would you say is your favourite fashion era and why?

That would be my time at Vogue working with my favourite stylist, Grace Coddington, who discovered me and my work. Also, working with the iconic brands of the fashion world; YSL, Gucci, Prada, Revlon, Jean Muir, Kansai Yamamoto, a lot of fashion editors at French Vogue, and different magazines that understand fashion. I still really love photographing beautiful, edgy, stylish clothes and great models who respond to the camera naturally; these are the rare beauties of the fashion world.


Do you prefer photographing models or celebrities, and why?

It’s a double-edged sword - with fashion shoots, you are in command of the shoot, with portraits, it depends on the mood of the celebrity whether it works. When there’s a good atmosphere, it’s a joy. When a sitter is difficult, well, I just keep on shooting and the celebrity reveals that part of their nature. I must admit you get some really great moments with the more difficult celebrities - those who are totally self-obsessed.



Image courtesy of Fashion, Beauty and Portraits, pg 249 – Clive Arrowsmith Ⓡ


How would you say you modify your photography for editorials, advertisements, celebrity portraits and album covers, but still retain your recognisable style?

Your style cannot help but reveal itself, because it’s engrained in your visual literacy. You, of course, have to use colour, light and shadow, but your way of working those always shines through - like how Bob Dylan sings songs in different ways, but you always know its Dylan.


Had you not have become a photographer, what career path might you have taken?

An actor or a painter.



Image courtesy of Fashion, Beauty and Portraits, pg 26 – Clive Arrowsmith Ⓡ


Who has been your most memorable subject or campaign and why?

Well, photographing portraits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was a wonderful moment, as was being asked to do a series of these over the years of His Holiness. It helps that I am a Buddhist and it’s a great joy to me.


Is there anyone you would still like to photograph?

Aung San Suu Kyi and many more wonderful models, dancers, working people - they all have great faces.



Image courtesy of Fashion, Beauty and Portraits, pg 118 – Clive Arrowsmith Ⓡ


...or someone you wished you had photographed?

Ava Gardner, the 1950s movie star - she was so beautiful, but she had passed away by the time I started taking pictures.


How do you come up with the concepts for your creative shoots?

That depends on the subject. For instance, in my present book, Vogue asked me to do a beauty shoot to show a face application made from lemon, milk and eggs. In the book you will see Ingrid Bolting’s face on a black background, above her, half an egg, and below, bubbling milk, with a slice of lemon as a rising sun. Vogue were expecting a beautiful close-up of a girl applying the lotion to her skin - I thought we had seen all that before, so I made this image.

It was the same thing when they asked me to shoot bikinis - I shot them like the ancient Greek games.



Image courtesy of Fashion, Beauty and Portraits, pg 135 – Clive Arrowsmith Ⓡ


'Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty and Portraits' is now available for purchase online and in store at The Conran Shop. 

Clive will also be signing copies of ‘Fashion, Beauty and Portraits’ at The Conran Shop Marylebone on Wednesday 11th May, visit our Events page for more details.