(NEW YORK) Missed this juicy shutterbug tell-all from our insider’s package during NYFW? Fret not! Time for a (re)read of this NYFW gem. The photographers screaming from the pit rarely get much respect. The Daily coaxed one veteran to anonymously spill on the thrills and disasters that take place amongst the madness at the end of the runway.
BY EDDIE ROCHE
How long have you been in the game?
I went to my first show in 1981. I’ve been going ever since.
I was living in Paris back then. The fashion shows were very disorganized in New York before Seventh on Sixth started. I was just horrified when I finally came, because they were so bad. They were in these horrible little lofts with little folding chairs with bad lighting. I decided I wasn’t going to come back. Then a few years later, Seventh on Sixth started doing it properly in the Tents, and I’ve been coming ever since.
What’s life like in the pit?
It has its hierarchy. There’s a core group of photographers that go to all the cities. I call them the “real professionals.” Then there’s another sort of level of photographers: the “tourist” ones, and they obviously change in each city. They are usually spread around, down on the floor in the front or way in the back or more on the side, because the center positions are basically reserved for the real serious photographers that go to all the cities. Everyone knows each other.
Who are the major players?
There are different kinds of mafias in different cities. In New York there’s Dan Lecca, he’s the king of doing all the houses, working for the most designers. There’s FirstView, who do a lot. There’s another one now called In Digital, which is doing all of Condé Nast’s pictures. Then there are the Italians who are the most hated ones because they undercut everyone in price. There are companies like Getty and WireImage that have big teams. They’re more of celebrity or sports photographers that also do fashion shows. In the overall hierarchy of photographers, fashion show photography is a step above paparazzi. The paparazzi might see it the opposite way. Then again, it’s not like fashion show photographers are going to be confused with Patrick Demarchelier!
Is it very claustrophobic in there?
Yes! It gets very precarious because often times you’re squeezed so tight that you can’t reach into your pocket. Your hands are holding up the camera and you’re standing on a camera case or two camera cases. You have to have good balance. A lot of them may not have the best hygiene, so sometimes it’s a bit stinky. And sometimes you end up being squished right next to your archrival or fierce competitor, so tensions develop.
Who’s the guy that always yells, “Ladies and gentleman, blah, blah, blah,” before the show?
Uncross your legs? There are a few people that say that. There used to be a guy that worked for a Texas newspaper named Buster. He would come to all the cities, which was back in the good old days when a Houston newspaper could send a photographer. He had a little train driver whistle. And he would go toot, toot, toot and that was a sort of unofficial signal that the show was about to start.
There’s another guy with long hair and a hat…
He’s kind of like the self-proclaimed policeman of the front area. Luckily, he’s only in New York. He basically fights with all the upstarts and keeps that area somewhat filled with people he knows. He does some sort of a valuable job keeping the ones he doesn’t know and lesser magazines and lesser blogs and stuff on the fringe. He’s been ejected from shows a couple times.
Do the photographers have anything to say about the looks coming down the runway?
Very few of the photographers really know about fashion. They know the difference in designers, but they’re not going to be able to say more than that. For the most part, these are guys, so if you’ve got sexy girls, you’ve got a good review.
Do you guys like it when models fall?
Not really. I feel bad for them. It’s not like it’s going to be an especially good picture or anything like that. It’s more of a newsworthy item. I don’t look forward to it and certainly don’t hope for it. The only real money shot for that was when Naomi Campbell fell in Vivienne Westwood years and years ago in Paris. Which actually was really funny because she almost fell in my lap. I was sitting right there!
Do you go backstage as well?
Sometimes. Some of the photographers there are trying to get the makeup pictures, some are trying to get the girls when they’re first dressed before they go out, a little bit more of the atmosphere and the excitement. Designers are trying to make sure the girls are all there. It gets really stressful and crowded because the space is just too small for everything that’s going on.
How do publicists treat you?
I’ve been yelled at and told to leave. I don’t take it personally. I know it’s just a lot of stress. People react funny in stressful situations. They are obviously trying to get the best for their clients. Photographers are trying to get pictures, so it’s a bit of a cat and mouse game. Sometimes the designers are like, “OK, all the photographers out,” and there’s a couple photographers hiding behind the food table trying to stay.
I’ve seen a lot of photographers just completely ignore the publicists.
They are trying to do their job and the publicist is trying to do their job. Oftentimes you’re physically dragged out of there.
Photographers are often the last ones to get in, and they’re made to stand out in the rain before that. We’re producing the same journalistic material that the editors and writers are, but never get the bottles of perfume that the editors do. To be fair, the photographers can act like animals sometimes, so they are treated like animals sometimes.
Is there any designer that’s nicer than the rest?
Chanel is very accommodating because they will let photographers come in almost whenever they want. If you go two hours before you can go in and find a spot. Some designers are super prickly. They don’t want the photographers there early. Chanel is really the model example of being polite to the photographers and treating them like equals. The photographers respect that.
What kind of money are photogs making?
It totally varies. If they are working for the designer, they could be making $10,000 for the show. If they are working for a magazine or a website, they could be making $100for a show, or even less. Some photographers are paid $250 for the day. The business has changed. The clients want the runway pictures and they want some backstage, and they expect that all from one person—they don’t want to have to find five different photographers and hire them all. Unfortunately, the prices have not gone up with this extra need. So it’s a tougher business in some ways than it was before.
Do you still enjoy it after all these years?
Yeah! You do see beautiful things, pretty girls. It’s always fun going back to Paris and to Milan. You’re eating well. And there is a certain kind of demented camaraderie you have with friends, some of these other photographers who you see season after season. Then there is that spirit of competition where you want to get that faster than the other guy. It’s still fun!