By Elleree Erdos
French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier has revolutionized fashion photography with his truthful approach to the photograph; by maintaining ties with the tradition of his medium, truth to the apparatus of vision and spontaneity, and continuous engagement with portraits as exposure to emotion, Demarchelier has become an ambassador of truth in the field of fashion photography. His force in the fashion world is in his ability to make this truth acceptable in a field immersed in illusion, introducing his own hegemonic principle of the fashion photograph and implementing it to its full effect. Demarchelier legitimizes his practice and overturns the dominant hegemony of falsity in the fashion photograph by maintaining consistency in both his photographic and his personal, “celebrity” image.
Click here to view Patrick Demarchelier's commercial reel.
Demarchelier worked at the same time as avant-garde photographers such as Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, who photographed in a style that fed the increasingly sexualized nature of photography taking shape in the 1960s (Harrison). He joined forces with a group of photographers that became known as the Paris Mafia, who “reacted against the decadence or self-conscious seriousness of their contemporaries in favor of fashion photographs which were upbeat, informal, and with the spontaneity of a snapshot” (Harrison). In a 2008 interview for the London Telegraph, Demarchelier described the current society as “perfection-obsessed,” a comment consistent with his search for truth and emotion in all of his work, whether it is a portrait, an advertisement, or a fashion editorial (Walden).
Fashion photography offers an exceptional venue for the realm of seeing that invites falsification and illusion in order to fabricate an inaccessible world for the consumer, who absorbs the photograph within the context of the cultural hegemony at play in his or her personal environment (Crane, 542). In spite of whatever ideology the viewer applies to the photograph, today’s fashion photographer institutes a method of illusion to engage the viewer.
Patrick Demarchelier, while remaining true to the nature of his chosen field, manages to maintain an element of reality in the entire image. He does so through what has been coined the “Demarchelier Touch”—his interactions and gentle personality that puts the model at ease, eliciting positive human responses (Chazal). Paired with his technical skill, this quality allows Demarchelier to capture his models in their most vulnerable, truthful, spontaneous moments.
Philosopher Roland Barthes outlined three modes by which the fashion photograph operates within the context of the “world…as a theater” (Barnard, 517). The fashion photograph, says Barthes, can objectify, romanticize, or mock its contents. In all three instances, however, the dominating hegemony is that of falsification; everything within the photograph save for the garment itself is made outrageous or absurd, thus verifying the reality in the garment (518). Demarchelier finds the humanistic element in the illusion and grasps hold of it with his lens. Instead of placing the viewer on the exterior of a dream world he or she can only aspire to, he gives viewers an entry point by which to place themselves within whatever world he depicts. Furthermore, the continuity of Demarchelier’s public image with the traditional, effortless style of his photography reinforces his personal distance from pretension an ostentatious display.
Patrick Demarchelier, "A Fashion Fairy Tale," Vanity Fair Jan. 2005