Style And Grace: Willie Christie, Fashion Photographer

22/08/2011 16:34 | Updated 22 May 2015

Grace Coddington by Willie Christie

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Willie Christie is that his career as a fashion photographer spans little more than decade. His portfolio belies the relative short time frame and is littered with iconic images; from Mick Jagger at his most pouty and surly, to US Vogue's infamous (and then controversial) "jelly" cover in 1976 and Catherine Deneuve's gravity-defying hair in The Hunger. And then there are the shots of his ex-wife; ex-model and Vogue creative director Grace Coddington.

While Coddington has found recent fame in her role as the artistically pure David to Anna Wintour's commercial Goliath in The September Issue, it seems that Christie too is ready to enjoy a resurgence of recognition. This September he will unveil an exhibition of his work taken during the 70s and early 80s, which document in perfect, glorious technicolour the faces that define the era, from Bryan Ferry to David Bowie to Jerry Hall and Grace Jones.

"It was a tricky process deciding on what to include, photographers are their own worst judges - sometimes I look at photos that I absolutely loved at the time and now I don't get them, while others stand out in a way that they just didn't all those years ago," says Christie.

His first gig as a photographer was both opportune, and terrifying. He was commissioned by Melody Maker to photograph the Stones during their first recording sessions with Mick Taylor, following the death of Brian Jones. "It was 1969 and the Stones were at their rudest, most extreme, most powerful. They didn't want me there and I just wanted to run for it." He didn't, and although there are painful shots where the band's hostility toward his presence is raw and palpable, Christie also captured the now infamous shot Jagger, surrounded by a perfectly visible rock god halo.

Despite the breadth of subjects, a fascination with artifice is the common glossy thread that runs through. "It's the old Hollywood movies, I think that film and photography is about suspension of belief". Lighting is crucial to his approach. Christie's use of supplementary is apparent in the most naturalist of settings. "I love studio lighting, I love the artifice, when you're so obviously in a set, it's just magical."

The love of the theatrical and artificial is something he shares with Coddington. One of his favourite works in the exhibition is one of Coddington. The pair worked together for four years Grace by the window at sea. I made this square window made a transparency from an image of Camber Sands. "The ones of Grace were about creativity, they were not made with a publication in mind." Great photos, like great movies, live on beyond the immediate: "I always like to think that my photos are part of a story – I'm not sure what the it, but I want it to feel like something existed beyond the frame, a jilted lover perhaps or unrequited love".


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