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Erik Madigan Heck On The Art Of Fashion Photography

Fashion’s favourite photographer Erik Madigan Heck has caught the attention of Mary Katrantzou and Comme des Garçons with his chromatic snaps. Ahead of the publication of his new book, Old Future, he talks his secret passion for black-and-white imagery and working with Adele

There was a moment during the Noughties when neon hues became the crème de la crème in amateur photography. Preceding more advanced filter apps, the trend for high saturation and Apple’s thermal camera effect on Photobooth filled the internet, plaguing social media profiles and desktop backgrounds in cosmic proportions. Meanwhile, Erik Madigan Heck, who defiantly shot only black-and-white images for seven years, began building a portfolio of his own rainbow snaps – and there wasn’t a bad Photoshop job in sight.

Fast forward to 2017 and the shutterbug has outlived the OTT shades that once threatened the future of colour photography, instead building a mini empire of equally dramatic, but decidedly more tasteful, images that have captured the attention of media giants and fashion principals alike. Now, Madigan Heck is launching his fourth book, Old Future, a compendium of his photographs whittled down to just 100 highlights of his career, showcasing the best of his work and his influences in the art, fashion and photography worlds. 

“It’s a brief survey of the past decade of my work. My friend and I painstakingly placed all of my photographs on the floor as little prints, and over two weeks we narrowed these down from almost 1,000 pictures to 100,” he tells me. “My favourite is the first picture in the book of a woman in a blue hat that I made for Rodarte. It was the first colour photograph of mine that I fell in love with.”

Vibrant snaps from fashion campaigns for Mary Katrantzou – whom he describes as “a sculptor of colour” – Dries Van Noten and Giambattista Valli are featured in the tome, alongside essays by Susan Bright, the former assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery, and editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK Justine Picardie – for whom he recently photographed a mammoth campaign marking the publication’s 150th anniversary.

When I ask which of his contemporaries he admires, I am surprised to hear that he has a particular fondness for Henry Callahan, an American photographer who notoriously favoured a monochromatic filter. “He is the most underrated photographer in the history of the industry,” he enthuses. “His images are immediately iconic and complex, but subtle and simple compositionally. He took pictures at home of his wife that are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful pictures ever made.”

Madigan Heck tells me that he requires a sense of calm during his photo shoots, playing classical music and using natural light to “try to keep it as mellow as possible”. It’s a method that clearly works as he’s mastered the art of getting the best out of his subjects – his portfolio a testament to his talent. 

When he’s not snapping models dressed in the latest haute couture, his subjects range from celebrities to political powerhouses, including former US vice president Joe Biden for The New York Times, Adele for TIME (“She’s absolutely wonderful”) and Dakota Fanning for The Guardian.  

But as a viewer, I would have to argue that his skill truly comes to the fore when fashion is his focus. His ability to manipulate colour and print to produce a graphic image – that in some cases can look more like a work of art – is at its best when working with an equally visual subject, and it’s little wonder that the brands listed on his CV – Etro, Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Valentino, to name a few – are ones that are similarly daring in their work. As long as fashion continues to thrive, so will Madigan Heck, and I for one can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. 

Available from 3 March, £28, www.thamesandhudson.com