The most important teacher early in my career was the past. The history of photography taught me everything. For example, if you want to check the strength of your own work, just compare it with some of Diane Arbus’s photographs… and you find the answer.
The biggest career risk I took was leaving my job at Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar in 1992. It was a very dangerous move—but Bazaar promised me a fortune per year and 100 per cent creative freedom. This was very difficult to refuse at the time! All the risks I took worked out in the end, although of course this was never clear when I took them.
Today I am opposed to the idea of perfection, and worse than this, the absolutely overrated idea of youth. I’m lucky because I’m famous and I can demand that my photos are not retouched, but it’s harder for up-and-coming photographers. We are in denial of physical decay. People have to look young, and of course, be spotless and perfect. This is the shame of our time.
I think the only interest in photographing someone, models included, is to find a kind of reality which belongs to this person. For me every photograph, fashion pictures included, is a portrait of someone, and has to have some truth somewhere.
When I have a model in front of me, I never think I’m photographing the clothes. They’re not interesting in themselves. For me, the clothes are simply a stage for expressing what I want.
I don’t create. I can reveal, but not create. When you say about a portrait: That’s totally him, or totally her, that’s silly. A portrait is never the person. What is captured, I think, is your relationship with the person that you are photographing. It’s an exchange—that is what you can see in the image.
Go inside yourself and you will find everything. You can only be original if you look inside of yourself for ideas. You have to feel yourself what you want to photograph, and it doesn’t help at all to look at pictures other people have already done. I think of this Shunryu Suzuki quote often: “To express yourself as you are, without any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, is the most important thing.”
I would advise young photographers entering the industry today not to become an assistant of a strong, famous photographer. It will take a much longer time to find your own voice afterwards.