43-year-old German photographer CATHLEEN NAUNDORF is pegged to be the next Irving Penn. We can hear the collectors knocking on her door. Tim Jefferies, proprietor of the renowned London photography gallery Hamiltons, has included Naundorf in an exhibition alongside the greats: Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and Herb Ritts. But how far can a traditionalist like Naundorf go in a digital age? Jeffries says very. Vs. had a three-way trans-Atlantic chat with Jefferies and Naundorf on the direction of fashion photography, Karl Lagerfeld, and why Naundorf is poised to be on curators’ shortlists.
Vs.: Tim, what drew you to Cathleen’s work?
Tim: “At Hamiltons, we’ve worked with Horst, Avedon, Penn and William Klein. Cathleen’s work refers very much to those great names that I’ve mentioned. It’s very refreshing for me today to have the opportunity to work with someone who still uses the traditional format.”
VS: Cathleen, I understand that you don’t shoot in digital at all?
Cathleen: “I see myself as a classic photographer. Horst was my mentor. He actually pushed me to try fashion. He said: ‘Look, you can do fashion to create something special, what you feel inside.’I have my own technique; to shoot in black and white, in this digital world, to shoot with 4×5 inches.”
Tim： “The best digital print, however good it is, does not compare to the finest traditionally printed work on paper. It’s increasingly difficult for someone in my position to find someone who’s original and distinctive and that’s very important in today’s market. I think this saturation of digital media can be overwhelming for many people. There’s something strangely comforting about something that gives evidence of time, consideration, and skill. Photographers using traditional methods look much more carefully at what they’re doing because traditional photography is a lot less forgiving. With digital photography, you can take a photograph of a model and change the color of her hair, you can straighten out a bent arm; there’s so much one can do in postproduction. There’s something really apparent when you look at Cathleen’s photographs, the quality just shouts out at you.”
Vs: Cathleen is a trend blazer. Will a younger crop of photographers emulate Cathleen?
Tim： “I would love it if that was the case. However, in this Disneyfied, Starbucks world that we live in, people want instant gratification. Fewer and fewer people have the patience and time to master traditional photograph.”
CATHLEEN: “When I decided to photograph 4×5 inches, and even with Polaroid, people asked, ‘Are you crazy? Why don’t do digital, it takes much less time?’But, it needs to take time. When you take the time to discover your subject it’s like you’re really meeting. And as you see with my pictures, there is something special inside.”
Vs.: People don’t necessarily think fashion photographers are artists, but then Avedon photographs hang at the Museum of Modern Art and Irving Penn is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Tim: “That’s true. When people ask me to contextualize Penn or Avedon in terms of contemporary or modern art, I say that Penn and Avedon were as important to photography as Picasso was to painting. They made fashion photographs that were meant to appear in Vogue and sell dresses. 50 years later, these pictures have an entirely different meaning, in the same way, that a 3,000-year-old Chinese ceramic bowl used for drinking tea, can become an artistic icon. I don’t think that photography has to be in its own little ghetto. Fashion photography from the greats has a place alongside contemporary painting and Kathleen’s work is the same.”
Vs: Tim, will your clients respond to this effort behind the work? Being a traditionalist doesn’t always lend itself to glamour.
Tim: “I am a long-term player. The more they see, the more they’ll realize everything they’re seeing is of one quality. It’s consistent; it’s not a fluke that Cathleen took two good pictures. I have no interest in showing the latest thing because very often the latest thing is just that and the most recent latest thing isn’t the latest anymore. Cathleen is committed to what she does, and she’s consistent, which is a perfect combination.”
Vs: What if Cathleen pulled a Karl Lagerfeld and shot a Magnum Ice Cream commercial, would that bother you in terms of your professional relationship?
Tim: “If she were to do a photographic assignment for Magnum Ice Cream, I would have to assume that it was because they’ve offered her so much money that she couldn’t say no. If one is offered the right amount to do something, that perhaps one doesn’t completely believe in, well, then maybe you can cut someone some slack. I don’t really see Kathleen doing commercials for Magnum. In the case of Karl Lagerfeld doing something like that, Karl is so big, he’s such a giant of the fashion world, and in a way, he’s such a contemporary cultural icon, that of course people can be horrified and aghast but actually, it’s also quite amusing.”
Vs.: That’s true about Karl. But Cathleen, do you get those types of offers?
Cathleen: “Don’t let’s talk about money. For me, it’s not necessary to do something that I don’t feel. If I knew that it would not be easy to survive, I would continue always with my photography. It’s as necessary for me as eating that I take pictures.”