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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Michael Creagh: Fashion In B&W

The peculiar palette of photographer Michael Creagh

Creagh’s pictures aren’t just palatable, they’re sumptuous. This comes from being a master of one’s craft, but it also requires good instincts and the fortitude to trust them. When pressed for advice on how other photographers can achieve the same, he isn’t eager to offer a road map—not because he doesn’t want to share but because he doesn’t think there’s a secret formula for greatness. In fact, Creagh attributes much of his own success to decidedly low-tech abilities: interpersonal skills and collaborating with others who share a desire to make great pictures.

“I don’t think there are a lot of dos and don’ts,” he says. “You have to go with your gut feeling. When shooting fashion, you need a great model and concept. You need to put those together with the clothes, the makeup and the lighting to make a striking image. That requires people and social relations. It’s difficult to take your pretty friend to the park and emulate what Steven Klein and Michael Thompson do.

“The process of production and social relations is really overlooked,” he continues, “especially in the age of digital. So many people look at my Bubbles series and ask if I did it digitally, even astutely asking about the depth and the dimension. In fact, we built a set. The model from DNA, a top New York agency, was able to interact with it and feed from it. I was inspired by walking through it and seeing the myriad of angles evolve with her movements. A lot of steps had to happen to get to that point where I press the button.”

Creagh collaborates frequently with fashion designer Susana Monaco. They’ve photographed 17 catalogs together, which has resulted in some of his favorite portfolio pieces—such as the Trapeze series.

“When we were conceptualizing the Trapeze shoot for her catalog,” Creagh says, “we spoke about shooting at a circus. We discussed maybe having a busy tent background with diverse lighting and lots of elements. I think the power of the series is its simplicity. Bringing in one circus element with the lighting, the model, the makeup, the hair really allowed us to show the use of space, composition, the lines in the circus elements and the model’s body and the designer’s clothes. We envisioned a few props that worked together, with a consistent lighting feel tying the viewer to a nearly 20-page series that darts in and out, with close-up beauty in one shot and then 20 feet of space over the model’s head in the next. There’s white on white and ‘poppy’ dress colors. If you lose the elements that bind the series together, then it’s hard to transit back and forth.”

That back-and-forth, movement, change—all are elements that seem to drive Creagh and keep him interested in any given project. It’s the versatility and flexibility that seem to interest him most about photography. No matter what he’s shooting or how, the variety keeps him engaged.

“I have a hard time defining myself within this style,” he says, “even if I’m recognized for it. One of the things I like best about being a photographer is the diversity in your life. One day, I’ll shoot for a clothing designer, the next for Microsoft, and the next for a music artist. You get to wear a lot of hats.”

You can see more of Michael Creagh’s photography at www.michaelcreagh.com; check out his blog at michaelcreagh.wordpress.com.


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