Cathleen Naundorf: Haute Couture

German-born, France-based Cathleen Naundorf paints with a camera. In fact, it was with a brush rather than a camera that she took her first forays into the world of art in the 1980s. The following decade put her on the photographic map as she traveled the world, camera in hand, specializing in reportage on indigenous peoples, ranging from the Yanomami tribe deep in the Amazon to the shamans of Yakutia, Siberia.

Inspired by her friendship with Horst P. Horst, Naundorf refocused her career on fashion. In 1997, she used her reportage background to document the controlled chaos of backstage Paris fashion shows for Condé Nast publications. Other periodicals of mode soon took notice.

With the new millennium came a new way of shooting—using large-format Deardorff and Plaubel cameras loaded with Polaroid and negative films. Her seven-year series "Un Rêve de Mode" used gowns pulled from haute couture archives of the leading European houses of fashion, including Chanel, Dior, Gaultier, Valentino and Lacroix. With the series, Naundorf created one of the first great bodies of fashion photography work in the 21st century. Her elaborate and cinematic productions grace the pages of Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf (Prestel). An accompanying international touring exhibition firmly established her as one of the most sought-after fashion photographers working today.

4pm in London. Philip Treacy design.

DPP: How has your study of painting influenced your photographic eye?

Cathleen Naundorf: I learned a lot from paintings—the positioning of the models, the detailed preparations before the finalizations, the composition of colors, the framing and the reading of light. I still often go to galleries and museums to see the Italian and Flemish Renaissance paintings and drawings. It gives me an immense amount of inspiration for my photographic creations. When I traveled last year to Italy, I visited the Sistine Chapel and the museum of the Vatican. Michelangelo’s powerful drawings, with their movements and colors, are timeless.

DPP: Since you first studied painting, why did you switch to photography for your artistic expression?

Naundorf: I was bored sitting alone in an atelier. I wanted to see the world and get out of a closed room. Photography gives you the opportunity to travel and a nice excuse to go to exotic places where most people never go. The doors are quite open when you have a camera in your hand.

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