Waiting For The Moon
August 12, 2013
In a daylight-filled loft at Paris’ prestigious Studio Rouchon, legendary photographer Sarah Moon and her muse, Lithuanian model Urte Laukaityte, pause for a moment: “Relax, sweetie, we’re just waiting for the moon.” The moon in question, a yellow crescent, is being hastily cut out by the set designer.
This is Sarah Moon’s world. A world where set design takes shape before your eyes. Where manual effects—the black backdrop to which the moon is tacked shuffles back and forth to create Moon’s trademark blurred effect—still have their place in the digital age.
At 72, Moon has, as she puts it, “had the luck to be born between Méliès and Bill Gates.” Between the former’s early black-and-white illusionist cinematography, and the advancing technology of the latter.
Born in England in 1940, Moon started modeling at 19, going on to take the intimate snaps of her model friends that would launch her career. A fashion and commercial photographer since 1968, she’s amassed a body of work that includes filmmaking, portraiture and still life, including campaigns for Valentino, Chanel and Christian Dior, and a long-term partnership with Cacharel.
“From the beginning, she created her particular style,” recalls longtime collaborator Guillaume Bérard, whose career in hairdressing took off in parallel with Moon’s in photography. “She was one of the first to take blurred photos. That style of photo was revolutionary.”
Those soft focused, moody, painterly images have remained Moon’s signature. Whether in her preferred black and white, or in color, her photos—through their grain, depth, texture, and blurriness—go beyond capturing an image to convey emotion and a nostalgia that’s often described as haunting in its power.
For Neiman Marcus, which first approached Moon for THE ART OF FASHION 15 years ago, the sensuality in her images is key. “There’s soul to her work. She loves clothes,” says creative director Georgia Christensen. “And there’s this wonderful combination of modern and conventional. She’s shooting digital but then they’re physically moving the background.”
Her dreamlike photos are a point of reference in the fashion world: “That Sarah Moon photo from…” provides inspiration for more than one stylist. “Sarah’s work evokes. They are more than photographs, they are dreams and visions on display for us,” affirms stylist Patti Wilson, who has worked with Moon off-and-on for years and styled THE ART OF FASHION shoot.
Her famous style is so distinctive, Moon herself once said it’s in some ways her limitation. Perhaps that explains why, in her fifth decade in fashion, she’s still somewhat an outsider, very much the elusive artist with a signature style far removed from the often more erotic, suggestive images of her male contemporaries. “Those attributes that make her such an incredible talent are the same that make her an outsider of sorts,” says Wilson. “By ignoring trends, bucking convention, and remaining true to her vision she guarantees her place in the pantheon of incredible photographers. But, as we know, that place is far from the mainstream.”
Moon’s method on the shoot itself is equally removed from fashion norms. There’s no music blasting, just Moon’s softly lilting half-English, half-French directions to her model muse. The mood is relaxed and complicit. Everyone on the team, some of whom have been working with the photographer for decades, gives input on the resulting images as Moon puffs her way through edits over an electronic cigarette.
“All the usual stereotypes don’t apply here,” confirms Laukaityte, who poses exclusively for Moon in between linguistics studies at England’s Cambridge University. “No one’s in a hurry. You’re all waiting for something; she’s searching, you’re searching…”
What they’re searching for is the shot. “The success of an image is really a sum of details,” Moon explains. “You shoot, you shoot, you shoot, but until you see it you don’t know.” Sometimes it calls for constructing a scenario: “You’re sleepwalking, you’re floating in the black” Moon tells Laukaityte. Another time, when a look is judged too static, it calls for movement, with the help of a jumping board. “In the air, it looks different, so beautiful, so simple. It’s got life,” Moon enthuses.
Throughout the shoot, Moon repeats the mantra “simple.” “It’s funny how it’s always the simpler the better,” she says, ruling out some color-contrasting background shots as “too busy,” and later dismissing the moon backdrop as “too Mary Poppins.” “I like it when it appears to be nothing—and it works.”