Which are your favourite images in this book? One of my favourite images in this book is a close-up of Mademoiselle working on a lapel; page 78. Her hands are shown very close up here and they show hands that had laboured for many years. Another favourite image is of Mademoiselle with her finger in the air on page 81. This is a favourite because it is a defining picture of her; this is typical of how she would stand and express herself. My other favourite is the photo I took of her at Versailles, page 142-143. She liked to go to Versailles to find tranquillity. It was a Saturday afternoon. It started to rain. I gave her my raincoat which she draped over her shoulders, ever stylishly. I was watching her alone in the distance. It was a special moment and it was the last photo I took of her.
What was the best thing about meeting Mademoiselle? Mademoiselle changed my life. She literally changed it. She taught me that I could do just about anything. She gave me confidence and elevated me. I was from a small Canadian town, had not grown up with little money or sophistication, and she encouraged me that, showing that with determination, I could do anything I wanted.
What do you admire most about Coco Chanel? Mademoiselle helped form who I am. I really admire her. It wasn’t easy for her after the war; fashion seemed to be all about Dior and The New Look. Many Americans only seemed to know about Chanel Number 5 perfume and she had a revival in the early sixties when Jackie Kennedy starting wearing Chanel designs, and America became more aware of her couture. Later in the sixties she would not give in to the denim trend and hated miniskirts, but she still got on with her style.
What would you most like to ask Mademoiselle? If she was with me today, I would start by kissing her hand with respect. Then I would ask her ‘Why did you help and inspire this young Canadian boy who didn’t even speak French’?
Can you tell us a bit about your assignment for LOOK Magazine? I was sent to Paris – only my second time there – by ‘Look’ magazine to do a lifestyle story. What Mademoiselle really wanted was to see her fashion in the Magazine, not a life style story on her. So I photographed her models extensively and took prints to show her. After what seemed to be an endless review, she nodded her approval and then she allowed me total carte blanche and no restrictions to shooting my story. I was like a fly on the wall in her world. I was only 27 years old and I later wondered why was she so good to me, a young guy just starting out in his career when she could have had any of the big name photographers work with her.
Looking back, which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you? I like people – I really do. I’m comfortable with them. I am sincere and honest without an agenda. I think that really helps in approaching and relating to my subjects and making them feel at ease. I want people to look good and I also believe in doing the best can in whatever you do; that is one of Mademoiselle’s lessons, actually – you can go further than you can ever imagine. You can stretch yourself – you can exceed what you imagine you can do.
What do your bookshelves at home look like – where are they and how do you arrange your books? There are books everywhere, stacks of books everywhere all over our house. My wife, who I met in France when her mother was the publicist on the Audrey Hepburn film ‘How To Steal A Million’, is a passionate collector of books. We have lots of bookshelves and the table in the centre of our living room is piles up with books 1/2 metre high; books on photographers and artists, poets and literature and our books, of course, the wonderful artist Don Bachardy, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Lartigue are a few of them.
What are you working on next? I’m working on my next book, my 17th!
Do you have a favourite museum or art gallery? The Museum of Modern Art in NY, the Foundation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence, The Art Gallery in Sydney, the GOMA in Brisbane, la Maison Europeene de la Photo in Paris, any city we visit we usually go to galleries and Museums to see what is being exhibited.
What are your favourite tools? I work with both film and digital. With film my favorite camera is an old wooden 8×10 Deardorff. In digital it is the Canon cameras. I don’t care for gadgets only the ones that are useful for my work.
Read my review of ‘Coco Chanel; 3 Weeks 1962’ here.