Prive

CLIVE ARROWSMITH

In every field, there are people who inevitably inspire many others in approaching the same discipline. If you’re looking for one of those wonderful ones’ story, you’re in the right place. Photographers get ready to discover new ways of looking at your job. After all, isn’t all of it an art? We believe so, and even if the fashion world keeps spinning in a thousands of different directions, some genial minds are able to keep adapting and keep surprising us, collection after collection, photograph after photograph. 

 

I visited Clive Arrowsmith in his beautiful home in Chiswick– few stops away from Hammersmith and world away from anything else I had ever seen in London – on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was that time of the year when Summer starts fading away, but the trees are still green, the air is warm enough to enjoy sitting outside in the garden and the sleeves of your shirt are most likely still rolled up.
The first thing Clive showed me, after inviting me in to his richly decorated house, was one amongst all the books on a table in the lounge: a large volume with all the Pirelli Calendars ever published in it. Clive has photographed two: ‘We didn’t have a huge budget when they asked me to shoot my first Pirelli, the money or for production the fees only increased right after I did my second calendar, but thats the luck of the game.’

While browsing through the Pirelli book, Clive drew my attention to another volume on the same elegant living room table: ‘Have you ever seen Grace Coddington’s book, Gracie? You cannot get it anymore, it’s out of print.’
So we dig into it, and I told Clive that Grace as been an idol of mine for many years.
He revealed that Grace had discovered him, which caught me completely off guard even though I had known him for quite a while before our interview, and I had done my research too. Suddenly, I felt obliged to ask him some of those rhetorical questions I has promised myself not to, but finally needed to ask, not so much for the sake of good journalism, but to fill the gaps in the whole of Clive’s life story.

Clive Arrowsmith was born in a small village in the mountains of North Wales where he left to attend the Art School of Queensferry in the North Wales, fifty miles from Liverpool, where he used to spend the week ends: ‘thats where everything happened -rock music, partysm and the art scene. I used to end up sleeping on the floor of three friends of mine – John and Paul and George – who later turned out to be the Beetles.’ Later, when Clive became a photographer and reunites with the Beetles, he photographed both albums covers and portraits for Paul McCartney’s ‘Band on the Run’ , ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound’, and ‘George Harrison & Ravi Shankar’.

After Clive left Queens Ferry Art School, he gained a scholarship to the Kingston School of Art in London and by the time he completed his studies there, he already had three children – ‘I think that I was holding a light in the delivery room and the light just attracted them, one after the other’ , Clive joked.
For a few years, his every day routine consisted in stoking boilers from 6am until 2pm to earn a living for his family – ‘we were living on a £ 20 week budget’ – painting in the evenings and then going back to work the following day, exhausted.  At that time, he considered photography a minor creative form but everything changed one day, when he came back from work covered in coal dust and answered the phone only to be offered the job as creative Art Director at a TV company. His wife had secretly applied for the position on his behalf. Clive took the job, but still remembers how arrogant he was when he first started, accepting it only under the condition of full creative freedom. The channel had a program called ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ It was the very trendy: ‘I did all the graphics for it. This was when pop art was starting and I used some of that look.  At some point I started taking pictures for it as I couldn’t find anyone to capture the look I wanted.’

That’s how Cluve – not long after he begun to work for the TV –  became fascinated by photography, and began to take pictures of the people featured in the rock show: ‘I realised how much I loved the quality of the medium the sharpness and tones that photography could give me and I became completely obsessed with it. I used to take all my holidays to go around magazines and ad agencies to try and get some work as a photographer. I had a way in at that time as some of the media knew my illustrations and paintings.’
He began to use the company’s equipment to take more and more photographs, spending the night in the dark room, making prints and learning the technicalities of the developing process, ‘I am a quick learner.’

‘I was taking pictures all the time, but nobody would give me a job as a photographer as they said that I was too crispy and sharp.’  This until Grace Coddington – then a fashion editor at British Vogue – who had seen some the photographs Clive had shot for the Royal College of Art Student Fashion Show, asked him if she could visit his house in Kensington to see more of his work. The day following their visit, Vogue called Clive to discus his career with them. ‘I had showed her some black and white prints that had recently primted’ – told us Clive –  ‘and that’s how everything started.’
His first shoot for Vogue featured an Asian model dressed in total white gowns surrounded by doves. Then, he went on to photograph the striking collections of Kansai Yamamoto – who became a good friend of his – but also shooting the Paris collections for the first time. Clive’s devotion to photography quickly progressed, whilst painting begun a faded into a fond memory of another phase – one of many – of his incredible, eventful life.
‘I am self taught, I knew nothing about photography and I was never an assistant, but now people ask me how do I make photographs and – I have to say – you’d have to come and see me work to understand the process. I do get a lot of requests to come and work with me but I just can’t grant all of them as I have a team of three assistants already.’

Model on Malibu Beach by Clive Arrowsmith

Melanie Scheriau in Galliano by Clive Arrowsmith

Clive’s Chiswick house is beautifully decorated, with heavy silks and the precious brocades that seems to coat it entirely. Statues of the Buddha make their appearance here and there, almost as a resemblance of the thousand shades of Clive’s personality.
‘I practice Tibetan Buddhism and I meditate in a Gompa (meditation room) at the top of the house. That’s where I do my practice, morning and evening.’

When I asked him how he would define the role of his Tibetan teacher Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, Clive’s answer was very clear: ‘Rinpoche is everything to me, he manifests my life to me.’
Beside the meditation room there is his office, filled by with computers screens, prints and printers, pictures and musical instruments. The window opens on to a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden. Once out there, the view is a surreal landscape that took me far away from the city, into a magical land of luxury where tranquillity is part of everyone’s daily life and even the sound of silence, interrupted by bird songs, was just beautiful.

We sat at a large computer screen to look at the Clive’s new book, the main reason that brought me to visit him on that late summer afternoon: the first one of a series of volumes – now out, published by ACC Art Publications and titled ‘Arrowsmith. Fashion, Beauty and Portraits’ – collecting some of the most significant images he has produced in the course of his career.
When I asked him why he decided to do this now, Clive told me that his biggest aim for the book was to not only collect his work all in once – ‘that will actually take a couple more books altogether’ – but also show how part of his body of work and these timeless images he continues to produce.

Kristin Scott Thomas by Clive Arrowsmith

John Rocha by Clive Arrowsmith

Clive is an perfectionist: ‘I think appreciation of great things in life is rare, I f eel that most people pass by their most beautiful moments. There’s only few good doctors, few good dentists, few good journalists and very few good magazines’, he told me when we got into a reflection regarding how certain painters and art forms of the past are still able to affect creatives and influence them. Certainly, they influenced him and his work significantly: Italian renaissance painters are the main influence on his lighting, carrying that mood into the present with an overall feeling of modernity and innovation.
Something else that was always part of Clive’s creative process is to build a story, not only around a series of images but each single shot. Building a narrative through visuals is particularly challenging and only few renewed masters have achieved that. Clive must be listed among them, as there’s not a single one of his photographs that doesn’t communicate a feeling, narrates an episode or tells a whole story, a true one.
That might be the reason why Clive himself has so many fascinating stories to tell.
‘It’s all a relative state’ – he told me when asked about his ways of working – ‘you do get inspired and you bring a vibrance to that moment. A shoot is like a movie: the model, the stylist, the make up and hair, the light, the camera all play a vital part in it and it’s all about that day at that particular moment that you took the picture, right when the camera captures a slice in time. It’s a time machine.’

Donna Mitchell by Clive Arrowsmith

It’s not a job for the many, despite the spreading of new photographers and aspirant creatives which is currently saturating the fashion industry. According with Clive, you can never step in the same water twice. The constant is change. 

‘I could leave the same lights on for my assistant to photograph his model-girlfriend, but he wouldn’t take the same pictures I would take.’
That brought me to ask him about his signature and if he has any way of defining it: ‘I wouldn’t define it at all.’ – he answered – ‘Moments happens, it’s just the way I do it.’ 
But he also mentioned a time at the beginning of his photographic career, when he was almost tormented by the need of finding his own way of doing things, a style. He finally found it from the fashion viewpoint when he met model and former ballerina Ann Schaufuss.

Ann Schaufuss, the woman the entire book is dedicated to – Clive’s muse and the love of his life – is also the one he defined as the most interesting woman he had the chance to shoot. And he shot many. ‘I would have never become as successful if I didn’t work with her’ – told me Clive, showing me more and more pictures of the gorgeous, delicate Danish former dancer who captured his eyes and stole his heart, all in once. ‘I did all the poses for her, she would do them for me as a mirror.’

Ann Schaufuss by Clive Arrowsmith

Sue Balloo by Clive Arrowsmith

Despite being particularly relevant among them all, Ann is just one of the many subjects Clive has photographed in the course of the last decades. Musicians, actors and fashionistas, what they all have in common is a spot in the stardom of fame – worldly recognised fame – and another one within Clive’s memories, which is just as precious.
‘To me they are all Buddhas, they are all wonderful. I’ve always said that, I want my work to show them with a flash of there divinity.’
But photographing shiny celebrities at the peek of their careers and stunning models was never a requirement for Clive to enjoy his work. ‘I had fun wherever I went and whatever I did: commercial, editorial or whatever.’ – he told me – ‘To me it’s always been the most important thing to have fun and enjoy my passion, that’s why I am equally excited about every kind of work I do. I think If someone trusts you with a job, than you must make it the best you can. If your accept the a commission, you give it evert thing you have.’

Meryll Streep by Clive Arrowsmith

When I asked him about retouching, Clive told me that he would never have anyone else but himself retouching his work – ‘it would be like letting someone else make love to my lover half way through!’ – he explained. That made me realise how, even tough time has passed and photographic techniques have evolved and changed since he started taking photographs, Clive just keeps evolving with them, learning on his own as he has always done and keeping on working. Because work has always been – and still is – his absolute priority. ‘Work for me is like food, is like eating a beautiful meal.’
What I couldn’t help but wonder is if the way in which things have changed has influenced him and the way he thinks of his profession and the creative world in general: ‘Everything is very rushed today, all put together like a pot of instant noodles. Everything is art for a second, a lot of it conceptual people have become used to mediocrity and few can judge what has essence.’
That brought us back to Clive’s wish to publishing his first book – ‘it’s taking me three years just to sort out this first book, between shoots that I have been working on’ – for people to see how something which was done properly and beautifully is still beautiful and current today.

Clive Arrowsmith

Just before leaving, I asked Clive one more question regarding the many and different phases he went through in his life. I wanted to know if he thought of photography as something which had developed with him and changed depending on his state of mind, lifestyle and location, or if it had rather remained a stable point – possibly the only one – all the way through the ups and downs of his existence.
‘I think it just developed, it went on and on from where it started off’, was his first answer.
‘The thing about it all is that the work for me has always come first. It was lots of different women, places and life styles but it was the work which made it all right and got me through every time. Also, I couldn’t have done this without the help of my precious Buddist teacher.’

‘That’s what it is, a progressive process that goes up and up and up, but I still learn from it all and I’m still not satisfied with my photographs. If I was, there would be know point on continuing.’

 

 Kansai Yamamoto by Clive Arrowsmith
‘This is the latest thing I’ve done with Kansai. I’ve known him since the 70s and now we are getting into film together as I’ve shot a documentary on his last fashion show. In this photograph you can see the reflection of the light in the mask. I could have taken it out, but I didn’t.’

 

Grace Coddington by Clive Arrowsmith
‘This is Grace, at the time of the Collections in Paris. The model was late into the studio so I just told her to get into it. She was at Vogue already, but she was also a model.’

 

Ann Schaufuss by Clive Arrowsmith1
‘That’s Ann, the love of my life, my muse. She was a ballerina and she broke my heart when she left me to follow the Hare Krishnas. She used to dance for the Royal Danish ballet, that’s why she could do all these jumps and shapes while I was shooting her. I would put a mark on the wall and tell her to look at it every time she jumped, or look at me or look over my head.
When I first met her – at the time I was going out with Marina Schiano, the Italian model – she just had that light around her, it was like a miracle. She looked at me, I looked her and I drove her away in my own Ferrari and that was it. I ended up living with her in the little Mayfair apartment she was sharing with a friend. It was love at first sight, we loved each other and we still do.’

 

Clive Arrowsmith, Cover
‘We chose this one as the cover because the publisher [Taschen] loved that floaty dress that spoke of fashion so much, it’s a tom Ford gown. The back of the book is a portrait of Yves Saint Laurent. The book is called Fashion-Beauty and Portraits so it makes sense to have a fashion image in the front and a portrait in the back.’

 

Penelope Tree by Clive Arrowsmith
‘Oh, that’s Penelope Tree with a tree on her head! We did it for Vogue and everyone said we couldn’t do it, but then it became a huge success. When I started doing Vogue they were still pretty strict and straight forward. That’s why I changed it, because I didn’t know what you could or couldn’t do!’

 

Sienna Miller by Clive Arrowsmith
‘There’s no difference between shooting a fashion image and a portrait, except one is an avocado and the other one is a lettuce: they have different tastes, but I approach them in the exact same way.
I love photographing women and when you’ve been doing that for a long time there’s such a strong sexual energy that comes between you and them and usually ends up somewhere else. But not all the time.’

 

Liv Tyler by Clive Arrowsmith

‘Liv Tyler’s mother – Bebe Buell – was once my girlfriend, then she went from Arrowsmith to Steve Tyler from the Aerosmiths. Funny coincidence.’

Helena Bonham Carter by Clive Arrowsmith

‘Elena Bonham Carter was one of the first ones I photographed when I started off. There is a very famous one from this series, Hasselblad gave me a bunch of cameras to use that picture. I didn’t do anything, she just came into the studio like that.’

 

Fortnum & Mason Campaign by Clive Arrowsmith
‘That’s for Fortumn & Mason. We shot inside during the night. There’s one picture from this series in the book, where the girl is sitting at the bar and looks the other way. Everyone loved it because of how innovative I had made it, with the model drifting away from the camera but there was another reason for it: the model was going to be 3000£ more if we had shown her face! It was a happy accident.’

Ingrid Boultin and Marina Schiano by Clive Arrowsmith
‘Before everything went digital, it was very difficult to achieve a certain look through film. When shooting beauty, especially, I liked to experiment with double exposure. The difference between a portrait and a beauty image is that in a portrait – it being of a politician, an actress or even a child – they bring their heart into it. You can get great models but even tough they are being photographed, they really aren’t. The Monna Lisa would have probably been a beauty portrait at the time: you see her but you don’t really see her.’

All images courtesy of Clive Arrowsmith.

Shop ‘Clive Arrowsmith. Fashion, Beauty and Portrait’ here.

Visit Clive Arrowsmith’s Website here.

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