Who's photographing the photographers? The pursuit of beautiful photos can be an ugly business. We sent Suzanne Plunkett into the pit at London Fashion week to expose the underbelly of an industry that requires sharp eyes -- and sharper elbows.
Pictured: Photographers shoot the Mary Katrantzou catwalk show during London Fashion Week, September 18, 2016.
Photographers mark out their spaces before the start of a show. "Duct tape and a marker pen are very important," says Plunkett. "They're what you need to stake out your small square of workspace. Without a good vantage point, your fancy camera equipment is useless."
A photographer waits for the Topshop Unique catwalk show on September 18. Jeff Moore, a fashion week veteran of over 20 years, says a typical working day can be at least 15 hours long.
Celebrity photographers shoot arrivals of front row guests before the Vin & Omi catwalk show on September 19. "I once saw a fantastic fight in Milan," Moore recalls. "Some French guy had nicked some Italian guy's spot. Everyone was on their boxes and they started to have a proper tear-up. One of them hit the other one and literally half the photographers went down like a house of cards."
Celebrity photographer Dave Bennett poses a front row guest before the Topshop Unique catwalk show on September 18, 2016.
"I was shooting yesterday and someone next to me was shooting on their iPhone," says Ki Price, regular photographer for Vivienne Westwood. "That's a bit of a pet hate for our whole industry in general. It's is happening more and more. Someone's got a blog and they've got 50 followers... I understand the need for that, but put them in the front row!"
"Sitting squashed and trapped in the pit amongst a bunch of sweaty other photographers for long periods of time waiting for shows to start isn't the most pleasant of experiences," says Hannah McKay, shooting for the European Pressphoto Agency.
It can get rough in the pit, says Plunkett: "A few years ago in London I remember shooting the entire Anya Hindmarsh show while getting hit on the head by a camera lens purposely and repeatedly by another photographer, who showed up late and decided to use me (and my head) to express his frustration at not having a tall enough ladder."
Photographer Jonas Gustavsson (R) poses for a portrait while he waits for the start of the Mary Katrantzou catwalk show on September 18.
A photographer shoots backstage before the Vin & Omi catwalk show. "I shoot a lot of behind the scenes and backstage," says Price. "The way I like to shoot is to quickly slip into position [in the pit] just towards the very end."
"It's a fearsome place to operate," says Plunkett. "It's cramped, it can be hot. It's filled with tense and sometimes angry and aggressive people doing a very physical job that all hinges on getting a perfect shot in just a few seconds. Tempers flare and people regularly come to blows."
A photographer shoots backstage following the Teatum Jones catwalk show. "I think one [thing the public might not know] is the banter and camaraderie is good fun," says Price, "it's quite a good laugh."
A photographer shoots a model backstage before the start of the Anya Hindmarch catwalk show. With multiple photographers vying for position in the pit, things can get competitive. "I've got to admit I lost my temper a bit at one of the shows, when I arrived and saw my spot had been half-taken by another photographer," says Isabel Infantes at her first London Fashion Week. "I panicked a bit but in the end we made peace."
Nearly every photographer interviewed raised the perennial issue of crossed legs on the front row. Guests may feel they're preserving their modesty, but all pit photographers want is to keep well-heeled feet out of their shots.
"Before a show the person next to you can be your worst enemy because the pressure to get a great shot involves not being blocked," says Plunkett. "When you are in a tight space you need to negotiate with other tired, stressed out photographers for a few inches of space to get a clear view. After a show the same person can be your best friend provided all went well with your shoot."
Photographers with DSLR cameras and an iPhone shoot a model during the Fyodor Golan presentation. Moore says despite the ease of shooting there's more work to be done in the digital age, with the time it takes to process all the images before filing.
What might the public not know about being a photographer at London Fashion Week? "[The] wire room has an unlimited supply of popcorn!" says Hannah McKay.
Infantes has toed the line at her first LFW and followed the unspoken rules of the pit. However the debutant cheekily says "rules are made to be broken, are they not?"
Price has some sage advice for anyone breaking into the game: "Be mindful of the photographers who have been there for a long time. Be respectful and try and get down. Just make friends, basically. These are the people you're going to be working with year on, year out. Try and conduct yourself in the best way possible."