Secrets of the fashion week pit: Photographing the other side of the runway
Updated 11th September 2019
Secrets of the fashion week pit: Photographing the other side of the runway
Hours on end confined to two feet square, teetering atop a box amid screams, shouts and sometimes violence. And you might not even walk away with anything usable. It's no life, working in the photographer's pit.
Yet when fashion week rolls into town, photographers volunteer to enter the pit in search of the perfect picture. Perched at the end of the runway there's nowhere to hide, and the difference between a front page splash and the virtual dustbin can be a matter of millimeters.
They're a special breed and one worth examining, so we sent our intrepid snapper into the throng to turn her camera on her colleagues -- and herself.
Years covering London Fashion Week: "Probably since 1993 or 1994. Over 20 years, definitely."
Do you have a favorite show you've covered?
"Anything [Alexander] McQueen did was just genius. I mean, I'm a blokey bloke from East London, but you go and see one of those shows... they were just amazing."
How has the job changed since you started?
"In the days of film you shot a show, you put it in a bag and a courier came and picked it up. Now you have more work because you have to process it all yourself. But at least it puts you back in control of your pictures... you can send your own selection now and give your own interpretation of things."
What is the most shocking thing you've seen from the pit?
"The big one, the cardinal sin [of the pit], is taking someone else's spot. I once saw a fantastic fight in Milan. This is going back a long time ago, maybe the late '90s. 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."
What is your pet peeve when it comes to guests?
"The fashion world is quite an odd one. I wouldn't say most of the people are self-centered, but they're very focused on what they're doing and don't tend to be aware of themselves. The big problem is with crossed legs. Spaces are very narrow a lot of the time, so quite often you only have a foot or sometimes less either side of where you're shooting, and if you have muck in it, it ruins it.
"We shout at them to uncross their legs. They normally do. Occasionally there's a more stubborn person."
Years covering LFW: "Every season since September 2004. Previously I was based in New York, where I shot the city's fashion week from 1999-2002."
Beyond cameras, what's your essential piece of kit?
"Duct tape and a marker pen are very important. They're what you need to stake out your small square of workspace. Without a good vantage point, your fancy camera equipment is useless."
What's your worst moment from the pit?
"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."
Any funny stories from your time on the fashion circuit?
"About 15 years ago in New York I was working for the Associated Press. Roughly 60 photographers were invited to shoot the DKNY runway show, but there was only space for about 20.
"The media liaisons for Donna Karan were very unhelpful and acted as if they didn't want us there. A small group of us decided to walk out. As word spread that we had walked out, more and more photographers joined us, leaving only a couple of house photographers to shoot the high profile show. It felt very empowering. Needless to say the next season we were treated very differently and were served champagne and canapés!"
Years covering LFW: "This is my second season covering LFW. I'm here for the European Pressphoto Agency."
Are there any quirks of the job that might surprise the public?
"The LFW photographers' wire room has an unlimited supply of popcorn!"
What's the most shocking moments you've witnessed?
"At the end of a Julien Macdonald show, Julien Macdonald appeared on the catwalk with the models, when a member of the audience stood up and walked into the middle of the catwalk to get a picture of them on her phone, completely blocking my view. Luckily they walked the entire length of the runway for us, in which the woman had no choice but to step back to her seat."
What's been you best experience at a fashion week?
"The Charlotte Olympia show was the best to cover this year, it was energetic and colorful, which made a different editorial picture."
Years covering LFW: "One."
How's it been?
"So far it has been a very enjoyable experience. People had told me it can be turn a bit monotonous after a couple of days and there is also the hassle of moving from one location to the other. Overall it has been very good. I only wish I had more time to explore the showroom upstairs and the photographers' room to get some free goodies. You can even book a free haircut!"
What might the public not know about the life of a fashion photographer?
"Maybe the work that we put into after the show is done. We work under pressure to file the best pictures in the quickest way."
Did you have any bad experiences at fashion week?
"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. I panicked a bit but in the end we made peace."
Do you have an interest in fashion?
"I do not consider myself a fashionista. With work I quite often do not even find time to look in the mirror and I still like things I wore ages ago."
Years covering LFW: "Probably nine years now."
Do you have any pet peeves as a photographer?
"I was shooting yesterday and someone next to me was shooting on their iPhone. That's a bit of a pet hate for our whole industry in general. It 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! Don't give them the photographers' and the video guys' room. A lot of them don't understand the rules of how to behave and how to play the game."
Have you experienced any shocking things from the pit?
"I mean there's obviously petty quarrels that go on, [but] I don't really think I've witnessed that much bad stuff.
"A couple of years ago I was at a show in East London and one of the models drops her handkerchief. Vivienne Westwood walks over to the catwalk, picks it up and tries to give it to her on the way back. It took the model totally by surprise. That was quite a nice little moment."
What are your rules of the pit?
"Watch out for the Italians! No, what would I say? 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. Just try and conduct yourself in the best way possible."
Years covering LFW: "I've shot 46 seasons not including Haute Couture."
How has the job changed since you started? "More stress, less work and much less pay, but that is also businesswide in photography. Not being 25 anymore does not help on the knees and hips when we stand for hours on end."
Why do you do it? Do you still enjoy it? "I got started with it very young and loved the challenge of the shoots, some of the travel, camaraderie and the fantastic venues and shows you get to see. I do love it most of the time, the schedule has become more grueling through the years with more shows and longer days. I easily clock 18 hour days or more for about 5 weeks."
What's the most shocking moment you've witnessed? "A model walk straight off the runway at Jean Paul Gaultier, she was completely blinded by the lights and suddenly just walked off a high catwalk, she was fine albeit a bit ruffled."