KEVIN TACHMAN: FELICITOUS DUPLICITY
Image above: Kevin Tachman
Andrea Blanch: We view the runway show as a ritual, and you are part of all aspects, from behind the scenes, to execution, to the after party — how are you involved in the ritual?
Kevin tachman: It was never my goal to be a photographer. I came into fashion and photography as an outsider. I came from being in the music industry for many years. It wasn’t something I pursued di- rectly, I picked it up late and took it where it led me, which was fashion. I was even more of an outsider to that world, but I was definitely always a part of the pop culture world.
AB: What attracted you to runway?
Kt: I have a pretty kinetic eye—I like action. I like movement. My first real job was taking pictures on tour with the band Scissor Sisters. My job was to capture the essence of each show and tell the story. “I feel like I was there.” That’s what my goal is, that’s what I want people to take-away from the photos. Storytelling even in the abstract is a big driving factor in how I shoot and edit something.
AB: I was curious as to how you came to your photographic approach for some of the Spring / Summer 2014 collections. What is your technique when layering with different exposures?
Kt: I was working with vogue.com, they were giving me my own photo features and an opportunity to cover the shows in a different way. And it’s sort of an adage in photography to “only take the pho- tograph that you can take,” meaning, try to do something that’s unique to you, otherwise what is the point? So I wondered how I could make this different, yet still have it be exciting for me. Doing the same thing after a while you get a little tired of the subject matter, despite how good it is.
The multiple exposure idea came to me as a different way to show the hectic pace and visuals involved in a fashion show. I have never really shot film, so doing it in camera is the closest thing to film devel- oping. Nothing is composed in the sense that I can take a face and put it here, or I’m going to put this light here. It makes me get excited when I get the shot even more so, because the results are a surprise.
AB: You never see this technique used to document fashion shows. What inspires you?
Kt: It went from “These photos can only be in this style gallery” to “Oh, we can use these for anything; these are cool images.” It became something more accepted, and it worked. They can be a little too complicated for their own good to show clothes or details, but people know it is a part of the repertoire now. It sets me apart, as part of the challenge is just being a part of the backstage circus. Until people see what you do, you’re just one of the other guys. People won’t invite you until they know that your work is cool and different, and that you can make things look better than the standard approach.
AB: So do you primarily shoot in multiple exposures?
Kt: The show only lasts up to seven or eight minutes, so you have to pick and choose what you’re able to do. Multiple exposures aren’t always the best way to capture a moment. When I know something is not going to look good I don’t bother. Other people have done multiple exposures, so... I try to make it a little more spe- cial if I can. There’s one shot that’s on my Instagram that I did for Prada Menswear, and it’s one I could never do again. I call them the “Moon Shots,” there’s no way the light or the angle will line up again the same way.
AB: Yes, I saw one that looked like a body was split in half and heads were on bottom with a white back- ground. Who was that for?
Kt: That was for Opening Ceremony. It was one of those shots where I was like, “Wow. That is so cool.” I just did Dior Homme and there were some elements from the floor and I put the men as they walked. I’ve been doing this a while and I still get excited about certain things, such as when I’m able to create something out of nothing and honor the elements. It’s not so randomly abstract that it separates from its original intent. It works within the concept of fashion and still can be something really cool.
AB: Being that you’ve developed this technique, but you also do backstage, do you prefer one to the other?
Kt: Backstage is part of the story, but it becomes challenging to tell a different story without repeating yourself. It’s like shooting the same locker room everyday; it’s the same thing every time, so I challenge myself to make newer images. I’m lucky that I get to do that. Nobody’s ever really directed me in my career specifying what they want and what to do, which is great.
AB: Let’s say that fashion photography is somewhere between capturing the moment of a performance, an image accentuating the clothes. On your runway shows, how far can you remove yourself from showing simply the clothing to show the spectacle and idea behind the show?
Kt: I don’t want to say that the clothes are secondary for what I shoot, but they are less important. Sometimes the model is the star, sometimes the room is the star, and sometimes the clothing is the star. It all depends on the look, on the complete feel and the lighting. Each show has its own element that really stands out that you want to highlight. Sometimes nothing is really that special, but that’s the way it is. I’m looking for the iconic moment—if someone only saw two of my pictures from the show, would they know what the show was about? And there are so many fashion shows, you can’t really take a small designer and make it something graphic, but their purpose is within the clothes. When the opportunity presents itself, that’s where my goal is. You have to hunt for it. I do my best not to phone it in and that is a challenge when you have been photographing for a while.
AB: When someone calls and books you for a show, what is the first thing you think about?
Kt: I ask a lot of questions, like “What are your goals?” because I’m one of those people-pleaser guys, but it’s the collaboration. I want clients that want to hire me to do what I do, not to peg me onto what they need—that’s never a good marriage. I’m looking for the surprise in the image that doesn’t exist yet.
AB: You are pretty prolific on Instagram—Now that it has been around for 3 years, how do you think it has changed the photography world, and what changes are to come?
Kt: I love it. I love it because I get to really follow people and learn. I have my heroes, and I went to art school, but my photographic vocabulary is very small compared to someone who went to school for it. I went to Syracuse. I was in the music industry until I was 35, so I knew everything about the music indus- try, but I didn’t grow up learning why Irving Penn was important—it wasn’t part of my education. I feel that Instagram has opened my eyes, and everyone has a valid point of view. I find it democratizes the art.
AB: Has it helped your career? Kt: I think so. I think it helped keep people aware of what I wanted to put out in the world, which I think is good for me. I am very conscious of curating it so that I don’t waste people’s time.
AB: How did you get your start in photography?
Kt: I picked up a pocket camera for my 30th birthday and went to Iceland. That was sort of the start of my love for photography. 4.1 megapixels, which was the highest at the time, and I just fell in love with it. I was working at MTV in the marketing department and had some opportunities to shoot bands as they came through, so I got a better camera and started shooting that way. I was shooting the Scissor Sisters and they decided to bring me on their tour. I went to a boot camp and stayed behind the scene, and that was my photo education: going around with them for 4 months. Then I realized, “Well I’m a photographer, and I need to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life.” I didn’t have a desk job anymore, but I had a lot of friends that told me I was doing what I was meant to be doing. They were very encouraging, and knew this was what made me happy. It’s a big leap to leave the security of a previous career and identity and have it become, “Oh, I’m a photog- rapher.” People will always doubt that. But I was lucky, and people saw my potential and gave me opportunities. That told me that I was there for a reason.
AB: How did you get your first job shooting fashion shows?
Kt: I was shooting through a friend who was doing PR for a bunch of shows and handling VIP, so I asked if I could get access. The first show I did was Heatherette, I was friendly with some people from there, and I knew there was potential. It’s funny now — I haven’t looked at those pictures in years, but I remember looking at all the nails and wondering “What is this?” I had no idea how anything worked at all behind the scenes of fashion. That’s what I mean about taking photos, you take a picture of nail pol- ish on a table and that doesn’t tell a story. There are certain tropes of backstage or sports or whatever, and you don’t need to tell that story anymore. So I did that, and eventually I was doing more backstage for them, for their blog, and I can’t even remember if I was even getting paid. I did the Scissor Sister tours, I took a break, and I went to Sri Lanka. Then I did behind the scenes on a short film. And with those images I ended up getting a huge spread in the New York Times Magazine, which told me I was doing something right. That was a year after I quit my job, so it was definitely a huge deal for me.
My goal was to do backstage stuff for T Magazine to get into their site, and they ended up calling. I shot for them for two seasons. In 2010 I started with the team at Vogue.com. You have to hustle, and that’s what I tell people. Nobody’s calling you; if you have a goal you keep on trying to get it. It’s a lot harder now in that there is so much noise; everyone’s got a camera. It’s really hard to have your voice come through because there are so many voices.
Now people in the blogging world want photographers with personality and a point of view. They are hiring you not just for you, but also for your followers or because you bring an eye to it. There are a lot of different factors when it comes to creatives, not the bigger campaigns mind you, but it’s definitely a part of the hiring environment. There are a lot of girls who have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and their own blogs, and I’m sure a lot of people are paying for it now. They’re not looked down upon, they add to the conversation for other people on board because they reach the audience they want to reach. Once you want to chase that, for me, I have the followers I want to have, but the idea of the web-superstar just isn’t me.
AB: Who do you think is a star that has big impact on the runway today?
Kt: I don’t know; that might get me in trouble. I have my favorite models. Joan Smalls, Cara Delev- ingne, and Karlie Kloss are all on the cover of Vogue, and they are really stars. They bring it in their own way to every show. Cara is very much personality, Karlie is very classic, and Joan is just beautiful and very funny - they’re all great girls. There are definitely girls that are your favorites that you just get on with and they make it fun to do my job.
AB: What is ritualistic about the fashion show? Kt: The best brands are religious, with religious iconography of their own version. It’s about creating that connection, that level. It can be as simple as one symbol that unifies the whole concept. Luxury brands all have their own thing that makes people become attached to them.
AB: What are some of the rituals behind the scenes?
Kt: As photographers coming in it’s as simple as just getting the lay of the land every time. Where is the hair and makeup? Where are the girls? Where’s the food? Because we’re starving! Where are we standing? Where are we allowed to be? Where are we not allowed to be? Set up here, do hair and makeup. There’s sort of an innate shot list that we have to cover the show. So there is that element of ritual to it. It’s definitely a repeated situation.
AB: Do you edit your own photos?
Kt: I do a short edit, I would say some shows I shoot 600, sometimes 2000, sometimes I’ll shoot 1000, and I’ll send in 60 or 100 or 40, but it depends on the show or the girls. You never know which acces- sory or hair or girl is important until later. So you have to get a variety. What they want is sort of the essence. What are the really pretty takeaways that can tell the story?
AB: Do you think you’ll go into video?
Kt: It’s not that I’m not a fan of video; it’s just that they’re two completely different things. Every time I pick up a video camera I want to take a picture. I just see the moment of the photo passing by and it drives me nuts. I want to click. I did one video actually - a stop action type thing from Valentino Couture. I was really happy with it, but it sort of bore itself out with the photos. This could be a really cool way to tell a story in an interest- ing way that you don’t normally see. That’s always the goal, how do you tell a story that’s been told a million times? That’s sort of the challenge. The wheel, you can’t reinvent the wheel but you can make it roll a different way.
All images from the series Overexposed.