I’ve been getting a kick out of following photographer Landon Nordeman’s Instagram feed this past month as he’s been on assignment for The Cut/New York Magazine covering the Fashion Week circuit: New York, Milan, then Paris. (He had to miss London). Make no mistake, I’m no fashionista and don’t follow the fashion scene, but Landon’s images are delightful, bold, colorful, behind-the-scenes captures that show me a world I’ll never be a part of.
I recently emailed him to find out more about how he works:
SADIE QUARRIER: You’ve covered high-end dog shows, the Triple Crown and now fashion…what appeals to you about these subjects?
LANDON NORDEMAN: To me photography is an act of appreciation. It’s like saying to someone, “I appreciate you.” So, I like to be around people who are in the act of celebrating or appreciating something they love, be it dogs, horse racing, or fashion. Also, I love people, so I like to work in an environment where I can meet people and shoot, and share the experience with them.
SADIE: Did your fashion coverage start as an assignment, or was it a personal project?
LANDON: It was an assignment—but it’s something that I have always wanted to see for myself and photograph. Many photographers whose work I admire have worked backstage in fashion—Larry Fink, Jeff Mermelstein, Alex Majoli. I’ve loved looking at their pictures and always wanted a chance to see it for myself.
SADIE: You bring a very fresh, quirky, even humorous eye to covering fashion. Your pictures capture the “off” moments, sometimes behind the curtain and other times on the runway, but they’re always unexpected and don’t feel like typical fashion photos. Can you talk about your style, what draws your eye, what you’re trying to achieve?
LANDON: Fresh, quirky, and humorous—thank you—it’s just the way I see the world. Making pictures is not a conscious decision for me—I’m just following my instincts. I respond to moments—or non-moments that surprise me. For example, it could be the quality of light, or a gesture or expression, mixed with color and composition—better yet all of those things at once—that seem to spontaneously catch my eye. I like to think of it as looking for questions instead of answers.
Photography for me is about discovery—often your head can get in the way of that. However, I do like the following thought: if you can’t surprise yourself, then how do you expect to surprise anyone else? I try and remember that…then forget it, and then shoot.
SADIE: Occasionally your captures are delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and they might not be appreciated by the model or the designer. Have you had pushback or ever not been allowed to publish a picture because it’s seen as unflattering in some way?
LANDON: I love beauty, and I love symmetry, however, I’ve found that often it’s the strangeness in beauty or the off-kilter, humorous moment, gesture, or juxtaposition when a more intriguing photograph occurs. Fortunately, I have not had any pushback on publishing anything. When you’re shooting an assignment for a client, it can be hard to please everybody. The freedom of this particular project is that there is no shot list or expectation from my photo editor, Emily Shornick, at The Cut/New York Magazine. Emily just encourages me to be myself and make pictures. That is music to any photographer’s ears.
SADIE: The models are seemingly unaware of you—how do you achieve the “fly on the wall” pictures? Have you built relationships with the models, designers and others in the industry?
LANDON: Access is the hardest part of covering fashion week—for each show there are various levels one needs to cross in order to actually get in a situation where you can work and make pictures. It can be soul crushing. Hearing things like: “No. It’s not possible. You have to wait. You’re done. Please leave now,” and my favorite: “Go in the cage,” are not the type of inspiring comments that encourage you to do your best work!
The irony is that everyone—I mean everyone—is photographing everything with their smart phones. But if you have a professional camera around your neck, then no, you’re not supposed to be here. Go stand on the podium. (At the end of the runway.)
When I finally do get into a good situation to work, I work quickly and quietly. I don’t really believe in the “fly on the wall” myth. It’s more a matter of carrying yourself in a way that says, I am supposed to be here, and I respect you. I appreciate you, so please keep doing what you’re doing.
SADIE: What is it like when you’re shooting backstage? Is it total mayhem with makeup artists, designers, and other photographers throwing elbows? You certainly capture some of the chaos but almost as often you capture a surprisingly quiet moment where it’s just about light, shadows and a hint of runway glitz beyond, as if it’s just you and the models.
LANDON: Elbows? Yes. Chaos? Yes. However, within that chaos, I try and find my own unique perspective to make a picture. This requires patience, perseverance and determination, and lots of failure, but when it works, it’s worth it.
SADIE: Is there anything else you want to tell me about your experiences with shooting fashion…major goofs, hilarious moments, completely unplanned gifts?
LANDON: At a show that I was having trouble getting into, a woman from the production team approached me, and said in an angelic tone: “How can I help you?” I explained what I was trying to do, and like a gift from the photography gods, she took the all-access badge from around her own neck, and put it around mine. “Have fun,” she said. That happened one time out of over 75 shows during the last 3 weeks. That allowed me to really work unhindered for the night. It was a great night.
SADIE: Thank you Landon for taking us behind the scenes. What’s next for you?
LANDON: I’m going to Marseille, France, to shoot a commercial assignment for a client who does not pay much attention to fashion—unless it refers to what you wear while you cook!
Sadie Quarrier is a Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic magazine. Follow her on Instagram.