Tiggy Maconochie: Through the Viewfinder

The omnipresence of fashion photography in the twenty-first century has lead us to a curious place. In magazines and on campaign billboards, photographs are placed to echo an aspirational ideal and online, images are shared and critiqued so quickly that they do little to allow any time for transient reflection. The platform for fashion photography may be widespread, yet few fashion photographers remain notorious.

“The influence that photographers and their photographs have now is that they have to achieve things that work for a certain time, but the true pioneers that still inspire today didn’t have all those etceteras,” photographer’s agent, Tiggy Maconochie recognises, “they had strong vision in executing what they wanted to do and they weren’t influenced. But now I think that everything is diluted.”

Maconochie herself worked with photographer, Helmut Newton for twenty years during his lifetime and today represents his estate as well as that of Jeanloup Sieff and the photographers Corrine Day, Huger Foote, Mike Figgis, Michael Roberts and Alice Springs. She says with unbridled pride, “I have and continue to work with probably some of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, going into the 21st century.”

Speaking today, Maconochie accredits her career path to her early years at The Hampshire School, working as a child model and in film. The day school in the heart of London set up by actress, Susan Hampshire’s mother helped Maconochie to become acclimatised to a more creative world from a young age. “The school was very creative because it was run by people who were in the theatre. It was really focused on how important it was to be creative in the mind as opposed to just making things.”

It was in the late eighties that she went on to work for the established Hamiltons Gallery in London at a significant time when photography was being defined, as we now know it. “Photography only began to be collected in Europe at that point but in America it was already a considered art form as photography’s influence really grew up with the country but in Europe, the bulk history of photography was considered to be a craft, not an art.” Maconochie arrived at Hamiltons at the start of something new, “the exhibitions started selling and I was so much part of that change. That’s when I started to represent photographers such as Helmut Newton and be known for what I do now.”

Significantly, the first exhibition Maconochie worked on was the 1986 retrospective marking the occasion of Horst’s 80th birthday. “I mean yes, it was extraordinary,” she recalls, “but it was different then. I also styled for him, I got props in all the time and just the process of creating a photograph used to be much more creative than it is now. It was a more involved endeavour, but now there are just so many more people involved.” When talking of her experiences with the image-makers who have so heavily influenced what we look at today, Maconochie salutes a very different epoch. “Now people come with three or four assistants and there are so many people involved and so many ideas that I think it is just so much more commercial.”

Poured into most mainstream magazines and bookshelves across the Western world, such creative frippery is difficult to avoid but to Maconochie, a photograph that stirs a reaction, freeze-frames a moment in time and still has the ability to remain classic is what attracts her. “Classic stands the test of time,” she shoots, “that’s what the word classic means to me, it has a certain aesthetic and style that has influence. I have no problem with anything that is provocative, I have a problem with bad photography and bad ideas and badly executed work.” Recalling Helmut Newton’s work from the early nineties, there was always something more behind the shock factor. “It really isn’t about being shocking, it’s about influencing. It’s about standing the test of time. Helmut used to say, the point of my photography is to challenge myself; and I think that is a very important quote.”

Maconochie recalls a jewellery editorial the photographer shot for French Vogue in 1994. “One photograph is of an incredibly elegant woman – as Helmut often portrayed in semi-ordinary domestic situations – carving a chicken, wearing an incredible huge diamond ring and bracelet, with her well manicured hands and red nails. She is playfully and subversively sexual in lots of different ways and that was considered to be very shocking at the time.” Maconochie attests, “Newton did it in such a way that was incredibly elegant and also almost seemed effortless.” Today, it would be difficult to suggest that the image isn’t a classic.

Another photograph from the same spread strikes a chord with Maconochie. A model wearing a sheer black bustier, revealing her dark nipples, wears a grand diamond necklace by Bulgari and with her face cropped out of the shot; her arms are raised to reveal underarm hair. “Helmut loved that!” Maconochie bellows, “and at the time all of the advertisers complained and said it was outrageous. Six months later, the images were incredibly notorious and celebrated.” Bulgari’s jewels – although incredibly classic – weren’t talked about as much as when Helmut got his hands on them in 1994. Six months after the photos were printed, Newton was invited to take some photographs at a party during the Paris prêt a porter shows. “The party was thrown by Bulgari!” Maconochie hoots.

With thanks to retrospection, images which during their time may have seemed crass have the potential to become things of great significance much later on. “Images are being produced today that will be classic of course; history is being made the whole time,” Maconochie says, “but looking back, things that were considered to be radical, become classic.” She cites Coco Chanel’s womenswear as an example; “she was the first designer to put women in separates. Jackets, trousers and tops – those are now classics of everyone’s wardrobes but at the time it was incredibly radical and different.” Perhaps not disparate to the feminist leanings of Chanel’s emancipation of women’s dress codes, Maconochie talks of British artist Tracy Emin in the same breath. “Yes, I mean, some of Tracy Emin's work has had a profound influence in contemporary art. There are less female artists that are as celebrated as some of her work is and I think her work will become classic. Although it is sometimes radical and sometimes shocking, it is very beautiful.”

Maconochie recalls the first time she really began to take notice of fashion photography. “I went to one of those typical English, slightly uptight, boarding schools when I was quite young and on my bedroom dorm wall I used to stick pages of French Vogue,” tearing up editorials from the copies sent to her to improve her French. “I was very influenced by fashion magazines so I remember early Parkinson and that was also when Helmut was starting and Guy Bourdin. It was all of those images mixed with Aladdin Sane posters of David Bowie.” What was the appeal? “I think it was the drama, the danger; they were incredibly chic and I aspired to be a part of the world he was portraying. Helmut’s work is slightly unobtainable,” she says.

Fashion photography follows trends not dissimilar to the prêt a porter collections. Thus the unobtainable, hyper glamorous world depicted since the mid to late 70’s by Newton, Bourdin and their contemporaries forced the arrival of a new type of realist and documentary style of fashion photography in the early nineties with the late photographer Corrine Day as its poster girl. “Corrine started as a model. She wasn’t trained as such and her way of looking at things was purely from a documentary point of view,” something that Maconochie remembers has inspired her to make her own documentaries, which she is working on right now. “I’m really excited about it, they’re about extraordinary women photographers who had vivid lives.”

To see fashion being documented by an unfettered eye excites her. “I’m always very interested in people who aren’t in the fashion world who want to come and photograph it. That time in the nineties and early part of the last decade when art crossed over into fashion happened, but it then became too normal. Some rose to the occasion better than others.” Photographers should think less about the label they are given and just take beautiful pictures. “I think Helmut always wanted to be a ‘fashion photographer’ but really admired and respected reportage photographers, paparazzi and moviemakers. He never wanted to make commercials because he said he didn’t have the patience to shoot. He had a clear vision and definition, he always wanted to be a fashion photographer and he achieved it in a different way.” She continues, “I think that there are different ways of looking at boxes and being labelled. Corrine found her style quite naturally but there was a point in her career where she lost her freedom and tried to be a ‘fashion photographer’ and became more controlled with her work and it wasn’t as strong. She tried to put herself into the role of a fashion photographer, when she was more a documentary fashion photographer - those early pictures of Kate for British Vogue were shocking but they have stood the test of time. And now they are classic.”

Similarly, the photographic pursuits from Maconochie’s own viewfinder are curious and redolent. “My photographs are much more documentary. They are a moment in time.” She concurs, “they always remind me of what was happening, I can remember the weather, the smells, what was happening in my life, so there are many different ones.” Will she share these with the world? “…I need to practice a bit more with reels of film,” she replies.

Maconochie’s personal collection of art works includes – as one would expect – lots of photography by Brassai, Joel Peter Witkin, Polordori and Araki and pieces by many friends who happen to be some of the contemporary art world’s brightest British stars. Work by Tracey Emin, Matt Collishaw, Gillian Wearing, Sarah Lucas, Jake & Dinnos Chapman and Tim Noble & Sue Webster sit next to her most loved photographs, one of which was a gift from Maconochie’s ex mother in law who used to head up the photo agency Magnum in New York.

The photograph, shot by Elliot Erwitt in 1960, depicts the cast of Arthur Miller’s The Misfits. The film came to be both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s swansong and during its production, Magnum sent five of their best photographers of the time to photograph the sets and making of the film, “there was Jim Seymour, Cartier Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Eve Arnold and Ernst Haas” Maconochie tells. “I have three photographs from that shoot. One by Eve, one by Erwitt and one by Ernst Haas, which is of Clark Gable wrestling with a horse that is rearing.” Horses are another passion and naturally lots of photographs of them appear in her home too.

Spending more time in her “old colonial” in Uruguay, Maconochie is taking time to reflect on the other things she wants to do with her time, riding is high on the list. She smiles, “that’s why I'm here. I like the heat, I can enjoy the sunshine but I also ride horses and the culture here – in a very practical way – loves horses and I don’t have the chance to do it in the same way in London. You have to be so organised and controlled.”

Reflecting on the work she wants to do going forward she tells, “I’m at a point in my life where I'm able to reflect. You’re just constantly moving forward but you don’t always appreciate the ordinary or important things in life.” Every day she sees a new photograph. “Yesterday I went riding with the Gaucho. We were going up a dusty unpaved road that was very narrow and at the top of the road I saw a crest. As the sun was setting, all of the horses going over the crest were silhouetted and it was just one of the most beautiful things. I just wish I’d had the right equipment with me to photograph it.”

Published in THE ROOM #13 S/S 2011
Charlotte Rampling photographed by Helmut Newton, 1974
Helmut Newton 'Roast chicken and Bulgari jewels', 1994
Helmut Newton, French Vogue, 1994
Kate Moss photographed by Corrine Day, 1990
Horst Photographs 1931 – 1986, published to coincide with the Hamilitons of London exhibition, 1985