Miles Ladin’s photography is never just about the beauty of the subject, his images evoke mood, stimulate conversation, and even shock. With Ladin’s new book “Supermodels at the End of Time,” Ladin documents that heady era in fashion history where supermodels not only ruled the runways and magazine covers, but suddenly had a huge presence in popular culture.
Still, Ladin’s photographic book is not necessarily a beautiful, manicured photographic dissertation on that time, but a hardcore photographic memoir of the darker recesses and excesses of the fashion world of the 1990s. In his classic, film noir–photographic still, Ladin’ “Supermodels at the End of Time” is revealing, nuanced, and strangely poignant.
From supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, and Claudia Mason to fashion personalities Diana Vreeland, Milla Jovovich, and Chloe Sevigny, “Supermodels at the End of Time” with text by Bret Easton Ellis informs, reveals and tickles the fashion funny bone. On the eve of Miles Ladin’s exhibit of images from the book at the Station Independent Project’s Gallery in New York City, Miles Ladin spoke with Fashion Reverie.
Fashion Reverie: Why did you call this book “Supermodels at the End of Time”?
Miles Ladin: There is a documentary aspect to the images. I was photographing supermodels and fashion celebrities at social events like the Met Gala, the CFDA Awards, documenting notable people and the fashion elite. I created a narrative with these images using Bret Easton Ellis’ text. So, I wanted this book to be a limited edition artist book. The book has a certain quality; there is satire and I merged Ellison’s fiction with pictures that could be looked at as documentary.At these fashion social events my photography is very stylized, a kind of film noir quality for which I am known for. I manipulate the reality in a certain way with my photography. And we know, that is what photography really is; there is a truth, but also a fiction.
So, how I came up with this title, I wanted the new artist book to directly comment on our most recent fin de siècle. Most historians when they refer to fin de siècle they are referring to the 1890s and the Austrian-German Hapsburg Empire that lead up to World War I. However, I used a little artistic license and referred to the end of the 20th Century that for me culminated in the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. The title also eludes to the end of fashion as we knew it at that time and the rise of fashion and entertainment evolved by social media and instant celebrity.
Up until recent times, in my mind, supermodels were more than just beautiful; they had personality and a certain charm. They had so much more to them than the current crop of supermodels—Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. “Supermodels at the End of Time” refers to the end of fashion as we knew it. And the way I like to play around with art meeting fiction meeting science fiction.
FR: Your style of photography is a film noir style. Could you elaborate on that?
Miles Ladin: Film noir refers to cinema. From the 1930s to the 1950s, film noir was at its peak in films like Orson Welles’ “Third Man.” Film noir is mostly in black and white and I shoot in mostly black and white using a handheld flash. I sculpture the reality with my flash and I would get in close to my subject, being short in stature helps in that respect.
I would often shoot these fashion celebrities because I was on assignment with W magazine or The New York Times. I didn’t have the regality and grandeur of Bill Cunningham who kind of did what I do or Patrick McMullen who really loves being a part of the scene. I was kind of a hired hand that was invisible which gave me the advantage or capturing some exquisite moments.
My role was not to flatter the fashion elite, but to capture a moment in time. I also used a short lens to get in really close and I intuitively knew how to use the handheld flash to evoke mood and manipulate my subjects. I would have to move the handheld flash around to capture the moments I wanted and simulate drama and suspense.
Miles Ladin: I chose supermodels first and then I decided I wanted use images from around 2002 and before that time. I’ve been shooting New York Fashion Week until up to two years ago, so that access give me a lot of material. Still, I didn’t want to use runway images past 2002. I also wanted to include the best pictures that I had, signature pictures that had run in W magazine and images that were used in their anniversary issues. Then, there were pictures that were never published or reproduced that I also included in the book.
There are some supermodels that I would have liked to include just to expand the spectrum of models and model personalities, but often that particular image didn’t match Ellis’ text. Sometimes, I had a great image but the supermodel was in the background, not the foreground, so I couldn’t include the picture. And there were some other constraints. But, there are some great images of Iman, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, and many other supermodels. I also have images of model personalities, meaning actresses that modeled for specific brands but were not necessarily supermodels. I have an image of Chloe Sevigny, who was a muse for Imitation of Christ and walked the runway, as well. So, the image of Chloe Sevigny really fit in with the photo-narrative quality of this book because Chloe is the name of the character in Ellis’ “Glamorama.” Milla Jovovich is the other model personality in the book. So, a lot of my choices had to do with supermodels that fit Ellis’ text.
“Supermodels at the End of Time” is not like Michael Gross’ 1999 book “Model” which is the reality of supermodels. This tabletop book is more massaged and manipulated.
FR: Do you consider yourself a fashion photographer?
Miles Ladin: No.
FR: Well, have to do define yourself?
Miles Ladin: W magazine defined me as a paparazzi photographer. But, I don’t see myself that way because I don’t stalk celebrities like Rob Galella. However, I am always invited to events to shoot celebrities; I don’t scurry to shoot them unless they are coming out the back entrance for New York Fashion Week.
Some people do consider me a fashion photographer, so I don’t correct them. Still, I don’t consider myself a fashion photographer because I am not interested in fashion as it relates to designers and what celebrities are wearing or chronicling fashion. I like to photograph parts of society that are not exposed to everyday folks. I shot New York Fashion Week for 15 years, but more to document that scene, not to promote the clothes.
I call myself a photographic artist. I started photography as a photographic expression, in addition to drawing and painting. My clients like The New York Times, W magazine and more recently WWD, gave me carte blanche to shoot in my photographic style.
FR: You photograph the dark recesses of beauty. Could you explain that?
Miles Ladin: The pictures have humor and there is a satiric element to them. I was never seduced by the glamour of celebrity or the fashion industry, so my perspective on those worlds is quite different. I never try to make my subjects look unattractive; I am just attempting to photograph something that goes beyond external beauty. There is this one photo in the book of Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell sitting at this table with an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, coffee cups and wine glasses, and all three of them looking very bored. There is a sense of ennui in that image. Of course, one would think who doesn’t want to be any one of those supermodels? But, again the image says something else, maybe. I don’t know if every moment of every day is so fabulous for them, and certainly in that moment in the picture, there is a moment of reality.
My images have a sardonic quality. You have the film noir quality of the pictures in black and white. There are shadows, and shadows visually make things look a certain way.
There is a photograph in the exhibit that did not make it into the book of Tyra Banks posing on the red carpet for Fashion Rocks. Tyra Banks is posing beautifully, but in my shot there is also the publicist telling us to stop taking pictures because the red carpet is over. A PR person might be pissed at that, but this image details how supermodels and celebrities are prodded and pushed, and it is not always so nice and polite.
We are now in this overdrive of celebrity culture, which existed in the 40s and 50s. However, with social media it is really insane now. And what precipitated this current celebrity extreme, in my opinion, were the supermodels of the 1990s. These women were so famous for being beautiful. But, there is a dark side to all of this.
FR: What are some of your favorite photographs in the book?
Miles Ladin: There are some photographs in the book that have never been reproduced. But, my top three photographs are the image of the three supermodels—Kate, Naomi, and Linda—at the table at the movie premiere party at the end of the evening. That photograph had never been published until this book. The other one is of Claudia Mason being made up backstage and the women next to her is looking at this Vogue magazine, hoping she’ll be on the cover one day. The third one is of Lauren Hutton.
FR: Which models did you always hope to photograph at these events?
Miles Ladin: Well, I always had a tip sheet, so I knew who would be at the event. I knew my role at these events was to get the money shot. Obviously, getting an interesting shot of an A-Lister was more important than photographing someone on the C-list. Still, sometimes it was like a dog looking for a bone because occasionally A-Listers didn’t show up so you had to work with who was there. Unlike, everyone having their 15 minutes of fame due to social media, it took a while to get on the A-list, which back then was Linda Evangelista and other supermodels.
FR: What do you want readers to get out of the book and viewers to get from your exhibit?
Miles Ladin: I think the book is a fun ride. I believe my work, without being mean-spirited, holds a mirror up to society and in this case it is the world of supermodels in the 90s. The 90s was a narcissistic time; however, now the narcissism is beyond reason. It is very disturbing, particularly if you look at who’s running for president. The accepted notion of narcissism that feeds into our selfie culture and everyone having the own sense of self-importance was, perhaps, borne out the 1990s. And this book documents that in a time capsule kind of way. Have we evolved past that time, or not? Hopefully, this book will stimulate the conversation.
FR: What’s next for you?
Miles Ladin: I have another exhibition opening in December at an alternative space, and the theme of that exhibit is the idea of the American dream. This exhibit will have a much stronger polemic than “Supermodels at the End of Time” exhibit. It is very objective with installations to promote stream of consciousness while viewing the exhibit. Beyond these exhibits, I have been photographing and developing a multimedia piece on zombies. I have been shooting zombies for the past five years.
By zombies, I am referring to people who vote from an emotive headset or people who are so entranced in their Smart phones that they have accidents, get hit by cars, etc. They are so entranced by these devices they hold in their hands that they don’t notice the world around them. They might as well be in the Matrix.
There is also humor in these zombie images, very much like my photographs of 90s supermodels. I am not trying to change the world, just show people things that are all around them that maybe they haven’t notice before. Maybe these images will cause people to elevate the future in a way they hadn’t considered. Or maybe, they will just have a good laugh!!
Miles Ladin’s fashion photography will be on exhibit at the Station Independent Gallery through October 30.
—William S. Gooch