Fern Mallis has hosted some of the world’s biggest designers for her Fashion Icons series at 92Y — Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Oscar de la Renta, to name a few. But last night, she chose a subject who is typically behind the scenes: Legendary photographer Bruce Weber.
The surprisingly shy Weber chatted with Mallis about everything from his early days of doing homework in bars while his married mom went on dates (his parents had an open relationship) to his love for his six dogs. Yet the bulk of the conversation centered, naturally, around his photographs.
While the list of famous faces who have posed for Weber is impressive, he says he is just not that interested in celebrity culture. “Photographing celebrities isn’t so important to me, and I feel bad that so many photographers are forced to photograph them,” Weber told the audience. “I really miss having these really great girls who were great models on the pages of magazines.”
That said, he did end up unexpectedly bonding with one particular household name: Kim Kardashian, who he shot for DuJour‘s Spring 2013 issue. He was so “taken” by the then-pregnant reality star that the day’s results ended up as an 18-page editorial. But the shoot almost didn’t happen at all. “I wasn’t sure that I was going to be the right guy for the job, and then I met Kim,” Weber said candidly. “I hadn’t seen any of these videos that everybody talks about.”
He then went into how refreshing he found Kardashian in person. “She came to set — and I always judge the person I’m going to photograph by how they are with my assistants and my crew — and she looked at each one and introduced herself. She was just so personable with everyone. She was wonderful. I really had the best time.” However much fun he might have had, there was someone else who he found even even more intriguing. “Her mother was really, really interesting,” Weber revealed. “That’s who I really want to photograph.” (Somewhere in LA, Kris Jenner is making fervent phone calls.)
Mallis then tried to get him to dish on other celebrity experiences. But Weber — perhaps feeling the burn from a recent story about kicking Cindy Crawford out of a photo shoot — politely deflected the question. “I once had a terrible shoot with — well I guess I can’t talk about it,” he teased. “You know, you talk about these things and all of the sudden they’re in the press, and you’re like, ‘That was, like, 30 years ago.’”
Finally (and inevitably, considering Weber’s body of work), the topic turned to nudity. The photographer insisted that many of the people who strip down on his sets do so because they want to. And for those critics who don’t see the point of showcasing clothes on half-naked people, he had this to say: “Sometimes it’s not just the clothes that you’re showing — sometimes you gotta forget about the clothes,” he argued. “Why does everything have to be so literal?”
He also made the case that what he does is far less shocking than a lot of other imagery going around in mass media. “I’d rather see something beautiful about a person’s sexual feelings than all this violence.”
We think it’s safe to say that as long as Weber can hold up a camera, we’ll be seeing plenty more of those beautiful — and yes, sometimes scandalous — photographs.