You’ve seen Craig McDean’s photographs everywhere, on countless magazine covers and editorial spreads.
But now he zooms in on three iconic models he has photographed throughout his three decade long career: Amber Valletta, Guinevere van Seenus, and Kate Moss. The photographs, taken from 1993 to 2005, make up a glossy new coffee table book, Amber, Guinevere & Kate Photographed by Craig McDean, released with Rizzoli this week.
“During my early days, when I first started shooting fashion, these are the girls I photographed more than anyone else,” McDean told The Daily Beast in an email. “Their looks, beauty, and gracefulness inspired me more than anyone else from that period.”
In a time of glossy, pumped-up fashion pictures, dripping with saccharine colors and Photoshop-slimmed waists, McDean’s images are an anomaly, a throwback to a time when everyone was freckled and wide-eyed, and crop tops (really) reigned. Over the course of several photo shoots with each model—from publications such as i-D, Harper’s Bazaar, and W—McDean expertly captures the 1990s through some of its most beloved faces. There is Moss, in nothing but a white button-down and pair of high-waisted shorts for a Calvin Klein shoot in 1996; van Seenus in cropped black pants and a turtleneck on a Jil Sander shoot that same year; and Valletta, windswept in a convertible with Shalom Harlow in 1995. The images feel like a yearbook of sorts, a rumination on the decade, and on three girls growing up.
“I don’t really like the world ‘muse,’” McDean told Glenn O’Brien of the three women in the book. “But they become your models; you can call them up and speak to them and say: ‘I’m thinking of this.’ All of a sudden I have a vision of the girl in the dress right there in front of me. So it doesn’t matter how difficult it gets and you’re there ’til 5 in the morning; you know you’re going to work it out because you’re all there to achieve something and make it happen. And these girls understand that. You build a rapport and a language with them.”
Rather than just a fashion photographer, Craig McDean “is a documentary photographer whose main subject is fashion.”
The three women hail from different backgrounds: Valletta, 39, is a corn-fed blonde from Tulsa, Oklahoma; van Seenus, 36, is a sharp-featured girl of German descent who got her start in W magazine in 1996 and went on to become a top model; and Moss, 39, is the tousled Brit whose aesthetic shaped a generation. But in these pages, all three are given the McDean treatment; they’re actresses in his narrative, bubbling over with color and personality. “I think these three women have their personas, and what they bring to the photograph is more than just anyone would bring,” McDean said. “That’s why I chose them.”
The images also mark his time as an analog photographer, ending the year before he made the switch to digital. As a result, the pictures are rich and un-degraded by post-production, more thought out. Mathias Augustyniak, co-founder of M/M (Paris), writes in the book’s introduction that McDean, rather than just a fashion photographer, “is a documentary photographer whose main subject is fashion.”
Though McDean still shoots Moss, Valletta, and van Seenus to this day—and remains close friends with them—he’s now at work on his next (tightly guarded) project: a “luxury lifestyle/car magazine” that will launch later this year.