The story behind Michel Haddi's powerful portraits of glamorous women

Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress
Kate Moss for GQ, New York, 1991. (Image credit: Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress )

My images are all about women: strong women, their attitude, their beauty and the story they have to tell, what they represent in our society, and the empowerment of their own self-respect. Without them I would never have become the man I am; women taught me respect.

When the gallery 29 Arts In Progress looked at my work, they saw something that even I didn’t see; there is a continuity in my work and I was blind to it. What they saw was, perhaps, reflected in the adoration I have for women, and I suppose they saw the quintessential focal point of my work.

Cameron Diaz, for Vogue Hommes magazine, Venice Beach, California, 1993. (Image credit: Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress )

You see, an artist is not – and cannot be – the judge of his own work, while a third entity is able to go deeper and bring out the truth and talent of an artist. And 29 Arts In Progress has a real eye for this. What can I say – they have represented one of my idols since I was 20 years old, Gian Paolo Barbieri, so I knew that I couldn’t go too far wrong!

What is interesting about photographing people is that, by putting them into a sequence, into your own world, you create something that doesn’t exist and it is a total illusion. This is what I love, to take a talent to another place. 

Linda Evangelista, Party Milan, Vanity Fair Italia, 2010. (Image credit: Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress )

It is very important to have some ideas, wherever they come from – references such as movies, paintings, whatever you fancy – then when the idea begins to sink deep in you and you think you know what you are going to do… be open to changing everything at the last minute. 

When I worked with Liza Minnelli, all wanted was that look and sashay walk, looking like her mother Judy Garland; but the walk was for a simple reason that she had a bad hip at the time. And Kate Moss reminded me of the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen.

Uma Thurman for the British edition of  Vogue, London, 1990. (Image credit: Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress )

To succeed, you need to have a lot of love, empathy and you have to be sensitive enough not to upset people. You need to have a great sense of humour, be light on your feet, and don’t assume that you are the star – they are – and so whatever you do, you need to be easy on them.

Back in the nineties and noughties, magazines had tremendous budgets; even a small magazine would send you to shoot in a different time zone somewhere. I don’t want to sound like an old fart, but the nineties were one of the most incredible eras for fashion shoots, whereas nowadays, because of Covid and with magazines working on very tight budgets, most of the shoots end up in a studio; they’re very local, so to speak.

Michel Haddi at work. (Image credit: Michel Haddi / 29 Arts In Progress )

I have photographed women all over the world, but it always depended on the subjects. It was lucky that I lived in Los Angeles, so to work with Cameron Diaz it was normal to photograph her in my studio in Los Angeles. Kate Moss and I both lived in New York, so when GQ asked me to shoot her I was there, and the same with Liza Minnelli. But my base was always England, so I worked with Uma Thurman for British Vogue for that reason, and in Paris with Marisa Berenson. As I am a Parisian and I have a place there. It is all about people and places, always!

I love the quality of Nikon kit. I loved, for years, the Nikon F2 as I used it with a special lens, the Nikkor 58mm Noct, which was the best lens ever made, but someone stole it from me in a hotel. I use a Nikon mirrorless Z 9 with all the goodies these days; it’s always about the quality and Nikon is the spearhead.

About 29 Arts in Progress

Milan-based gallery 29 Arts In Progress will be exhibiting at Photo London 2023 (Stand G27, Courtyard Pavilion, Somerset House, London, May 10-14, 2023), featuring unposed black-and-white portraits by French photographer Michel Haddi, unconventional colour works by Italian master of fashion photography Gian Paolo Barbieri, large-format Polaroids of ethereal women by the eclectic Italian Artist Toni Meneguzzo, and rare Polaroids of iconic nineties supermodels by renowned British photographer Rankin.  

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Adam Waring

Adam has been the editor of N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine for almost 12 years, and as such is one of Digital Camera World's leading experts when it comes to all things Nikon-related. 

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