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Remembering Steve Hiett Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

30 August 2019

The English fashion photographer Steve Hiett -- who was a graphic designer and rock star too -- drew inspiration from painting and the movies to inform his images. He passed away earlier this week at the age of 79.

"I think to be a great photographer, you have to bring something else to the medium," he once told an interviewer. "Cartier-Bresson wanted to be a painter, Irving Penn wanted to be a painter. A lot of great photographers from the '60s were actually art directors first, who suddenly saw that it wasn't too difficult to become a photographer, like William Klein, he was a painter."

As a student at the Royal College of Art's Graphic Design school in London during the 1960s, Hiett fell in love with typography. It would be a life-long affair as he continued doing graphic design work throughout his working life.

Another life-long affair began in 1966 when he joined the psych-pop band The Pyramids as their frontman.

The problem with photography today and I do think this is a problem, is that because of digital, everyone is now taking the same sort of pictures.'

And that led to the chance to photograph Jimi Hendrix backstage in one of his final performances at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. He fell in love with photography too.

He had collaborated with his friend designer Zandra Rhodes on a Woolworth fashion shoot when Nova magazine published one of the images, launching his career in fashion. By 1969, Hiett had worked for Nova, English Vogue and the now-defunct Queen magazine.

Then he fell in love with France, moving to Paris.

There he would drop in to chat with Marie Claire art director Émile Laugier who kept him busy for 20 years with one shoot or another. He also worked for Vogue, Elle and other fashion magazines.

During the 1980s he formulated his signature style of over-saturated images, off-center composition and dramatic flash. At the same time, as his music career was ending, he cut a guitar solo album in Japan for Sony/CBS: Down On The Road By The Beach, which will be reissued next month. It was accompanied by a photo book.

In the 1990s Hiett moved to New York City where he did graphic design until he met Carla Sozzani who got him to return to Paris to work for Vogue Italia.

"I then realized there was a whole new world of fashion magazines," he said. "And my career as a fashion photographer seemed to start all over again. My style has evolved with the new digital technology but I guess it still looks almost the same."

In 2014 he led the photography judging at Hyeres Festival, where a retrospective entitled Steve Hiett: The Song Remains the Same was held at Villa Noailles.

Asked how photography has changed over the years, he said:

The problem with photography today and I do think this is a problem, is that because of digital, everyone is now taking the same sort of pictures. Everyone retouches, everyone cleans up their photos. Images are not very funky anymore, as far as I'm concerned. Especially with fashion photography now, the problem is that everything is so perfect and retouched and soulless that I think it lacks a certain element of the spontaneous magic moment.

You know, the sort of thing that makes you fall in love.

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