Watson on Watson

Oct 01, 2010

By Amy Hicks

WATSON ON WATSON: Very early in his career as a photographer, right after moving to the United States from London in the early Seventies, Albert Watson began shooting regularly for Mademoiselle, American Vogue and versions of the fashion title in Paris, Italy and England. But Watson admits it wasn’t long before he became difficult to work with in this context, because his pictures became too heavy. “By the time I got to the Eighties, I lost my light touch,” Watson said, during an interview in his studio in TriBeCa. “It was out of my control. I’m not saying you need 10 shots of angst in fashion photography, but I like some gravitas.”

Watson’s fashion photography is featured in a new book, “UFO (Unified Fashion Objectives),” a 40-year retrospective of his career that has models such as Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Kristen McMenamy and Naomi Campbell, who he refers to as his favorite model. “I’ve worked off and on with her since she was 15,” he said. “And she drives me insane but she’s fabulous.” A photograph of Campbell is part of the 408-page book, which he proudly admits includes only one shot from a digital camera. “A lot of young photographers, if you put them in a dark room to make a print, they would have no idea,” he noted. “I made all these prints myself.”

As for photographing actors, Watson lists his most memorable shoot as the 50 minutes he spent one afternoon with Jack Nicholson. “He’s the easiest person in the world to photograph,” Watson recalled. “He walked in and said, ‘The usual?’ and I took two roles of film and I was finished. Because he throws it out there.” Watson, 68, has directed more than 200 TV commercials and shot ad campaigns for brands such as Prada, Gap and Chanel. “The fashion business will always depend on working with new and younger photographers to add something,” he said. “But the great advantage — and disadvantage — of what I do is that, stylistically, I’m not consistent. That’s what makes all of my books interesting. I will entertain you all the way through.”