Helena Christensen needs little introduction being the face of so many of our most iconic fashion images. Still very much in demand as a model, Helena is also an accomplished photographer regularly shooting fashion editorials for publications including Vs, Harpers, Rika and Vogue. We talk to Helena about how working with the leading fashion photographers has influenced and helped shape her own work. To accompany the interview, we are featuring a selection of images from Helena’s personal work. Enjoy…
I read that you have been taking photographs for longer than you have been modelling; what first sparked that interest and what is it about photography as a medium that appeals to you most?
Photography has always fascinated me. I hitchhiked around the world when I was 19 and all the visuals I experienced on the way made me interested in approaching photography as an art form rather than just a hobby. My first real camera was a Konica Polaroid Land camera that I bought off one of Herb Ritts’ assistant. I am forever grateful to him for convincing me to buy a camera like that as it changed everything. I started experimenting way more with light and compositions. Photographs are just so magical to me – almost more than moving images. There’s something so mind-blowingly beautiful about a second being forever frozen in time on a piece of paper (or nowadays, on a screen… sadly).
My first real camera was a Konica Polaroid Land camera that I bought off one of Herb Ritts’ assistant. I am forever grateful to him for convincing me to buy a camera like that as it changed everything.
You have worked with the world’s foremost photographers which must have been an amazing education for you as a photographer. Did any of these later become your mentor and, if so, how have they influenced your photography?
Absolutely. I literally saw my modelling career as a form of photography education. I worked with Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh…the list of amazing photographers is endless, and I absorbed all I could from each one of them. I would watch how the assistants would set up lights and how the photographer would approach his subject in order to gain their confidence and trust. I would say that I really learned about light from Penn, Ritts and Lindbergh. I am fascinated by natural light as it forever changes and thereby changes the mood and expression of a person or anything in this world.
Of the images that you have taken, is there one that you are most proud of and why?
I couldn’t say which one. I know that there have been a few, maybe one or two a year that I felt had something extra special going on, but it’s really rare that I feel that way about my own photography. It has to be so unbelievably special on levels that are hard to define.
Polaroid film has always mesmerized me. The depth, texture, light, nothing captures these elements like a 665 Polaroid.
I can see from your work that you like to use a mixture of capture formats – Polaroid, film, digital – is there any one format that really grabs you more than the others?
Polaroid film has always mesmerized me. The depth, texture, light, nothing captures these elements like a 665 Polaroid. Film is special too, I love contact sheets, they’re beautiful in themselves, all those images laid out together, the expectation when you wait for them, I love that waiting time. Now we just all shoot on our mobiles, which is fine, I have taken a lot of images I like on my phone, and it’s obviously handy – but I wish I wasn’t so lazy and always brought a film camera with me everywhere.
The documentary photography that you have undertaken while on assignment with UNHCR and Oxfam is in stark contrast to your fashion and portrait photography. How did you first get involved with humanitarian organisations as a photographer and what do you hope that your continued involvement will bring?
What I always wanted to do, and am hoping to move more into, is shooting documentary and reportage for a newspaper. When I got the chance to work with Oxfam and the UNHCR it was an amazing opportunity to not only learn first-hand from experts about climate change and other global issues, but also I was able to shoot reportage and interview the subjects. A great combination and a huge learning experience on so many levels.
Are you currently working on any photographic projects that you can tell us about?
I’m shooting for art/fashion magazines and also doing portraits for a few charity organizations. I am always working on personal projects, such as the girl portrait and nature shot series’.
See more of Helena’s work at:
All images copyright Helena Christensen.