At 30, New York born-and-raised Victor Demarchelier is living up to his family name. The youngest son of legendary fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier is quickly becoming one of the hottest young photographers in the business. Featured editorially on the pages of international Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, GQ and Interview magazines, to name a few, Demarchelier is sought after for his commercial work as well and was recently commissioned by Toronto's Oxford Properties to shoot the new campaign for Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
Perhaps the secret is all in the breeding: The senior Demarchelier has always been the epitome of relaxed cool. Known for his exquisite lighting and his ability to connect with his subjects, he revealed to me in 2008, at a retrospective of his work at the Petit Palais Museum in Paris, that whether he was photographing models or actors, he always wanted people to "explain themselves" when he took their portraits. "They have to be very relaxed. If they're relaxed and cool, they explain themselves more," he said. Patrick Demarchelier's calm demeanour and gentle nature have always been key to winning the trust of his subjects. And it's those qualities that he has passed along to his son.
A student of economics and fine art at Vassar College, the younger Demarchelier first focused on printmaking, and began working on shoots with his father after graduation. Eventually, it was the experimentation with his own personal prints in his father's darkroom that led him to pursue the art of photography. But the seeds of his future success were planted long ago, when as a child, on a British Vogue shoot in St. Barths, his dad asked him to jump in the model's lap. The whimsical shot that was captured in that moment landed on the magazine's cover.
I met with Victor on a recent visit to Toronto, and there, on a bench at Yorkdale mall, we talked about his photographic roots and what his famous father has taught him.
It wasn't even your intention to be a photographer initially. You wanted to be an architect.
Yes, I kind of fell into photography. I just always liked creating things, and I loved working with my hands, too. I was in fact going to be an architect. And then afterward I was a bit of a furniture designer and maker. I love the idea of working with wood. Then I made a lot of prints and started working in the darkroom. That was a way to get my hands on the pictures. But after that, you want to shoot your own pictures. So it was all kind of thrown together.
Was it your dad who gave you your first camera?
The first cameras my dad gave me were Polaroid cameras. We'd get little Polaroid every Christmas. But back then it was just a kind of game. We'd run around shooting our brothers and our family. And I would go through the film so fast! I remember he'd give us four or five boxes and they were gone in one day, and then we would forget about it, and next year we would get another camera. I don't think he ever thought of any of us becoming photographers or working in fashion. It just kind of happened.
So he wasn't ever really trying to encourage you to take up photography?
No, he was the opposite. I was a pretty good student in school, so he would always say, "Why don't you be a lawyer?" That was his dream: to have one of us become a lawyer. I just think every parent wants their kid to be a doctor or an architect or a lawyer. But when I realized I wanted to do photography and I started working with him, he was even happier, I think.
What is one of the biggest lessons he taught you?
He always says do what you love and you'll be happy and successful in life. And even if the success doesn't come, you'll still be happy.
It's one thing to want to be a photographer and love the art and craft of photography, but fashion is something that you're really turned on by, too.
The thing is, I love still arts. I started doing that and that's kind of how you experiment with the camera and with the lighting. But then you get a little lonely. What's exciting about fashion is the people. It's all about the people you choose – the team. And I think that's what keeps it fresh, fun and exciting.
I once asked your dad who was his favourite subject to shoot, and he said it was the family's pet dachshund, Puffy.
Well, I love it when I'm shooting my friends or someone who is really close to me. That's nice. I don't do it enough and when you do it, you really feel special.
In this digital age, photography is something that's been embraced by everyone.
Yeah, everyone is a photographer nowadays.
How do you feel about that? Are you a bit of a snob?
No, no – I love it! It's cool to see all these pictures, even on Instagram. Especially if you're a photographer, your friends like to show you what they did. They like to show off their pictures. And it feels like even more people appreciate your work. It used to be more of a niche thing and now I think everyone likes photography and everyone in the street has a camera.
What were your first impressions of being on a fashion set? It was probably with your dad before you were ever hired to do a gig.
When I was young my dad would take me on trips and out to sets. I think the first time was in St. Barths. And sometimes, he would even photograph me. It seemed so effortless and easy. That's part of his style, too. But it didn't feel like it was work. It felt like more of a good time, and I think that's why the girls are so beautiful in the pictures. That's the biggest thing I try to keep in mind when I shoot now – that feeling that I always had on his sets.
This interview has been condensed and edited.