Matthew Hitt backstage at John Varvatos. Photos: Sonny Vandevelde
Sonny Vandevelde was climbing on ledges above diners in the restaurant at the Tribeca Grand Hotel last night, checking the alignment of his photographs and arguing with himself over which order worked best. The backstage photographer, friend to models and Australian is in New York City for two reasons: to shoot Fashion Week, and to host Backstage – an exhibition of his work at the hotel – a now highly anticipated seasonal event. Choosing which photographs to hang next to each other is the easy part, he says. "Editing them down from 4000 to 20, however, was a killer."
Since starting out shooting models in Australia more than 15 years ago, Vandevelde has become one of the permanent fixtures backstage at shows all around the world. 40-something, tanned, bearded and always wearing jeans, he jokes around with the models, shoots a few frames, then chats some more.
His easy rapport with his subjects is evident – where many models stand dour-faced, clenching their jaws while other photographers snap away – the moment Vandevelde's camera is raised, there is movement, energy and humour. "There are male models who hate their photo being taken but being a model is about being in front of the camera," he says. "A lot of the male models know me and my personality. They know what I like and they give it to me."
It's an easier job today than it once was, says Vandevelde. "Eight years ago, every show was a repeat of a Dolce and Gabbana casting. The guys were all about themselves and spent their time preening in the mirror. Now they're skater dudes and skinny little guys who don't want to be models. They want to have fun. It's more interesting now."
Despite the swiftly raising profile of backstage photography, Vandevelde estimates that there are only four to six photographers making serious money from the job. His client list includes V Magazine, Hint Mag, the New York Times, Oyster, Grazia, Vogue and GQ China, but he says he is in the second tier of earners. "I'm one of 10 or 12 guys who make an income. Then there are 100 or so others who just break even. I was one of those guys for a long time. But I'm hoping to become one of those four to six."
Backstage opens on Friday this week, 11 February. Limited edition prints are available from $450.
Victor Hoogland backstage at Thom Browne.
Jakob Hybolt backstage at Ermenegildo Zegna.
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