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Why Are All the Fashion Photographers Directing Music Videos?

These days, music videos exist largely to serve the dual roles of generating Vevo views and packaging artists as sex symbols.

by JANELLE OKWODU Vogue.com

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Rihanna, “Kiss It Better,” directed by Craig McDean

As a creative medium, music videos occupy an odd space between commercial and short film. These days, music videos exist largely to serve the dual roles of generating Vevo views and packaging artists as sex symbols. At worst, they’re laden with product placement—EOS lip balm, anyone?—and largely forgettable; at best, they’re experimental mini films that elevate the tunes they represent. You might not remember the chords to “Wicked Game,” but that sepia-tinted shot of Chris Isaak and Helena Christensen kissing on a beach? Unforgettable.

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Janet Jackson, “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” directed by Herb Ritts

In their quest to create the kinds of videos that stick in your mind, musicians often look beyond their industry for creative direction. And if there’s one industry that knows creative direction, it’s fashion. The talent behind the visuals that represent some of the most famous songs have often been catwalk adjacent. Whether it’s Camilla Nickerson–styled supermodels lip-synching for George Michael or Vogue photographer Terence Donovan creating the Patrick Nagel–inspired look of Robert Palmer’s iconic “Addicted to Love” clip, the intersection between the two fields has always been busy.

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Bryan Ferry, “Slave to Love,” directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino

Consider the rampant use of fashion photographers as directors! While it is still rare to see a photog cross over from doing editorial shoots to helming a Hollywood blockbuster, it has become commonplace to see them take the reins on videos. Perhaps due to the smaller scale of the projects—it can take years to get a movie from development to filming, versus the relatively speedy couple of weeks needed to make a music video—fashion’s creators like Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Ellen von Unwerth, Craig McDean, Fabien Baron, and Nick Knight have all expanded their oeuvre by creating videos for some of the biggest names in music.

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Lady Gaga, “Applause,” directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

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Lady Gaga, “Born This Way,” directed by Nick Knight

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Lady Gaga, “Alejandro,” directed by Steven Klein

For newer musicians, enlisting a noted fashion photographer to direct their videos offers an added fashion cachet—photographers are often the gatekeepers to those lucrative campaigns and covers celebrities covet. But for the Beyoncés, Gagas, and Rihannas of the world, who need no help in that department, the appeal lies in the images. When Rihanna lies down in a sheer nightie and croons “Kiss It Better” under Craig McDean’s lens, it looks like something out of an editorial. The atmospheric black and white, the perfectly placed rolling dice, the soft-focus lighting—McDean presents her in the same otherworldly manner he utilizes to showcase models in his Vogue stories.

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Grace Jones, “Slave to the Rhythm,” directed by Jean Paul Goude

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Björk, “Hidden Place,” directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

And that’s the trick: A key photographer will always help an artist put their best face forward. With no pesky dialogue or linear plot structure to get in the way, it becomes all about the image—and who better to create those? One thing is for certain: The days of fashion photogs strictly creating within the boundaries of glossy magazines is nearing a close, and MTV—during the rare moments when it actually deigns to showcase videos—is looking better for it.

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Madonna, “Erotica,” directed by Fabien Baron

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Madonna, “Justify My Love,” directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino

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Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball,” directed by Terry Richardson

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Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love,” directed by Terence Donovan

 

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