Since arriving in New York in the late Eighties, Michael Thompson’s work has appeared in just about every fashion magazine. He’s won awards for his ad work and he’s also published a book. And now, just in time for fashion week, Thompson’s work is taking over Hasted Hunt gallery for his first solo exhibition in the U.S. “I think it’s practically every photographer’s dream to be represented by a gallery,” said Thompson. For his debut, he has put together 19 images that span his career.
Here, Thompson talks to WWD about his exhibit (which runs through Oct. 25), his process behind the camera and starting out as an assistant for the legendary Irving Penn.
This story first appeared in the September 10, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How did you become an assistant to Irving Penn?
Michael Thompson: I started my career in Los Angeles, but I wanted to be a fashion photographer and knew I needed to move to New York. I loaded up a U-Haul and after arriving here, I just started knocking on doors. He hired me and a few weeks later, I was sent to Paris to shoot the collections for Vogue. I had never been out of the country. He was such a gentlemen, such a nice person. He was an old-school person and not part of any of the fashion hype. He always worked 9 to 5 and he taught me how to keep it all in perspective. I don’t always work those hours, but I turn down a lot of jobs to be around for my family.
WWD: How do you approach a photo shoot?
M.T.: I try and introduce humor into all of my shoots. We aren’t saving lives here. He [Penn] let accidents happen. I do plan ahead, but everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t try and tell people what to do. I’ll let people be what they are an expert in, whether it’s hair or makeup. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.
WWD: What is included in your exhibit?
M.T.: There are 20 fairly large images that come in two sizes: 60 by 76 inches and 40 by 50 inches. There are nudes, still lifes and portraits. It’s all quite graphic. It spans my whole career and there are a few from W, Allure and French Vogue. W has been very instrumental in my career. The images from Allure, when taken out of context, are so abstract.
WWD: Is there anyone that you haven’t shot yet but hope to in the future?
M.T.: [Robert] DeNiro. But I can’t think of anyone else. I kind of fell into shooting celebrities and they are honestly just like anyone else. I can’t think of what Meryl Streep has done while I’m shooting her, I just try and relate to her. I’m actually working on a celebrity book right now.
WWD: What’s next for you?
M.T.: I’m going to Japan next week for a Shiseido ad. I’m shooting all of these Japanese actresses. I love it there. I¹m also doing a Tiffany campaign in a few weeks.