LONDON — Last month, the 72-year-old Lord Snowdon had had enough with newspaper reports of his imminent demise — so he packed his cameras and boarded a plane to Russia.
“I was so bored of people writing that I’m frail and about to die. So I thought ‘sod that’ and I flew to Russia. I took a 23-year-old assistant and he was exhausted by the end. I was fine,” said Snowdon during an interview last week at his home on a quiet street in Kensington.
During the two-week trip, he visited schools, hospitals, museums and everyone from Siberian oil rig workers to the family of the celebrated jeweler Fabergé.
“It was great fun. I love Russian faces. The only difference between them is beautiful and more beautiful.”
Snowdon, ex-husband of the late Princess Margaret, and a man once famous for his rugged good looks, still doesn’t know when or where the Russian pictures will appear — but at least he’s proved his point.
He’s also the center of attention at his son David Linley’s furniture store on Pimlico Road. Linley is showcasing 30 re-cropped black-and-white portraits from his father’s archive, including images of Tom Cruise, Gianni Versace, David Bowie and Uma Thurman. The exhibition, “Interior Personalities,” opened on Wednesday night and runs until Nov. 7.
Snowdon, who has captured on film so many of the people who shaped the 20th century for magazines from Vogue to Vanity Fair, said he’s not bothered at all by the pictures, which have been cropped to emphasize the subjects’ facial expressions. “I’m all for cheating. I mean, I need all the help I can get,” he said, as a smile spread slowly over his face.
Snowdon has never viewed photography as an art form. “It’s not one of the fine arts, and it quite upsets me that at the Royal College of Art, for example, it’s put in a category with painting and sculpture. Photographs are things that should be pinned on a wall, and when you stop liking them — just tear them up! And they’re very easy to reproduce, which is one of the reasons they’re not art.”
Snowdon has a similar irreverent attitude toward his subjects. “His charm is his candor,” said milliner Philip Treacy at Snowdon’s opening-night party. “He has a way of pulling you right down to size. I don’t want to say what he said to me while he was shooting me, but we’re still friends.”
Jasper Conran, another guest at the party, said Snowdon made him take his shirt off during a sitting. “I was already tense, and that made me even more so,” he said, laughing. “The photo turned out beautifully. Tense, but beautiful.”
Six months ago, Snowdon shot crooner Macy Gray — and he said it was not a pleasant experience.
“She walked into the studio late, and then she walked right out again to buy some gramophone records. She showed up two hours later and then announced that she didn’t want to be photographed alone,” he said, shaking his head. “I really think the more talent people have, the more polite they are: Lawrence Olivier and Alec Guinness always arrived on time and were impeccably behaved. It’s only the gutter snipes who leave their lipstick on the studio floor — and that’s just the men!”
Snowdon said there’s one person he’d love to photograph, but fears the time has passed: The Pope.
“Everyone has a shot of the Pope landing somewhere, but mine is quite different from the rest. I once took a photo as the Pope was landing in a helicopter on a sandpit near Rome. But I was blinded by the sand, and my photo turned out to be one of the pilot, instead. It was highly unfortunate,” he said. “Now, I think it’s too late. I don’t think it would be appropriate to ask for a photo. It would be rather cheeky.”