NEW YORK — He’s photographed ad campaigns for Versace, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren and been a contributor to Vogue and Vanity Fair for years. Now, Bruce Weber’s fashion photography has been compiled in a 450-page coffee-table book called “Blood, Sweat and Tears: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Fashion,” published by teNeues. WWD caught up with him before his book signing at Bergdorf Goodman Wednesday night to discuss his work, magazines and his love for Helmut Newton.
WWD: The title of the book is “Blood, Sweat and Tears: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Fashion.” Yet it seems in many ways that your obsession with physical perfection makes you perfectly suited to the fashion world.
Bruce Weber: Thanks. I take that as a major compliment because most people think I like to throw the clothes right out the window. Editors say to me, “Where are the clothes?” and I say, “The dog has them in its mouth.” I’m always getting in trouble because people wanted to see the clothes from head to toe on the models.
WWD: By everybody, whom do you mean?
B.W.: Everybody [big laugh]. One time, when I first started, I was doing a job for Glamour, with Patti Hansen and this young guy named Keith. I was on a farm and I got really involved with this horse, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if you just got a glimpse of [the people] from the side?” Because I thought, “The jeans aren’t new.” Then I came back with the pictures and they said, “Where are the clothes?” And I said, “They’re in your mind or your spirit.” I like to look at fashion reportage pictures in the newspapers, because there’s a freeness to it. They’re not so concerned about it in the way people selling clothes need to be. Maybe it’d be better if clothes weren’t sold, if they were just given away.
WWD: It’s also about having a sense of humor, correct?
B.W.: Yes. I always felt a sense of humor allows you to get away with a lot.
WWD: Toward the end of the book, you write about growing up near a woman named Lypsinka, who taught you how to wear high heels and couture. Then you show the drag queen Lypsinka on the next page.
B.W.: I wanted to do a make-believe story, sort of like the kind my parents read to me as a child. I kind of imagined a neighbor like that because I wished I’d had one. Maybe then I’d see the world in a different way.
WWD: What’s wrong with your world view now? Do you think you’re too square?
B.W.: I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, I went to boarding school and Baptist College. That seems pretty square to me.
WWD: One of the book’s most surprising images is Helmut Newton with his wife, June. She’s dressed in men’s drag and his hand is on her breast. Were you a big fan of his?
B.W.: Yeah. Helmut and June were sort of my adoptive parents. I spent so much time with them at the Chateau Marmont. I loved that he loved women so much and so one day, I thought, “Why not dress June up like a guy?” Partly because Helmut was always teasing me about photographing all these good-looking men.
WWD: What other photographers inspired your work?
B.W.: Lisette Model, my teacher at The New School. I found out about her through Diane Arbus. I really admired her so much. Also, Edward Weston and August Sander.