Inside Arthur Elgort’s whitewashed studio in SoHo, Sophie, his only daughter and eldest child, is setting up a camera tripod. “Where’d you get that?” he wonders aloud. “It’s yours!” trills the baby-faced blonde. It’s safe to say she knows her way around. “She’s been here since she was born,” he says.
From kindergarten on, Sophie would get dropped off after school. “Or when I didn’t go to school and played hooky,” she deadpans. It was also here that her training, in a sense, began, as she played dress up with the famous models in the studio and trailed the man she knew as “dad” but fashion knew as one of its great photographers. And “we would practice,” the proud father beams.
Eventually, Sophie, now 29, turned those hours of preparation into a profession, and she’s become a photographer in her own right. In the coming weeks, she’s raising the stakes by launching a lifestyle Web site.
“I think you have to approach it differently,” she says of the project. “You can’t only do photos anymore. Now it’s, like, OK, we want to shoot you shooting. We want to shoot the behind the scenes. We want to make sure you Instagram.”
On a recent afternoon, father and daughter are at the sun-filled studio, reminiscing about past photo shoots with the original supes (“No one thought [Christy Turlington] was good,” remembers Arthur. “Somebody at Ford Agency said, ‘We have much better girls in here.’” ) and Sophie’s childhood.
Growing up, instead of cereal boxes, cameras lined the kitchen table, and the family — which includes brothers Ansel, the actor, and Warren, a filmmaker, and mom Grethe Barrett Holby — would often snap portraits before sitting down to eat.
“I would make my friends dress up. And my brothers, I’d dress them up like girls,” she says.
She didn’t immediately fall into photography. At Brown University, she registered as premed before eventually swiveling back to her adolescent calling. “In college I got nervous about not having a path. But then I got back to New York and saw my parents doing what they loved and I went, ‘You know what? I don’t have to do this,’” she says.
She picked up the camera again at 23, and landed professional jobs — her last name probably helped — shooting for brands such as Alice + Olivia during New York Fashion Week, as well as Topshop, Theory, Bloomingdale’s and vintage clothing line Aliomi, which was started by a group of her high school friends.
“To tell you the truth, they were good,” Arthur says of those early images. “[If not] I would have said, don’t be a photographer.”
Sophie laughs. She knows her dad well. “You don’t sugarcoat anything,” she tells him. “If anything, it’s the opposite.”
After she launched a Web site to showcase her portfolio in 2010, interest in her own work, separate from her father’s, grew.
“I get all these questions on my social media from aspiring young photographers or designers,” she says. “Everything from the amateur who wants to know what type of camera they should buy for their trip to China to aspiring young photographers who are in high school and ask how I got started.”
When the site relaunches, it will carry more frequent posts, answers to fans’ questions as well as entries on Elgort’s travels and style. “I remember being that age and I was lucky enough to have access to the industry, so I could be on shoots and meet with different editors and talk to them about how things were going and ask my questions — a lot of people don’t have that opportunity,” she says. Or, needless to say, a father who is an established photographer. “So it’s really nice to give that to people who wouldn’t get it otherwise. You never know who’s going to be the next great person or designer or artist.”
In setting up the site, she’s following in the footsteps of her father, who was always her greatest cheerleader and mentor.
“He always said do something that you really loved to do,” she says, looking at Arthur. “You always said that if you take one good picture every day, at the end of the week you have seven good pictures.”
Hearing this, Arthur lights up. He seems to have an idea. “I always take pictures,” he says, mischievously. “I haven’t taken one yet today….”
Sophie takes the lead in setting up a father-daughter self-portrait.
“What do you think?” she asks dad. Arthur just looks at her and shrugs. “You’re the photographer,” he says.