Photographer Yelena Yemchuk discusses her unique friendship with her creative muse; model Guinevere Van Seenus, and their ‘Vanity’ project for Beauty Papers.
interview maxine leonard
The theme of our latest issue is ‘Vanity’. How did this affect your approach to this story?
We wanted to play with different characters, each one having its own ‘vanity’ of sorts.
Would you say working thematically was a creative restriction or did it inspire you?
This was pure inspiration – we kind of freestyled this. It is truly the best way of making images for me when you start with an idea that is vague and you just let things happen.
You both handled all aspects of the story; from hair to make-up, styling and – obviously – photography. What was your process in preparing for this shoot?
I just grabbed a bunch of stuff from my collection of props and clothing. I went to my favourite store in Hollywood and bought wigs, and then we went through things at Guinevere’s place. We planned it all out and just started to play; we shot for four days.
These images are incredibly beautiful yet challenging. For a truly iconic model like Guinevere, who seems to approach her work like a character actress more than a regular model, is it true to say it is necessary for her to possess the ability to dismiss personal vanity when approaching a shoot that is certainly beautiful, yet unconventionally so?
Guinevere and myself have known each other a long time and have become really good friends, especially in the last four years. She has been shot so much and there are so many incredible images of her out in the world, but I feel like we were just looking at this as our way to be creative – to just make whatever we wanted freely, with no one else around. It was a truly organic way to create imagery. It was a personal project in every way and we could be as weird as we wanted to be. Haha!
It is truly the best way of making images for me when you start with an idea that is vague and you just let things happen.
You have included nudity in this story, an area currently out of bounds for many male photographers due to recent controversies in the fashion world. Is it more acceptable for a female photographer to capture her subjects naked or in erotic situations?
Male photographers have been doing nudes for decades and so have female photographers, you just didn’t get to see those images as often. When you have the trust of the subject the nudity is comfortable and trusting and respectful.
Sometimes a model or muse comes along who is genuinely irreplaceable and I believe this is true of Guinevere. Is there vanity in the idea of a moment that is impossible to recreate with anyone else?
Guinevere is absolutely one of a kind; there is no one else out there like her. We talk about art and photography all the time. When we have dinner with my family, or hanging at the bar, or taking a walk we always come back in our conversation to wanting to create together – to make images together. That is truly a rare relationship and I really cherish it.
I’m inviting you both to be as vain as possible by proposing the question; would this truly memorable shoot have been possible had other people been involved?
I don’t think that it would have been possible. We both have very strong opinions and our own strong vision. This is our creation and only ours.
When you have the trust of the subject the nudity is comfortable and trusting and respectful.