Helena Christensen On How To Take A Supermodel Worthy Selfie

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by: Chloe Mac Donnell
27 Mar 2018

‘I can understand why people think I was always a model that started taking photos. But in fact, it’s the other way around. I was a photographer that started modeling.’ I’m sitting with Helena Christensen in a dimly lit lounge in a Parisian hotel. One of the original “Magnificent Seven” – a term coined by a New York newspaper, over twenty years ago when she, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer were ruling the runway  – Christensen is still looking pretty magnificent today. All glowy sunkissed skin, glossy hair, piercing green eyes and lithe toned arms in a sparkly rainbow striped knitted top, you can see a couple sitting behind us, clutching their cups of Café au lait as they pretend not to stare at the Danish supermodel/photographer. Christensen has flown from her home in New York to her favourite romantic city to shoot three “real” women as part of a project with HUAWEI. Using their latest phone which features the world’s first triple-lens Leica camera, Christensen has created a series of portraits featuring a ballet dancer, a pilot and an illustrator.  Warm, friendly and refreshingly open, you can instantly understand why Christensen is just as powerful and charming in front of the camera as she is behind it. Here she talks memorable runway moments, #selfies and why she’s in a strong position as female photographer in a post #MeToo world…



On what sparked her interest in photography….

‘My dad was a typographer and had a Hassblack camera. He would hand-make these huge posters and prints. He had a really strong sense of visual aesthetics that I think he must have passed onto me. And then I was always just generally curious about everything. My first camera were those cheap little ones where you put the flash-stick on top and ten photos later there would be a little explosion when it ran out. When I nineteen, I hitchhiked around the world with my boyfriend at the time. He was a photographer and that’s when I started shooting properly too.’

On why modeling turned out to be the best photography course…

‘When the possibility of modeling came around I thought: “Cool, I’ll get to travel and take pictures.” And in a way, it was almost like going to the best international photography school. I shot with the best photographers, so was able to learn their craft directly from them and absorb all this technical knowledge too. Like everyone from Irving Penn to Annie Leibovitz. It was the most extensive education I could have had. It was like being an intern in the most luxurious intern position.’

On her most memorable runway moment…

‘My agent was so excited when I got booked to walk in the Valentino show. I didn’t even know he was. I remember I was backstage and Sharon Stone was there. Everyone was opening champagne and I was like “I think this could be a good career for me.” And it’s only now I realise what an incredible history I was part of. To be fitted by the original designers and original seamstresses that was such an honour. It’s the same with the photographers of that time. I was the last part of a certain history and I’m so glad I got to do it.’

On re-uniting with the rest of the original supers as a tribute to Gianni Versace in the Versace spring summer 2018 show…

‘When you walk your mind is somewhere else so I think it was more emotional to watch than it was to walk in that show. It was only afterwards that I realised how touched we all were and how many others it had touched too. It was such an honour to do it. I went to bed and the next morning when I woke up I had 30,000 more Instagram followers. It had reached so many people.’

On her conflict with Instagram…

‘I’m so happy we didn’t have Instagram back when I and the other girls were starting out. It’s an added pressure. Nowadays, girls are measured by the amount of followers they have, rather than by being just themselves. I started my account about two years ago, but I use it more as a visual diary. It’s like a trail of my life. I kind of forget there are so many people looking at it.’

On shooting real women as part of her HUAWEI P20 Pro collaboration….

‘I’m so glad we picked people who aren’t just known for how many followers they have. It’s interesting people behind interesting talent. By using a phone rather than a huge camera, I was able to be really close and intimate with each of them. I like to feel their vibe and capture their spirit.’

On her photography style…

‘I’d describe it as intimate, personal and in a way melancholic. You’d probably find more moody looking pictures I’ve taken than joyful. But then again I think there is joy in the melancholy. I also love shooting in low light. You almost capture someones real mood and spirit in that way. When all colour is subdued and there is only feeling left in a way. At the end of the day in dusk, everything magnifies where the light gets lower, the spirit magnifies in the photo. The HUAWEI P20 Pro is so sensitive to light, going easily from low to lighter so that was a huge benefit. And to be able to capture a moving ballet dancer, on a phone, well, that’s amazing.’ 

On how to take a supermodel selfie…

‘I think you can learn a lot about yourself from doing selfies. But I don’t think it’s necessary to show them all. Sometimes you need to keep your selfies to yourself. It all comes down to good lighting. Direct flat light is good. Or a good back light. So play around. Turn yourself 360′ and find the light. If it coming straight at you or from above, put your chin down slightly. If it’s above, then top your chin up. That will give you deeper cheekbones.’

On being a female photographer…

‘There’s a huge element of trust between the photographer and subject. And it’s so cool that I get to be on both sides. I know what it’s like to have a camera pointed at you and give up that wall in front of you and show vulnerability, passion and strength. I know how intimidating that can feel so when I’m behind the lens I think I have a different approach. I think I’m in a really strong position being a female photographer. As a woman you feel comfortable in another woman’s company. Especially when showing body and skin which is all part of being a woman. I’ve never had a problem with it myself. And I can’t say in my career I’ve been in an intimidating situation. But I also speak up. Like if someone asked me to do something and I didn’t want to do it I’d be like “No fucking way!” So if you arrive on set and there’s a woman there.. the trust is so much bigger. There is a bond. Women look out for each other and take care of one another.’





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