Frazer Harrison for Getty Images
Written By Marisa Swanson, on October 8, 2009
There is a general sort of malaise that hovers in the atmosphere at the end of fashion week. There are fewer onlookers outside the tents trying to catch celebrity entrances. There are less people milling about indoors in the middle of the afternoon. People are still walking around aimlessly, but with a look of apathy rather than anticipation.
Amidst a crowd of these half-zombie like fashion devotees, and in between lines for the next shows I met Frazer Harrison. We sat on the edge of the Bryant Park Fountain, which had been turned into a statue that overflowed with green garlands (rather than water) for its rein in the tent. He had just finished an interview with someone else from the press, but instead of being tired and jaded he sprightly suggested that we get a beer from the bar before sitting down to do our interview.
He’s been a photographer for nearly twenty five years. He’s been working for Getty images, snapping up celebs, for the last decade. Over a couple of cold Peronis I got a chance to discuss with him a few aspects of the “entertainment” photographer’s life, as well as a few tips on how to look great in your own photos.
Papierdoll (PD): The most obvious question to start with is what got you into photography?
Frazier Harrison (FH): Photography was always a hobby, keen childhood interest. Got a job working at a newspaper in the darkroom, learned from others, persuaded the newspaper to train me and send me to college, which they did. Slow ladder up, start at the bottom; it isn’t easy. You have to be willing to do the jobs that nobody wants to do. I was in the army [photographing]; I’ve done diving shoots and caving shoots.
PD: Why did you leave Britain for LA to do Celebrity photography?
FH: After fifteen years in newspapers I couldn’t bear to do another Czech presentation or nativity play. I was like, ‘I’m done with this.’
PD: How do you find it?
FH: It’s great. So much fun. 10 years have flown by. [I've] experienced so many things that someone working in an office doesn’t get to experience.
PD: What’s today been like so far?
FH: Fairly light, show number 4, you know it’s a light day. One or two more shows left. All going according to plan.
PD: What would be something that doesn’t go according to plan?
FH: Couple of minor technical hitches like the show starts and you touch the button to take the picture and nothing happens. You deal with it. It’s a bit like, you see those movies with the bombs ticking down and you have thirty seconds to diffuse it otherwise you’ve got a complete disaster on your hands and that’s pretty much how it goes. You go through all the possibilities in your head why the camera doesn’t work and if you can’t figure it out then you get to sit back and enjoy the show. Equipment wise you take one camera in, a lot of the guys are standing on their spare because they’re packed in cases. If a camera breaks down while a show’s on that’s it. The other guys don’t want you to try and get it. They’re actually more willing to give you their pictures than you jeopardize them not getting their shot. The show that went wrong for me I had to manually focus the camera.
PD: What’s going through your head when you’re at an event, or a show? Is it all about the picture?
FH: [At a show], we have great fun! We’ll be like, ‘oh, look at this one here!’ I can’t repeat everything! You get pulled into a moment. High fashion always gets the guys excited. Any A list female young, attractive girl will get the guys going. Megan Fox walks in with a low-cut top, trust me they’re going to scream and they’re going to scream loud.
PD: What about an event? What have you shot?
FH: Oscars, Emmys, movie premiers. You name it, I’ve probably shot it. It’s a crazy affair. Everyone starts screaming, a thousand more flashes pop. You’ve really got to be in the zone. You have to concentrate and be able to project your voice louder than the person next to you. Certain photographers have certain sayings, ‘Over here for the fat guy!’ or ‘Over here, I’ll make you famous!’, which is funny to do to an A-lister. I’d never thought I’d go to the Oscars. Reality changes your perception of what goes on. It’s a glamorous industry, but I’m there working. I never know where I’m going to be or what I’m going to be doing from day to day. You have to take every day like it’s the first day. I get butterflies on jobs. ‘I can’t mess this up. I can’t afford to mess this up!’
PD: What advice can you give to someone posing for a photo?
FH: Make sure what you’re wearing reflects your personality. Dress comfortably because if you’re dressed in something that you’re not sure about, that’s going to show. Stick to what you know works. Stand up straight. What I do is practice a false smile, learn how to hold it for the duration.
Harrison and I deviated from the primary interview several times; his affable nature demanded it. Off the record we spoke of other photographers in the business who’d made it big and had become millionaires themselves. He said to me, “Do you want to know what a million dollar picture is? A million dollar picture is so powerful that it changes people’s lives when they look at it. Or it’s a picture that is so ridiculously frivolous that people are willing to pay a million dollars for it.”
The last thing Harrison left me with before we parted ways (I home to breathe after the hectic week, he on to another show) was, “I got where I am…it’s a strange story really. I don’t believe I’m better than anyone else out there. I guess Getty have [sic] been good to me. I’ve had a good ride so far, and it can only get better.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yeah, why not?”, he answered.