If you’re not familiar with the work of Patrick Lichfield, then glossy is a good word to remember. As a titled man, he had unprecedented access to the Royal Family and the aristocratic elite as well as many of the fashion stalwarts of the past forty years. Following his death in 2005, this recently released book attempts to encapsulate the essence of Lichfield’s huge body of work, most of which belies its impossibly glossy (in both the grooming and ‘Hello’ magazine sense) aspect to reveal a much more subtle, complicated side to his many subjects.
Already an accomplished photographer, in 1967 Lichfield was commissioned by Diana Vreeland to shoot the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their home in Paris for American Vogue. Some of the photos are included here. They are remarkable candid shots, very unlike the stern portraits of the couple that we’ve all seen before. Lichfield had a great knack for getting to the core of his subjects – even if they didn’t really want him to.
Lichfield won’t be remembered primarily for his fashion photography, but the selection in this book is notable for the parade of stylish characters that swan through the pages. Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Cecil Beaton, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Oliver Reed… he knew and shot everyone. Actresses, monarchs, political protesters – everyone.
The real strength in Lichfield’s repetoire (and in this book) was his photographs of immediate, unplanned moments. His posed photographs fall down a little when compared with the unplanned emotion that he could somehow wring from a subject’s face.
There is a flip side to all this candidness and rawness – the many, many pages of photographs of the current royal family at work, at play and at Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding. All immaculately posed, all immaculately glossy. I was slightly jarred by the contrast between the two styles, although many people with find that dichotomy very interesting.
This book is beautifully presented and cleanly laid out – one large picture per page to pore over, exactly the way a retrospective should be.
Patrick Lichfield: Perceptions is publihed by Quadrille.