February 21, 2018

Hunter Arthur: Capturing New York Fashion Week’s Candid Moments

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.

Photography at fashion weeks around the globe is fairly routine and choreographed. The heavily staged photographs of runway models, the rather staged event photographs of designers, celebrities and others in attendance. But at this year’s New York Fashion Week, photographer Hunter Arthur wanted to get a more casual peek behind the curtain. The New York-based photographer, who recently cut his teeth at Annie Leibowitz’s studio, and in his own freelance projects, took a couple of Polaroid cameras backstage at New York Fashion Week to look for stories unfolding in real time.

All told, Hunter snapped around 200 polaroids. The photos, comprised of not just models, designers and their assistants, but of stylists, guests and many others, present an altogether different picture to the usual runway fashion glitz. Hunter’s subjects are captured in a variety of candid scenarios—lounging, joking around, and even playing guitar. He also managed to take Polaroid photos of Gucci Mane and Whoopi Goldberg, amongst others.

As Hunter tells Polaroid Originals, this was his first ever New York Fashion Week. He had moved to New York last year to work for Annie Liebowitz’s studio as an assistant. But about four months ago Hunter struck out on his own. He wasn’t supposed to be in New York for Fashion Week, but a change in vacation plans convinced him to stay and photograph the backstage happenings.

“It seemed like something really fun thing to do, [so] I reached out to a couple of people I knew to see if I could get access for coverage, and it kind of progressed from there,” says Hunter. “I didn’t want to do normal coverage like runway or regular backstage pictures since the industry is so inundated with that. One of my friends actually shoots a lot with Polaroid, and because Polaroid Originals had come out with new film, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to test it out and go from there.”

Hunter, as it turns out, already had some history with Polaroid cameras. Before learning on 35mm, medium format and digital cameras in high school and college, he had taken photos with his father’s Polaroid 600 series OneStep. After shooting many of his professional projects on digital cameras, Hunter decided he wanted to transition back to film, including instant analog.

“Instant analog film is just a really accessible means of quenching my thirst for film because it’s so quick and easy, and I don’t have to process it myself,” says Hunter. “For this project, I used my dad’s old Polaroid 600 series OneStep camera, as well as the new OneStep 2.”

Arthur’s Fashion Week project also marked another shift in approach. Like any other professional photographer, Arthur is accustomed to bringing multiple lights and scrims to shoots, as well as enlisting a few assistants to help with the lights and set up a scene. For this project, he was able to operate solo.

“With the Polaroid camera, because it was retro, I decided to go as bare as possible and get out of my comfort zone and just use what light was available to me at the time, along with the flash,” Arthur says of his setups for the New York Fashion Week shoot. “It was about looking for moments that were already happening and capturing them as quickly as possible, instead of setting up a fake moment and trying to curate it.”

“People were going to be hanging out and chilling, so I went in with the mindset of knowing that people were going to be more relaxed and themselves,” he adds. And Arthur’s Polaroid cameras proved to be conversation-starters. As he roamed the backstage Fashion Week areas, people asked Arthur about the cameras, which made it easier to capture people in a more relaxed mood.

“Usually when I’m working in a backstage environment I’m either prepping for the shoot or shooting, so I never really have time to converse with the talent who are doing these shows,” Hunter observes. “So just being able to hang out with these people, whether it’s makeup artists, designers, models or celebrities, and not having to think about capturing an exact moment,. allowed me to live more in the moment.”

“Before, my call sheets were planned to every 15 minutes, where we’re going to do this and then 15 minutes later we’ll do another outfit and pose, and so on,” says Hunter after a moment’s thought. “Being freed from that scheduling forced me to follow a story as it’s happening, and this has changed how I want to produce my own narratives. I want to step away from the more curated shooting and instead put people together, then capture the moments as they happen. It’s allowing me to pursue a more holistic and natural approach to documenting stories.”

See more of Hunter Arthur’s photography on his Instagram account.

The Cultural Impact of Polaroid ➜

20 Original Instant Portraits ➜

Backstage With Vivienne Westwood ➜