WELCOME TO THE GLAM SIDE
What is there in the movement of a body, in anatomy, that attracts you?
I liked it so much when I was at “Les Beaux Arts” that I studied Anatomy for four years instead of taking the usual 6 months course; they even asked me to become a teacher at some point. I developed a great interest for living creatures; they are the most beautiful mechanisms that exist, pure complexity. Imagine how every part of body is related; bone to muscle and muscle to bone. You can’t cut them, you can’t separate them, because it’s their interaction that makes them so beautiful. It’s just perfection and the application of the skill of God. In my opinion, anatomy allows us to understand beauty in a more intense and profound way. The revelation of anatomy is kind of a religious experience.
It seems that in some sort of way you treat the people are the subjects of your pictures like actors, as if they were part of a scene.
Yes, because my main influence is cinema. I had this revelation when I was 9 and I saw “Samson And Delilah” with Hedy Lamarr, and it just hooked me forever, all that luscious exuberance and the eternal beauty. Amongst all possible channels, cinema is the channel that brings you closer to the dream, if that makes sense. I don’t want to compare, but while anybody can make a film, to make a good one you need brilliant skills. This whole concept of cinema makes me consider myself not as just a photographer; this is just one aspect of me. For example, I don’t have a passion for technique; some do, but I don’t and while I know it’s essential, it’s the basis you need to create a new thing. Before shootings I often do storyboards; I have this thing with telling stories.
To what extent do you take part in the artistic direction when you’re taking pictures?
I always say that my priorities in this life are my parents, work and then my partner, in that order. I can only love if I’m happy at work. It’s a question of life and death for me; this is the reason for my existence. It’s a great privilege to be able to do it, but there’s lots of work behind, it means sacrificing all your life, your health, your sleep…. It doesn’t matter what kind of work it is; I have to do it intensely. When I did this short film with Dita Von Teese I even had a panic attack; I was almost not going to show up at all. The crew had to come and fetch me because I was so scared, but once I was there it was pure magic. And as always, when I stopped I was depressed; when a magical project finishes coming back to reality is boring. I still get stressed in all my projects, and after all these years, I still feel scared.
Joseph Campbell said: “The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light”. Your pictures tend to use a very mysterious sort of light, as if it was used to transform, show and hide at the same time.
You can’t be an artist if you haven’t had an early disappointment with the world that surrounds you. This disappointment is almost deathly, it’s a way of dying to become reborn; besides, though you need to feel unsatisfied you must work and do things. You cannot create if you don’t feel happiness, even to create dark things. Coming out of personal dissatisfaction, my vision of beauty evolved over time; beauty is best when it’s on the border of becoming its opposite. It’s all about light and shadows. And lighting is the pallet of the painter that I use to create my world because you need light to have darkness and darkness to have light.
Apart from the light, another thing that we can see in your work is a very special way of portraying women. That strong woman, is it a unique being or does every woman have that strength inside them, to your eyes?
I’m absolutely convinced that every woman has the power to be unique as long as they are able to dream at night. But in the end, very rarely do people really embrace this; you have to be brave and not care about what others think to be unique. Society forces you to be conventional and to create your own style is not encouraged. Every woman can be beautiful; Dita Von Teese says there are no ugly women, but only lazy women. And she gets ready in 45 minutes! The women that I find the most beautiful are not the ones that are naturally beautiful; it’s everything to do with the transformation.
There’s one woman that always looks very confident in your pictures and that is Dita Von Teese. Tell us what you felt the first time you met her.
There are people in the world that you are bound to meet; it’s like an obligation. I met Dita through the divine Suzanne von Aichinger and Mr. Pearl, my Muse and the corset maker. Many moons ago Dita saw a picture of Kylie Minogue that I took at his studio and she said that she wanted to meet me. So we organized a dinner and I feel in love immediately; she was the woman that I had been drawing since I was 5, my dream girl. We started working together shortly after that, and have already done more than 20 shoots. Dita is my vision of an ideal woman. She’s one of the most beautiful women in the world and no one can imitate her. There was no way we couldn’t meet each other; we have the obsession for glamour as our religious mission.
Dita was the first guest at the Crazy Horse Cabaret. While we’re at it, what is your goal with this cabaret?
I always had three ideal women: the Thierry Mugler woman, the Golden Age of the glamourous Hollywood woman and the Crazy Horse woman. You can’t compare this cabaret to anything. And you cannot understand it unless you see it; there’s something very dark in it that fascinates me, this idea of powerful women in an army uniform. Crazy Horse is dangerous, because there’s always this Eros-Thanatos relationship in the air. I love that mysterious touch. These Crazy Horse women, they all have a personal quest for revenge and to take on beauty and glamour.
What is beautiful for Ali Mahdavi?
First of all, knowing your body and face and knowing what needs to be enhanced and what needs to be hidden. And then, having the Golden Age of Hollywood as a reference. There’s no way you can’t fail like that.
And what is ugly?
A woman with no personality whose opinion depends on others and follows fashion drastically. It’s crazy, years ago girls wanted to look like their mothers, now mothers want to look like daughters.
Sometimes it seems that photographers find a kind of shield behind the camera… If so, what does the camera protect you from?
I had this experience with a panther during a photo shoot for Cartier once. I was getting closer and closer and my assistant was pulling me back while the person in charge of the panther was warning me to be much more careful. I really had the impression that nothing could happen to me, I had my camera in the middle! (laughs) The camera makes you less shy, you feel very protected; it’s a shield, in a philosophical and physical way. You can be who you are.
Complete the sentence: artistic expression as way of defending… your own world, the one that allows you to survive the real world.
Interview: Ane Guerra
Web: Ali Mahdavi
Assistants: Guillaume Thomas y Andoni Beristain
Photo 1: Andoni Beristain
Photo 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8: Ali Mahdavi