All of the 160 portraits in photographer Johnny Rozsa’s retrospective book Untouched were taken before the days where photoshop made everyone better looking. But as he discovers, there’s charm in imperfection.
In his thirty years as a photographer, Johnny Rozsa has captured some of the most famous people in the world, but you’ll hardly recognise them in his latest book. Laid out like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rozsa presents Halle Berry when she had real curves, Christian Slater when he had blonde highlights, The Jackson Five when they looked nothing like they do now, Arnold Schwarzenegger with a flock of seagulls haircut, one giant arm clutching the absolutely stunning Andrea Dellal. Rozsa also shot in London, photographing Hugh Grant, before someone wisely suggested he tweeze his mono-brow, a long-haired Tilda Swinton and an even longer haired Michael Clark. The Blitz kids of the London scene get a look in too; Boy George is photographed with a shock of Brillo’d hair, while Leigh Bowery and his partner at the time Trojan are in full make-up, which Rozsa reveals, they wore all the way on the tube journey to his studio. Rozsa shot Bowery for the cover of i-D in 1987, The Plain English Issue (top image). Other highlights from the book include Jade Jagger in a velour onesie and Catherine Zeta-Jones when she was a Welsh beauty, not a Hollywood superstar. “What has happened to the way we look at images?” Rozsa asks, “everything is plasticised.” i-D Online caught up with the New-York based photographer to talk beauty, cameras and Kate Moss.
What is it about people that interests you so much? Actually I hate people! There are too many of us. I wish there were less of us and more room for animals and fish and wildlife to continue their lives undisturbed! But then I love people too! Especially bright witty people. I love pretty people, especially to photograph. I will never forget meeting Kate Moss one weekend in Woodstock, New York. The sun was setting and she was riding on the back of a motorbike and I was mesmerised by the light hitting the planes of her facial bone structure. That is interesting to me.
Do you see think you see the world differently from other people? I don’t know how other people see the world, but I am very opinionated about the things I see. Sometimes people think I’m being arrogant or rude, but after all these years as a visualist I see things really quickly and can make decisions very fast about what clothes fit, or how hair should be or whether to focus more on eyes or lips or whatever.
What first made you pick up a camera and start taking pictures? I used to paint, but got bored filling in backgrounds and so l moved on. I knew lots of models and photographers and I have a keen visual eye so picking up a camera was very natural, and I enjoyed the instant results of a photograph.
Tell us about your background in photography? I never went to Art school to learn photography, but while at Manchester University I met Joe Gaffney and he inspired me a lot. He went on to the Royal College of Art and then worked quite a bit for French Vogue. He taught me about creating a three-dimensional image on a flat piece of paper. The rest I blundered on by myself, making mistakes and learning from them. I learned many photographic tricks in the darkroom too.
You’ve taken a great deal of iconic celebrity portraits, what aspects of a person do you try to explore? Their humanity. I like people to look their best in my photographs, and sometimes that can be sexy, or soft or strong, or funny or frisky!
Who is the most beautiful person you have ever taken a picture of? Honestly there have been so many beauties. Tina Turner was beautiful when I photographed her. Arnold, the Governor of California now, was a stunning specimen of a man when I photographed him. Kirsty Hume, the Scottish model has a delicate Celtic beauty about her.
Have you ever fallen in love with someone whilst working? I have! I fell in love with a model called Nicholas once…. and fought hard not to let my lust get in the way of being a professional photographer…and funnily enough my love for him has lasted 25 years…we are still great friends. I even had a small crush on Chris Isaac, especially as he sang just for me with his guitar.
You love black and white photography, is their a need for the revival of this classic medium? I do love the black and white image, and am happy to see it is very much alive these days. We live in a new century, full of invention and brilliance. It is time to use the modern technologies that keep appearing hour by hour! I cannot believe how much history I have witnessed. I remember using a telephone with an operator on a switchboard!
What modern photographers, stylists, magazines and models do you admire? I am crazy about Steven Klein’s photography. I adore his imagination. Did you see the images in Japanese Vogue of guys dressed as horses? Fantastic! I am a big fan of Michael Roberts too and have known him well for decades. He is a brilliant writer, and illustrator as well as an extraordinary stylist. I worship the new crop of models like Caroline Trentini and Coco Rocha.
What is your proudest achievement? Staying alive to curate Untouched! So many of my contemporaries are not around anymore….but somehow I’m still kicking!
Untouched by Johnny Rozsa, published by Glitterati is on sale now.