Glenda Bailey Talks With Us About Harper’s Bazaar, The Obamas, & McQueen

Amidst all of the Fashion Week madness, we were lucky enough to preview Harper’s Bazaar‘s fantastic photography retrospective Harper’s Bazaar: A Decade of Style at the International Center of Photography, as well as the accompanying book Harper’s Bazaar: Greatest Hits. The best part? Being able to chat with Glenda Bailey about her work at Bazaar and all of those dazzling photographs.

While all of the photos are beautiful, some are downright unreal. What are the greatest lengths you’ve gone to for a shoot?

I think it was pretty surreal to be at the White House, and to see Michelle Obama. First of all, she looked so beautiful in L’wren Scott’s dress — so simple and chic. But it was so great to see her in a less formal way. She was dancing; she wanted to do these photos to support young musicians. To hear a choir sing, it was really moving, and then to see her actually dancing with another set of musicians, it was really spectacular. These are some of my faovrite pictures of her of all time. It’s the real her — she’s so warm and charismatic. When people photograph her, it becomes something different, something formal. I love to see photographs which really sum up people in a way you’ve never seen before. Originality and adventure to me is all important.

We’ve seen videos of her dancing! She’s so good.

She can boogie on down! I was lucky enough to go to the first state presentaiton and award ceremony at the White House, that the president did for Stevie Wonder. There were literally three rows of gold chairs, and the president and the first lady were seated in front of me. Of course Stevie was performing, and they had lots of celebrities and guests participate. It was such a great evening and a great event. All of the sudden everyone wondered, ‘Well what is the protocol here…Do we get up and dance?’ And of course they danced and participated, and it made it such a fantastic evening. He thanked Stevie Wonder, and said that the thing that really drew Michelle to him was the fact he loved Stevie Wonder as well. I love Stevie too! And she wore a dress by Kai Milla, Stevie’s wife. It was a beautiful green dress. It was a night to remember.

What’s your favorite cover that you’ve done?

I have so many favorite covers. I particularly love the one with Demi Moore, just becuase I think I was so inspired my McQueen’s collection. We actually shot it in the third week of December, and I had this vision as I called Demi and asked her. I wanted it to be a very surrealist landscape — almost like a Dali painting. So I called to see if she would agree to climb a spiral staircase going nowhere and be feeding a giraffe. And she was really game! I look back on that, and she was really quite brave! Those armadillo shoes are so high, so it’s very precarious as well with this staircase on the sand, and of course that really is a giraffe eating from her hand. She appreciated that we were trying to create an image which would be iconic. Later it turned out to be what I tihnk is one of the greatest tributes to Lee McQueen. We were at the collections at the beginning of February when we heard of his death, and of course that was on the April issue.

How do you reconcile doing such an artistic, avant garde cover like that one with the demand to come up with something commercial and sellable?

One thing I’m super proud of is that I was able to create the idea of the two covers. That came about bcecause they are for two different purposes. To the newsstand reader who is not familiar with the product, we have to stand out on the newsstand and explain to the reader what exactly is in the title because she’s unfamiliar with it. For the loyal readers, they know exactly what Harper’s Bazaar is known for. They’re more interested in an iconic image which maybe sums up the spirit of that particular month. It’s the best of both worlds. As you’ve seen, lots of our competitors have followed suit. That’s the greatest form of flattery.

Absolutely. Has this project been a long time in the making?

I started to edit the book about this time last year. I took a couple of weeks off and rented a house in Amagansett, and put everything out on the floor. Of course, when I presented it to [our publisher] Abrams, it was way too many pages. But because they loved it, they gave us a lot of extra pages. Consequently, that’s why the book is the size it is!

The book and exhibit showcase photos from the past 10 years. What makes this decade of fashion photography different than any other decade?

Well, the world is a very uncertain place. I think that has, in the same way that since September 11, there has been consistently metallics on the runway. If you look back in fashion history, always in times of trouble, you always see that people wear shiny clothes like armor. If you then move that sort of logic on to how we present those images, I think there’s a real need to be vital, to be accounted for. I think what’s so fascinating about the imagery that’s in this room is that all of these photographers have completely different styles. And yet, it all comes together and actually sums up the spirit of a magazine and a voice which is completely and utterly unique.

Harper’s Bazaar: A Decade of Style will be on display at the ICP until January 8th. Harper’s Bazaar: Greatest Hits can be purchased here.

Related: An Exclusive Peek At 10 Years Of Harper’s Bazaar Photography

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