The story behind the image of Kate Moss

08 January, 2018

Written by: Clare Gillsäter

Albert Watson has a philosophy: the bigger the personality, the simpler the photo. The candid shot of Kate Moss gazing into the distance echoes that creed. With a multitude of celebrity portraits, scores of magazine covers and dozens of movie posters under his belt, he has had ample opportunity to put this principle into practice. And how he uses light is part of this approach, whether it be natural light or light shaped by the equipment that has become part of his essential toolbox.

Natural vibes

Albert was in Morocco shooting for several different magazines; this particular image of Kate was taken for German Vogue. 

It was 5:00 p.m. on January 16, 1993. We were on a rooftop in Marrakech, illuminated by the warm late afternoon sun. The brief called for a focus on beauty and skin, hence the nude shot to emphasize Kate's grace. Albert's signature simplicity came into play while he was planning the lighting. He used only natural sunlight to shape the image, which brings its own challenges – it shifts constantly. You need to have good intuition and be capable of quickly adjusting to the light's changing brightness and nuances.

The whole production exuded natural vibes. Kate’s hair fell freely and her makeup was minimal, so there was little prepping. There were no outfits to arrange. Albert could focus on a successful shot without waiting for hairdressers, make-up artists and stylists to put together the whole look.

Kate Moss was up-and-coming. The camera loved her, and although she has a great instinct for the camera, she was still learning to return the love. Albert took her out of herself: “You look like a wood nymph or a fairy in the woods.” He asked her to visualize herself “crouching down, and you’re a bit nervous looking for something.”

Take a closer look at the image. Kate is leaning slightly forward, with a wistful look in her eyes. And as she does so, her body captures that late afternoon sun, the light moulding her.

The result is this iconic image: lasting light casts a flawless matte glow over Kate’s body.

Take two

The second shot of Kate taken from behind shows the perfect curvature of her spine. That he created the same mood in this image, although it was taken indoors with studio-style lighting, is a credit to Albert and his conception of light. He managed to replicate natural light and its soft effect. The photgraphs from the session in Morocco are some of the most celebrated images of Kate Moss; they are also among her personal favorites. Despite the very different conditions, Albert captured the same effect of light on her skin in both images, maintaining a sense of continuity throughout the series. 

Birthday girl

The date of the shoot is significant. Kate Moss has been known as many things – a supermodel, a style icon, a hip trailblazer in fashion. When she arrived in Marrakech that January afternoon she was fresh-faced and on the brink of an outstanding career.

Albert worked with her all day, 14 hours from start to finish. They took about 25 shots, and Albert said she was fantastic, not complaining even once. At the end of the day she turned to him and said, “I just want you to know one thing. Today is my birthday.” She had just turned 19.

Diversity in his craft

When photographing Kate Moss, Albert Watson used two of his master qualities – his genius in seeing and using the subtleties of light and his ability to connect with people.

He values quality and diversity in his craft. He shoots celebrities, landscapes and fashion – all with the same passion and concern for quality. Variety has always been the driving force of his work, and he believes it continues to make his life more interesting.

Pure and perfect

Albert is a lover of the purity of photography. He is passionate about the art it embodies. These images capture that love in its simple beauty. They are a perfect and pure image of Kate, the girl.

Written by: Clare Gillsäter