MadonnaUnderground speaks to photographer Xavier Martin
April 15, 2013
Photographer Xavier Martin was invited to photograph Madonna on the set of the True Blue video in 1986. He took a few beautiful pictures and got to experience what it was like to work with Madonna back in the day. Our team member Fred visited him for an interview exclusively for MadonnaUnderground, all pictures below have been placed here with permission from the copyright owner.
- What was your first attraction when it comes to photography ?
For me it came naturally! My father offered a camera to me when I was 12 years old, consequently I started to photograph my family and my friends. I immediately understood that it was what I would like to do later. I had a friend who worked in a photo studio, I accompanied him each time that was possible, I learned much by observing him. Thereafter I canvassed press agencies and really had to hang… I managed to get a list of names of people who were interested in them.
I went to the residence of Grace Kelly and I took her in photo walking her dogs in the streets of Paris (with her agreement), this meeting was most important to my career.
Agency « SIPA Press » started to diffuse my pictures, I had become a professional photographer! Even if I rather did that by passion at the beginning, I really did not think of the commercial side…
- How did you build your style?
Initially, I thought I would rather lead to fashion photos. I love monochrome photos clean, quite natural things. I built my style of hard work, but nothing is fixed you know in my area it is constantly changing!
- Did you have a role model ?
Of course, I especially admired David Bailey, fashion photographer for the magazine “Vogue” English in 60’s/70’s.
- With your « stolen moments » dating the beginning of 70’s (Caroline de Monaco, Jacky Kennedy, Jean Paul Belmondo,…) can we say that you were one of the first French « Paparrazi » ?
It’s true that it could be compared to a work of the « Paparazzi », but you must know that at the time of the stolen moment pictures, the stars agreed to these photo’s (of their daily lives), so they were actually the opposite of a paparazzi photo
- You seem to appreciate “improvised” photo-shoots (Robert Mitchum 1984, Alvin Ailey 1986, Helmut Berger 1987) is it your signature there ?
In fact, what I love above all is how spontaneous it is! And it’s also a question of synergy, I like to bring my subject to give the best and reveal radiance.
- Was there a certain someone/a celebrity that you always wanted to photograph but never got to?
Oh yes, of course … I regret not being able to shoot John Wayne before his death, he was one of my dreams.
In music, my biggest regret is undoubtedly Michael Jackson, I do not know why there has never been a way to organize this. I would have loved to shoot the Neverland. That would have been absolutely incredible!
- Were you invited to photograph Madonna ?
With my agent we thought that it was time that a magazine such as « Paris Match » dedicated an article to her. We made an exclusive deal: including cover and six interior pages (photos + interview).
- Was Madonna in charge of the way she wanted to be photographed?
It was Liz Rosenberg, who handled the promotion of Madonna at the time, so we proposed to do this shoot during the filming of the music video of the single « True Blue ».
- Could you tell us more about how it happened ?
We left at the beginning of September 1986 to spend one week in New York city. Filming took place in the suburbs in a large hangar safe from inquisitive eyes. We had an unlimited access to the studio every day of shooting.
- How was your first meeting?
Liz introduced us, she was a very young Mid-West girl with an accent to cut with a knife and kept on chewing gum … She greeted us warmly, we offered her a small gift we had brought from France (a « Chanel » perfume). She thanked us and work could begin!
- Did she have a strong opinion on your work (or did she give any instructions)?
To be honest, there was no instruction from her. She’s very generous when she agrees she gives 200%. We were discrete, because the primary goal was the realization of the video clip… We surprised ourselves to censure ourself not to obstruct it! But rather she liked the idea that a photographer is constantly there, she posed as soon as she had the opportunity, and played with the objective.
- Did Madonna wanted to have the final word in approving the final pictures you took of her and which had to be deleted?
Once past security (two big fellows stationed outside the hangar door) we were completely part of the team! She was therefore 100% confident and never practiced censorship to us. I had full responsibility for managing all of my pictures.
- How was the interview?
Once again, that happened very simply. She landed with us in a corner of the studio, and gave us the time to answer all our questions. It is my agent (Denis Taranto) who conducted the interview.
- Were there several accredited photographers?
In 1986, it was rare for accredited photographers to shoot behind the scenes of a music video shoot. Specially if we take into account the technical constraints (using the existing hardware in decor and lighting terms). This photoshoot could not be considered as a photo session like « classic » promotion. Nevertheless, these constraints ultimately became an advantage because I was the only photographer accredited!
- Did you speak to Madonna? if so, any witty remarks or anything interesting you remember and like to share?
I remember she states her opinion on everything… She directed the three dancers and regularly gave advice for position and movements which they were to make, she was particularly attentive to the choreography. She did not hesitate to give her opinion to James Foley (director of the video) she was viewing each take with him and even checked the location of the camera’s …
I also remember a day or a person in charge of “Warner Music France” came to the set to give her a Gold disc for the album « True Blue », it sold over 100.000 copies in our country in the first week of it’s release! (Ndlr : Today the album has surpassed 1.5 million copies in France and 25 million worldwide).
- Were your pictures ever used for publication?
Not really, I distributed my pictures via professional agencies, after that they entirely manage the rights. As a result I know that they were sold in the entire world (Germany, England, United States, Japan,…) but not precisely for which magazines…
- Have you worked with Madonna again? Would you like to?
Unfortunately I never reworked with her after this experience. I must say that « Paris Match » we had a little toast over Madonna because we promised a cover (+ 6 pages) and at the last moment they changed their frame by another cover of Caroline of Monaco! In addition, our article went from six to four pages… Liz then informed us that she was not too happy about that. From here it was really difficult to organize another shoot with Madonna. It’s a shame because I would liked to have done a photo shoot in a more intimate matter, at home for example, or a series in the studio.
- Are there slides or photo’s which would have seemed interesting to publish?
Oh yes … There are over two hundred photo’s of this session (he shows me the slides) and there is nothing useless among them! She’s always perfect in the pictures, and sometimes even funny and unexpected, she is very spontaneous that I liked in this session.
- Since almost two years an exhibition dedicated to the first photography sessions of Madonna turns worldwide (“Madonna: In transformational Exhibition”) Would you like to be part of such an exhibition with other photographers or do you prefer to show only your work?
Of course, this kind of project could be considered. But I also like to present all of my work, as I did during the exhibition in the private rooms of the « Centre Barclays Premier » Avenue George V, Paris (March 2012). I was presenting the most iconic of my career, including the Serge Gainsbourg bathtub pic. There was of course also a picture of my Madonna set…
We would like to thank Mr. Martin very warmly for having opened his photo studio doors to me, for his availability and his kindness but also for agreeing to share his archives with us.