Alexi Lubomirski: A 'Decade' of Photographs and Princely Lessons
When Milk Made met with photographer Alexi Lubomirski recently, he was supposed to be in the Hamptons surrounded by sand dunes and the Atlantic’s brisk winds. The photo shoot wasn’t meant to be in a studio, but Lubomirski’s new book, Decade, illustrates just how good he is at working both under a white ceiling and the open sky.
“A big signature of my work is the mixture of studio with location, placing them next to each other on magazine pages in a way the two images dance off each other,” says Lubomirski, a fashion photographer who’s shot for Vogue, GQ and Harpers Bazaar capturing images of Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts. His work often creates a visual story in which a dialogue develops between the contrasting images.
While Lubomirski purposefully shoots to get the cinematic feel of film stills, capturing his subjects in moments of "visual transit," it wasn’t until he started putting together Decade that he was able to clearly see the power of juxtaposing his studio and location work.
"Sandy," Lubomirski reponds when asked why he is publishing the retrospective in the first place. His piercing blue eyes widen as he recalls the anxiety the storm struck in him. “I was stuck in LA, as Hurricane Sandy was raging here in New York. I was so worried about my wife and my son and my dog stuck in our high rise. That night I had a dream that I had an exhibition with the number 10. I woke up and I realized that that coming July would be 10 years of being a photographer.”
For the next three days, as he sat in his hotel room glued to the news waiting for his wife to call, Lubomirski eased his anxiety by hooking up his hard drive and editing every single piece he ever shot.
“I wanted to see if my dream was telling me something,” he says. “I realized the range I was lucky enough to do in my work. I suddenly felt so lucky to move from models to celebrities to locations to studio.”
By the time his flight was rescheduled, Lubomirski had selected 2,000 images he felt would be perfect for a book detailing the last 10 years of his career.
“Naively, I thought I was going to put out this encyclopedia of everything, but thankfully my wife Giada Torri, who curated the book, and Alex Gonzalez, the book’s designer, were able to create a single vision,” he says. “They were able to show the best of what I’ve done.”
It wasn’t until more recently, during the past five years, that Lubomirski has been able to trust his gut. “It’s like a muscle. The more you trust it, the better the work is,” he explains. “When you start off being a photographer you try to emulate certain photographers. So you wind up trying to be edgy or commercial and then gradually you whittle it down until you see who you truly are. I now embrace it rather than fight it.”
Soon after the production of Decade, Lubomirski began to embrace other aspects of himself, in particular his aristocratic bloodline. For 500 years the title Prince had been attached to the Lubomirski name. Before World War II, his relatives in Poland served as statesmen, diplomats and philanthropists.
His grandfather was the last to live the life of a prince. In turn, his father’s generation saw what was lost and tried to adapt to the new world.
“My father tried to teach me this, but it was difficult because he was trying to teach me the ways of the old world, but I was living in the new world,” recalls Lubomirski. “So when I had a son, I started to understand my own father, as one does, and I thought how do I help my son have an easier time than I did in marrying his past with his present?”
He did that by penning a letter to his son on how to be a gentleman. That letter would turn into the book Notes for a Young Prince.
“I use the word prince partly because it’s my title, but the word prince illustrates the ideal of a man, which we should all strive to be,” Lubomirski says. “It’s being a gentleman, being chivalrous, being romantic, being courageous. If I did everything in the book, I’d be a much better man for it. So it’s also for me.”
All proceeds from Notes for a Young Prince go to Concern Worldwide, a charity that works with the world’s poorest people to transform their lives, whether it’s building sustainable livelihood in Rwanda or building homes for those in Haiti displaced by natural disasters.