Fashion Forward

Fashion photographer Erik Madigan Heck is a badass and doesn't even know it

Fashion photographer Erik Madigan Heck is a badass and doesn't even know it

Erik Madigan Heck
Erik Madigan Heck asked to pose with the set designer's assistant because he loved her tattoos.  Photo by Jeff Brown
Mary Katrantzou
Heck enjoyed working with designer Mary Katrantzou for the Neiman Marcus Art of Fashion spread.  Photo by Erik Madigan Heck
Iris in Red, 2012
Heck donated Iris in Red, 2012 to Two x Two.  Photo by Erik Madigan Heck
Philip Roth
Heck shot author Philip Roth for the cover of Le Monde's Sunday magazine.  Photo courtesy of Erik Madigan Heck
Erik Madigan Heck
Mary Katrantzou
Iris in Red, 2012
Philip Roth

When it comes to his work, Erik Madigan Heck, the unassuming yet brilliant fashion photographer, dabbles in a little of bit of everything. In fact, calling him a photographer doesn't seem to do him justice.

Heck traveled to Texas from New York for Dallas' Two x Two for AIDS and Art. I was lucky enough to sit down with him at Neiman Marcus before his booksigning event for January to August

Heck was a reluctant artist. When his mother gave him a camera at age 14 and forced him to take pictures of "anything," he says, he hated it. But growing up in a house with a painter has a certain influence, and Heck still uses that camera today.

 ​"You can't create with Photoshop what you can with gels, paint and negatives," Heck says. 

He started Nomenus Quarterly in 2007, an art and fashion journal that "fuses older art with avant garde fashion," he says. How he came up with the name is a bit of a funny story.

On his apartment building was a sign that read "no menus" (like most NYC complexes), except there was no space separating the two words.

"I thought it was Latin," Heck admits. And that became the title of his magazine, pronounced "nom-en-us."

Just three years ago, the young artist began combining photography with painting and other mediums. "You can't create with Photoshop what you can with gels, paint and negatives," he says.

And that's what you see in the Neiman Marcus Art of Fashion spread, in the September 2012 issue of The Book. He takes fashion — key pieces from top designers like Tom Ford, Gucci, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney — and transforms it into art.

To capture the designer's inspiration, Heck painted, built magnificent sets that look like room vignettes, and layered in negatives. The McQueen set took three days and about 1,000 roses; the Ford look was a bit more straightforward. He enjoyed working with Mary Katrantzou the most, because her clothing is so bold. "I like to get crazy with it," he says. 

 Heck certainly has no reason to be modest. He is the youngest photographer ever to be asked to shoot for the Neiman Marcus Art of Fashion spread. 

But his pieces aren't always so bold. A recent photograph of Philip Roth, for the cover of Le Monde's Sunday magazine, is more stark. The dichotomy is simply the nature of his work, he says.

"[It's] very extreme — either pared down or over-the-top," he says, "Each series I do is different." 

Interestingly, Heck admits to admiring the work of only one other photographer, the late Harry Callahan, a professor at RISD noted for capturing photographs of his wife. Instead he stays focused on his own work and doesn't look at any other fashion photography. In person, he seriously understates the importance of his images. 

Heck certainly has no reason to be modest. He's the youngest photographer ever to be asked to shoot for the Art of Fashion spread, which was established about 20 years ago. And his work stands up against that of Richard Avedon, Annie Lebovitz, Lillian Bassman, Paolo Roversi and Helmut Newton — esteemed photographers from previous years. 

To get a sense of the kind of artist Heck is, instead of focusing on the two pieces he donated to Two x Two (which he failed to mention, by the way), a text he sent the day after the gala simply read, "Well, you missed Alan Cumming perform last night."