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September 2 2014

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Madonna’s Favorite Photog Talks Shop

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Tom Munro’s new book is chock-full of celebrity portraits: Jennifer Lopez, Dustin Hoffman, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Johnny Depp, Ashton Kutcher. But it’s Madonna that he seems most smitten with: Madge is on the cover, scattered throughout the book, and even wrote the foreword. Her poetic summation of the photographer’s art? “To have your picture taken by Tom Munro / Is kind of like smoking a bubblegum cigarette. / You can strike a pose, look cool / Get all of the sweetness, / And not suffer any side effects.” Hey, works for us. Munro spoke to Style.com about the fame, the faces, and photos—and a very special nose-off (read on, trust us).
Tom Munro is available at www.amazon.com.

I guess the first thing to talk about is how you became photographer. When did you get your first camera, and when did you realize this would be a career?
I was in my mid-twenties. I spent a year traveling through Asia and Australia with an old Leica. Never mind I hardly knew the difference between an aperture and a shutter speed, but I took some pictures to document the trip. When I returned to England I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I enrolled in an art foundation course and took a few classes on photography. That’s when I began to seriously think of it as a real profession.

Well, it worked: Look at this book! Why did you choose to do a book now, and how did you choose these particular images?
Initially I was thinking of doing an exhibition to raise money for an African charity, but as I looked through my archive I thought to myself, “There’s a book here.” Moët & Chandon generously made that become a reality. The editing process was easy as the subjects are all iconic; what is interesting to me is that the book represents a moment in time and, given the subject matter, will hopefully stand the test of time. I hope it becomes more interesting as time passes.

Getting Madonna to write your introduction is pretty major. What is it like to work with her? When did you meet, and how did you become such close collaborators?
I first met Madonna on an editorial shoot for Elle. I think Madonna was keen to work with me as I had worked with her stylist Arianne Phillips before, and my ex-boss Steven Meisel put in a good word for me. Working with Madonna is really inspiring and a privilege. It’s rare to work with someone who is so driven, who brings so much to the creative process. After the shoot, Madonna asked if I would be interested in collaborating on her music video “Give It to Me.” This was my first introduction to film and I jumped at the opportunity. We did another video, “Die Another Day,” and I shot the tour book for Sticky and Sweet.

Also I had been involved with a Charity in Kenya called MEAK (Medical and Education Aid for Kenya) and knew of Madonna’s charity work in Malawi, so I asked Madonna if I could tag along on one of her visits to Africa. What she is doing there is quite extensive. It was a wonderful and moving experience to go with her, so I asked Madonna if I could list her charity as one of the beneficiaries of the book, along with MEAK.


Beyond Madonna, the rest of the book is a Hollywood who’s who: Beyoncé, Leonardo, Tom Cruise, and even Lady Gaga. Do you have a routine for preparing, meeting, and then shooting these well-known faces? Do you, like, Google them or talk on the phone before they show up?
I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with these kinds of people. In cases like Leo, Tom, Justin [Timberlake], Keanu, and Madonna, I’ve worked with them repeatedly, so there’s a mutual understanding. There are times when I have no communication prior to the shoot—Lady Gaga for example. Sometimes there are conversations: I remember Janet Jackson calling me last August while I was vacationing on my farm in the Catskills. It was a little surreal to talk to her still covered in dirt and having just jumped off a tractor—[and] only months after her brother passed away. I certainly do my research, too, out of respect more than anything else.

Speaking of dirt, give us some: What is the weirdest thing that ever happened on a shoot?
On one of my outings with Tom [Cruise] I asked him to tip a bottle of water over his head—so at the end of the day he got me back and returned the favor! And oh, I’ve gotten both Dustin Hoffman and Leonardo DiCaprio to jump in pools of water fully clothed. Dustin also compared the sizes of our noses once, but I can’t remember who won—or lost—depending on how you look at it. But it’s like Madonna suggested in the foreword, I’m basically a nerd, so I don’t have much dirt.

Finally, I know I could never ask a photographer to pick just one, but who are some of your favorite subjects?
Johnny Depp, because he was the first celebrity I ever shot. He looked so cool when he walked in the studio I shot him just as he was. And then there’s Madonna, for so many reasons, not least of all because she’s such a wonderful and passionate person. Dustin Hoffman was undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

Photo: Courtesy of Tom Murno

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