‘It’s just my job. I participate. I have my picture taken It’s a strange and crazy job, but it’s just a job’

 

Q&A: HELENA CHRISTENSEN,Danish supermodel turned photographer talks to EOIN BUTLER

We are all, to some degree, judged on our appearances. But when you’re a model, that’s entirely the case. What did that feel like for you?Obviously, as a model, your face, your body, is what is used to sell the product. If you can’t deal with that, you’re in the wrong job. You learn to become very thick-skinned. You learn how to put a wall up between your physical and emotional side. Personally, I know that what I am on the outside is not who I am on the inside.

Was the ‘supermodel’ tag something that you . . .I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to talk about being a supermodel. I’d rather not talk about beauty, fitness . . . any of that.

Maybe you’ve just answered my question in that case. I was going to ask if it was something you had ever resented.A little bit, maybe. But really, for me, it’s something I feel that I just can’t talk about any more. I get bored with it and I think people get bored reading about it too.

Let me ask you about your photography then?Sure.

Does having been one of the most photographed women in the world provide you with any extra insight when you’re on the other side of the camera?It’s still kind of strange, for me, that I became a model. Because I never had any aspirations to work in that industry. I was very lucky to work at the level I did though, because I got to work with some incredibly talented photographers. People like Herb Ritts, the wonderful way he used light, it was such an inspiration to me. In a way, I see my years as a model as an education for my career as a photographer.

Herb Ritts, of course, directed the video for Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, in which you starred in 1990That’s right. Herb called one day to tell me that he had just come across one of the most beautiful songs he had ever heard. He asked if I would consider being part of the video. We went to Hawaii and, for me, that video just epitomises everything that was great about Herb: his vision, the way he sees beauty in nature, the way light captivated him. It was a great song, but it didn’t even have to be for me to work with Herb.

Is music a big part of your life?Yes, isn’t it for everyone? There are certain things that shape your life and music is definitely one of them.

I once spotted you and Michael Stipe hanging out backstage at the Oxegen music festival in Ireland. Are you a frequent visitor to this country?I’ve been to Oxegen twice – it always has amazing line-ups. But yeah, I come to Ireland any time I get the opportunity, because I really love your country. I love the writers, the poets and the history. It’s a very magical place. I feel very happy and inspired when I’m in Ireland.

You’re currently associated with Bailey’s Irish CreamThey approached me and asked if I’d take some very personal photographs of my friends hanging out because that’s what this campaign is about. We made a day of it. It happened exactly as it would have happened in real life. We hung out. We ate. We had drinks and did what friends do when they’re together. It was just an intensely lovely day.

It says you took these photographs – but you’re in about two-thirds of themIt’s supposed to be a group of friends together, so I shot some of them and, at the same time, a friend shot me hanging out taking the photos. He shot me doing what I was doing, so that we get the feeling it’s inclusive – we’re all having a special day together.

This may be venturing into forbidden territory somewhat, but aren’t models supposed to observe a ‘no wheat, no dairy’ rule?Again, that’s one of those topics that I just get over talking about. I just think, phh! I don’t want to read another interview in which I go on about how I love food, about how I stay healthy.

You come across as a pretty normal, well-adjusted personThank you.

How do you keep yourself grounded when there are, for example, 40-foot billboards of you standing in Times Square?Oh, I totally distance myself from that. I don’t see that as being me. I don’t see it that way at all. It’s just my job. I participate. I have my picture taken. But whatever happens in its afterlife . . . well, it’s not like I commission somebody to do that. It’s a strange and crazy job for sure, but it’s still just a job. There are a lot of other things in the world that I find a lot crazier, a lot stranger.

Finally, now that you have retired from modelling, what ambitions remain for you?I never really set myself goals, in terms of “this is where I want to go, this is where I need to end up so that I will be happy and satisfied with myself”. That’s not the way I look at it. For me to be satisfied, it’s got to be something more profound than “oh, I got this job”, or “I’m exhibiting here”. I’d like to travel a lot. I’d like to visit places that inspire me. If I felt the wisdom I was gaining from my experience was helping me get through every day, that would make me very proud.