A Party Photographer’s Guide to Fashion Week – Vanity Fair
Around 1 a.m. last Friday, a dense crowd of hipsters mobbed the front door of the Maccarone art gallery in Manhattan’s West Village. Raging inside, emitting occasional puffs of smoke and music onto the sidewalk, was an unofficial New York Fashion Week party co-hosted by Richardson, the haute-streetwear label, and PornHub, the Web’s largest pornography site.
It was a hot ticket on a warm, dry night. But outside, event photographer Billy Farrell was slipping into a Patagonia rain jacket, pulled from his backpack. “I wear this in case anybody sweaty wants to hug me,” he said.
It was the fifth stop of the night for the ubiquitous party-razzi, who has built his Billy Farrell Agency into the country’s leading chronicler of fashion and celebrity nightlife. Starting in 2000 as a protégée of New York social photographer Patrick McMullan, Farrell and three partners—David X. Prutting, Neil Rasmus, and Joe Schildhorn—launched their own business in 2010. Several thousand parties later, Farrell knows all the tricks for navigating a long night of Fashion Week events. Over eight hours of party-hopping last Thursday, he shared them, along with war stories about his celebrity nemeses like Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Murray, and that time he mooned Beyoncé.
Farrell’s Thursday began just before 6 p.m., when he reported for duty at the Calvin Klein show.
“As house photographer, my job is different to the photographers who are invited press,” Farrell explained. “Their motivation is to sell photographs. It’s about, ‘okay, Cindy Crawford’s sitting in a chair and I’ve got to go get her.’ But [Calvin Klein Chief Creative Officer] Raf Simons has his dream and his design, and I need to, as a house photographer, work out what the client needs.”
It turned out that what the client needed was also a fair amount of shooting celebrities in chairs. Here was Jake Gyllenhaal talking to Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Mahershala Ali; there were Christina Ricci, Kate Bosworth, Carolyn Murphy, Kyle MacLachlan, and Karlie Kloss; Trevor Noah joking with Russell Westbrook; Poppy Delevingne, Paris Jackson, and Pedro Pascal; Norman Reedus with his arm around Helena Christensen; Brooke Shields, Ashton Sanders, Sterling Ruby, and, charming everyone, 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown.
Farrell was drenched in sweat after darting around to capture them all. But that was just the first stop of the night. After Calvin, Farrell was slated to visit four other parties being covered by B.F.A. house photographers, picking up extra shots as well as video on his phone. His equipment included a Nikon D5 camera, two zoom lenses, and a flash, together worth more than $10,000.
Related Video: Amy Adams, Ewan McGregor and Tom Ford Reveal Their Fashion Icons
But his Fashion Week secret was a custom photographer’s survival kit, created by B.F.A. partner Neil Rasmus, who is also the founder of the home-goods brand Izola. The compact white pouch, stamped with a black pharmacy cross, contained earplugs, Band-Aids, chewing gum, business cards, an emergency whistle (whose purpose wasn’t clear), and, most importantly, protein bars. Farrell’s mantra for surviving Fashion Week is: “know your schedule, do your laundry ahead of time, and have your food situation worked out. We tell all our photographers: don’t eat on the job.”
Food and alcohol present special challenges for professionals working the party circuit. Farrell, who describes himself as “a former alcoholic,” warns his team against drinking at events. “I look back and I can’t even believe that people would want to hire a party photographer that drank as much as I used to,” he said.
Then there’s the photographers’ uniform: “For us, all black. Put on a tie above 59th Street.” Farrell owned six suits when starting out. “But I gained so much weight in this job, drinking and eating late at night, that the suits started to get really tight. And it probably took about a year before I had split every single one,” he said.
One night, before shooting a Destiny’s Child event, he said: “I left the underwear at home, because I figured I could get a little bit more room out of the suit.” You can guess where this is going. He squatted to get a shot, and “right as I said ‘Beyoncé,’ that one word ripped right down, and my ass came out.”
Farrell spent the rest of the evening with his suit jacket tied around his waist; he now always wears underwear.