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Madonna Interview : American Photo

Madonna - American Photo / March - April 2000

Q&A Madonna – The Real Views of a Modern Muse

As a performer, Madonna has been attacked by critics i for being more about image than substance. In truth, her uncanny success in holding the quicksilver popular culture in thrall has had more to do with the ability to find substance in images. Madonna’s face may be one of the most well-known and well photographed on the planet. She doesn’t merely pose for photographers like Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel, and Mario Testino; she explicitly collaborates in the process of creating and recreating her own image. Likewise, her music videos are filled with knowledgeable and effective photographic references, such as her re-creation of fashion images by the late Horst P. Horst in 1990’s “Vogue” (a usage to which the photographer objected). An avid art collector, Madonna’s taste for photographs is both instinctual and informed. In a recent interview with photography critic Vines Aletti for the art quarterly Aperture, Madonna spoke abort these topics and her complex relationship with the camera as subject and patron — including her current favorite personal portraitist (Testino), her newest collecting passion (the images of Guy Bourdin), her rich creative relationships with photographers, the fallout from her infamous Sex book, her memories of posing for art nudes, the stories behind the images in her music videos, and more. Here we present a portion of this revealing conversation with one of the world’s most influential photographic taste-makers.

I found a quote in which you said, “I’d rather own an art gallery than a movie studio. Or a museum.”
Where did your interest in art and photography start?

My interest in art started as a child because several members of my family could paint and draw and I couldn’t, so I was living vicariously through them. And from going to the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is how I got into Diego Rivera, which is how I found out about Frida Kahlo and started reading about her. Then, if you go to enough Catholic churches, there’s art everywhere, so you get introduced to it that way, from a religious-ecstasy point of view. And then just coming to New York and dancing. As an incredibly poor struggling dancer, you could get into museums for free, so that was my form of entertainment. It was just something I was interested in.

I’ve always collected images and torn pages out of magazines and put them up on the wall—


And one picture that’s been up on every dorm room or apartment I’ve ever lived in was this Richard Avedon photo of Lew Alcindor from Harper’s Bazaar. I wondered if then was anything like that in your life early an. Was there an image you carried with you?

The image that always struck me was one that I ended up using as an inspiration for one of my videos, and that’s a sort of Cubist photograph of a man working on some big, huge piston-shaped cylinder.

The famous Lewit Hine photo.

Right. Well, that ended up in my “Express Yourself video; that was the inspiration for that. Every video I’ve done has been inspired by some painting or work of art.

That’s what I was wondering. Obviously there’s “Vogue,” with the Horst references, which I know you got into tome trouble for.

Those were pretty obvious. I consider them to be homages, of course. And I didn’t get into trouble, the director did.

I thought that the “Vogue” video was especially terrific because those were all pictures that—

We brought to life.

Yeah, and it angered me that Horst couldn’t see that as a tribute. What could be better?

Yeah, and those images are really powerful, and it’s great to remind people of them and to bring it into pop culture and not keep it so outside where people are never going to be exposed to it.

When did you start collecting?

When I got my first paycheck, $5,000 or something.