“I always wanted to be a painter; I suppose most photographers secretly do,” says Erik Madigan Heck. “My mother was a painter. We painted together when I was a child, and she took me to the museum almost every week to look at paintings.”
This fertile environment introduced him early to artists such as Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard; fascinated by their work, he went on to develop a distinctive photographic style that’s made him a regular with clients such as The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, TIME, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Bazaar UK. In 2013 he became one of the youngest photographers to receive the prestigious ICP Infinity Award, and earlier this year he published a monograph with Thames & Hudson and Abrams Books called Old Future, gathering together work from the last ten years.
The book launch was accompanied with a dedicated auction of his work at Sotheby’s, London, and that opportunity was followed up with a commission from Sotheby’s Diamonds, the retail arm of the famous auction house. Promoting Sotheby’s latest range The Ricci Collection, the resulting images take full advantage of Heck’s distinctive style.
Heck was given an open-ended brief by Sotheby’s Diamonds, which specifically didn’t want conventional advertising shots. Instead the company asked Heck to create “photographs in my style, that appeared to be heavily referential to the history of painting, while also highlighting the jewellery”.
“We thought it would be beautiful to have the Sotheby’s Diamonds works be shown as a continuation of Old Future, and curated the exhibition around them,” Heck continues. “I love collaborating with brands, especially when the product itself is art. I prefer to work with constrictions, and parameters – it helps articulate the photos. Photography is primarily visual problem solving.”
Heck often finds he gets to his solutions by returning to his younger years, reflecting on those teenage gallery trips with his mother: “I never set out to recreate anything I’ve seen before, but I have a visual encyclopaedia in my head that I pull from going back to childhood. I always used to use the barometer: would my mom like this?
“Now, it’s all about the colour for me. I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationships between the colours. I listen to a lot of music, and look through old books always searching for one trigger that might give me a new spark.”