In memoriam: Steve Hiett
ulti-talented, groundbreaking and a creative force which defined our aesthetics, the British renowned photographer, musician, graphic designer, literally an artist ahead of his time, Steve Hiett passed away earlier this week. He was 79 years old.
Steve Hiett was born in Great Britain in 1940. In 1962 he went to the Royal College of Art Graphic Design school where he fell in love with typography and graphic design. “I have always loved doing graphics and up till today I still do graphic design jobs. I have always been fascinated by typefaces” he told.
Four years later, in 1966, uncompromising just like a Michelangelo Antonioni's hero (Blow-Up was being released when he explored his path to creativity) Hiett discovered another passion besides typography and shapes aka music. After studying he joined a psych/pop band, The Pyramids.
This experience led to him photographing Jimi Hendrix backstage in one of his final performances at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. In addition, Hiett began a series of photos of empty suburban streets that resulted in his first book, Pleasure Places (Flash Books, 1975).
It all started when Hiett collaborated with friend and designer Zandra Rhodes to shot a 'Woolworth Fashion' shoot. Nova magazine published one of the images launching his career in fashion magazines. In 1969, Steve worked for Nova, English Vogue and the now-defunct Queen magazine until he moved to France.
“It was around this time that Hiett decided to trip over to Paris where a friendship with Marie Claire's art director at the time, Émile Laugier – who Hiett would regularly visit at the office to chat – would turn into a 20-year collaboration with the title” notes Dazed.
Drawing his inspiration from painting and cinema his portfolio put him into a league of brilliant masterminds of visuals. Francis Bacon, Edgar Degas or Alfred Hitchcock, Helmut Newton or Sarah Moon, Hiett's artistry is booming with a sleek sexiness.
It was during the 1980s when he developed his signature style of over-saturated images, off-centre framing and dazzling flash and during the same period he made a guitar solo album in Japan for Sony/CBS: Down On The Road By The Beach accompanied by a photo book.
His elusive album is to be reissued this September, for the first time since its inception 36 years ago outside of Japan. Produced in coordination between Be With, Efficient Space and the artist, this definitive reissue is restored from original masters with vivid reproductions of the Down On The Road By The Beach exhibition catalogue, intended to accompany its original release, and extensive liner notes penned by fellow Steve Hiett obsessive Mikey IQ Jones.
A career devotee of Brian Wilson’s harmonies, Hiett shot The Beach Boys for Rolling Stone - as well as The Doors, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, and The Hollies and numerous other stars- while establishing himself as a fashion photographer.
In the 1990s he moved to New York City exploring graphic design and typography with heavily typography-infused collaborations.
1994, when the British creative worked as the Art Director of Arthur Elgort's "Model Manual" was the year he met the iconic Vogue Italia's editor in chief, Carla Sozzani, who invited him to return to Paris and work for the magazine.
“I then realized there was a whole new world of fashion magazines. And my career as a fashion photographer seemed to start all over again. My style has evolved with the new digital technology but I guess it still looks almost the same” he told.
“I have always loved doing graphics and up till today I still do graphic design jobs. I have always been fascinated by typefaces”
A storyteller since forever Hiett's nonchalance artistry is present throughout his portfolio of works. From 1970s Miami, France in the 1980s, or New York at the end of the 20th century, Hiett's illustrious career is beyond labels.
“I don’t think of myself as ‘a photographer.’ I think of myself as someone who uses the camera to create images that I see in my head” he once said.
Hiett's portfolio of clients includes Oscar de la Renta, Roberto Cavalli, Guy Laroche, Fit Flop, Joop, agnès b, Lacoste, Galleries Lafayette, Warehouse, Dulux, Kenzo and Kookai among others.
His elusive work has appeared in leading fashion magazines. From Vogue (English, French, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Italian) to Harper's Bazaar to avant-garde Nova, Marie Claire, The Face, Visionnaire, Hunger, Elle, and Glamour these titles were blessed with his visuals.
Hiett's take on graphic design and art direction is relevant today with his visual aesthetics being a lesson of beauty, color and shapes combined.
The renowned British directed television commercials for fashion industry clients and publications and in 2012 he designed and art directed the "Out Takes" exhibition at Somerset House. His artwork is featured in the book “Vidal Sassoon: How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors”, published by Rizzoli.
Featuring photography, artwork and film, the exhibition and the accompanying book which he art directed has Hiett's vibrant talent printed all over it as he continued to blend Pop art, early modernism, surrealism and abstraction elements.
“It's a process of constructing your imagination, you have to let yourself go”
“The path from getting sweaty on-stage as a member of psych/pop band Pyramids to fashion photographer – sitting alongside contemporaries like Helmut Newton and Sarah Moon, while shooting for The Face, Marie Claire and Vogue Italia – isn't as complicated as it might first seem. For Steve Hiett, it was the crossover of the collapse of his band and a run-in with a friend just as he was weighing up his career options when his friend asked, 'why don't you try fashion photography?' And that was the jump-off point to some of fashion's most stunning images from the past 50 years. Initially wanting to be a painter, it was a fascination with an issue of American Art Directors Annual that he found in his college library that led him to pursue studies in graphic design at the Brighton Art School. Seemingly on track, it was there that he met Dermot Goulding, who taught a photography class once a week. Hiett was hooked and still cites Golding as one of his biggest influences” writes Ashleigh Kane of this multi-faceted, dreamy, an English eternal teenager.
Hiett led the judging of the photography category at Hyeres Festival in 2014, which a retrospective entitled "Steve Hiett: The Song Remains the Same" was held at Villa Noailles. In 2015 Prestel published a retrospective of Hiett’s work spanning five decades, entitled Beyond Blonde, with a foreword by Phillip Garner.
Steve Hiett flooded our world with influential aesthetics accompanied by dreamy sounds of his for almost six decades.
“It's a process of constructing your imagination, you have to let yourself go” he told of his creative nature. How more talented can one be is a question destined to remain unanswered.
A storyteller since forever Hiett's nonchalance artistry is present throughout his portfolio of works. From 1970s Miami, France in the 1980s, or New York at the end of the 20th century, Hiett's illustrious stylish and dreamy tales will remain beyond labels
Words by Loukas Karnis.