Joe Gaffney on his photo ‘Sunrise on the Avenue Montaigne’

For Contact Sheet, Document asks a photographer about the unseen story of a frame that defines their work.

Date: 1983

Location: Avenue Montaigne

“It was after an all night shoot, and this was the last picture. The sun was coming up. Everyone was really tired. In those days when you photographed couture, it was always a night shoot. This because they showed the dresses in the day, it wasn’t just one show—they showed them continuously day after day. So you would only get the dresses at night. I don’t even know if we had a bus or where they changed. The police came a couple of times to ask us to keep the noise down. Most people are fine around 11PM, but they get really annoyed around three or four in the morning and the shot we’re talking about is at 5 or 6 a.m.

“I’ve never been good at stories, I just like beautiful pictures and most times I just shoot. When you shoot couture, especially on location, you take the situation for the dress. Each one is unique. You’re also working fast. There’s traffic, there’s cars, the city is starting to wake up. I’m standing in the middle of the road for this picture. I think everyone wanted to go to bed at that point. [Laughs]

“There was very little planning, not how it is now with the military operation. Everybody has an opinion now, whereas in those days I wasn’t really that interested—I was just trying to get a picture. In those days, it was very much the photographer’s vision. I usually didn’t see the dresses beforehand. It was all those big shoulders, everyone was doing it. Couture in those days was very grand. It was very separate from the Prêt-à-Porter. With couture, half the time you didn’t see the dress until the shoot. I didn’t know the last dress would be fuchsia. I didn’t know the sun was going to come up! It just happened, and I think that’s so much better. To be spontaneous you have to know what you’re doing. You have to be full of references and have a visual point of view.”