Donna Trope unretouched

I like strong things: Strong colors, smells, visuals, sounds….extreme people, bold art, techno music and spicy flavors, flowers that are not pastels and that are in your face: zinnias, cosmos, gladioli and deep scarlet carnations with long stems.

I was an artists’ agent for 30 years and I chose the people that spoke to me, whose art made you reflect, whose world confronted and challenged mine. The beauty of this was unusual, disruptive, disturbing. Donna Trope was part of my roster.

When I look at her images I reflect on where photography has gone now with the explosion of digital media and phone cameras, selfies and social media. The CREATIVE ME generation that shares everything, the explosion of imagery, good or bad, that we are confronted to each day 24/7.

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Above: Catherine McNeill, Chanel cream 2015,  for 10 Magazine

I also look at the new technology and the old. I was a fax girl, a Polaroid person, someone who wrote thank you letters on custom made stationary and sent postcards from far away places. People did not move that much, you remembered their postal addresses. When you did crazy things you took Polaroids in weird outfits looking wasted. But then you also used Polaroid on photo shoots as light and crop tests to show to your clients and teams. Now you have a digital monitor and operator on set.

Donna Trope is one of those photographers who used Polaroids to caliber light, mood and frame, and inevitably ended up with a treasure trove of 2.000 polis which she just started posting on an Instagram account here.

Donna tells fashionsphinx: “We called them “roids”… It’s such a guy thing to say…lol. That was the assistant’s lingo. Trying to explain what the Polaroid means to me….why they are magic and important and everyone seems slightly in awe of them. It’s because what they capture is an odd cross between a test and the real unfinished thought. Like free-associating, but not really, I can’t really explain the appeal. It’s interesting that the Polaroids are many times better than the final image it was shot for. We all love Polaroids.”

“They represent something to everyone. Polaroids are poignant. They are evocative of something to everyone. A memory, an era. A style. They are the original selfie; the moment, instant gratification, the ME decades. The real thing. I’ve got approx 20K Polaroids and several years ago I edited them down to 1500 and left them on the side. They are not all remarkable, many are the same shot over and over done for pre-light tests, but they are real documentation. Without sounding too earnest or corny, they are a real moment. Much more so than the finished product. The finished photo has been enhanced, altered, thought out and glamourized.”

“I used to shoot a Pola for everything from lighting to a way to get the shoot going. Besides the light test and check for focus and pose,  I like to warm up with them. Nowadays, I warm up by just shooting as a way to say “Let’s go!”….. It’s my way of getting the Polaroid. 

With my Polaroids, I tried to keep things loose and warm up by snapping freely. That is, as freely as 5X4 allows. My actual shooting style has been known to be quite rigid. My Polaroids are usually rejects. Only a few of these shown are the actual finished image. The majority are random, the outtakes, the throwaways, the trash. But I liked them. They are my alter ego. What I really liked and wanted to show, but I never did. The finished image was ‘finished”.




EMA*Italian Vogue_1



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1/ Describe your photography, I call it “twisted Irving Penn”  :  

“My shots come straight from my mind. I like twisted Irving Penn, I see myself as hip but in reality I’m quite straight, more like a twisted bourgeoise. I shoot to make a girl beautiful, but I like some action in the small microword of the face: whether biting a lip or pulling up an eyebrow. To me it makes it less passive thus more beautiful. My beauty shots have no politics per se but she, the model, creates that decisive moment.”


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2/You are a studio photographer. What format do you like to use,  what camera?  Do you ever use non digital anymore? Do you retouch your own pix? I know you don’t like to rely too much on retouching but prefer to count on the perfect lighting, do you find that your clients appreciate this mastery ?  Do they notice the difference?

“Pre digital I shot exclusively on Sinar 5×4, under the hood, upside down and back to front, and for some reason complicated and hard meant something back then. Sinar had incredible detail and I appreciated that minute detail. I aimed to close down and always thought of the masters and the F64 club.  5×4 is demanding and I was slow and obsessive.
Cut to 2003 / 2004 and bring on the Phase One digital. I have never looked back, it’s the paradigm shift, the Holy Grail. Bye bye obsessive..hello ease, speed and creativity! I am now on the Canon 5D. With a 5×4 background, my job is a dream….pure pleasure. I get to create above all.
donna trope allure
3/How did you start? When or how old were you ? Did you go to art school? Photography school ? Where did you learn the technique?
“I was in my 20’s when I started in London in the late 1980’s. I was never schooled, I never assisted. I began as the quintessential roving photographer with a 35 mm strapped around my neck and a safari jacket. I was playing a role. I shot sports events and boxing matches. I quickly switched to fashion. My background was in the art world. I worked for a famous pioneer art dealer and I learnt how to see, which is very useful in photography.”
4/which magazines do you buy? Do you look at fashion magazines?  What inspires you?
“I buy what looks good on the stands. I love the printed page and I always will. The context of shooting and having my images in a magazine is everything. I used to have regulars but now I keep up with magazines such as LOVE, 10, Garage, Self Service, Paris Vogue and the New Yorker….Vanity Fair for gossip.”
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5/You shoot a lot of editorial work AND commercial work. Do you separate them completely or is your commercial work a toned down version of the “artistic” work?
“I like to think of ads as the finished product and editorial as the instant thoughts. I separate ads and editorial, but it’s my dream to be able to shoot ads as I see them and still follow the ideal and goal of the art director. I am very much a team player.”
6/You would kill to shoot for …….?
“Pirelli would be great.”
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7/You would love to shoot with ….?  
“I live for Kate Moss. New Girl is Anna Cleveland (Pat’s daughter), Jerry Hall circa 1976 and I love Lindsey Wixon.”
8/ Do you like to shoot men ? How would you shoot  Lucky Blue Smith ?   I would make him look like a beautiful woman…….
“Yes of course! A beautiful woman with waxed up eyebrows and a cut up beat down face, blusher stripes and slick tight high ponytail.”
donna trope
9/What are your feelings about the glut of imagery in social media?    Instagramming and sharing your life through pictures with the entire world :   Do you think there is  visual overkill? Do you think that because of the never ending flow of photographs we are subject to all day, we are beginning to care less about the quality? When was the last time that you got excited about looking at the new advertising campaigns of the season? 
 “I have so many POVs.  So, to be brief: I love sharing what inspires me and passing it on. But just as I don’t like sharing every thought in my head, I really don’t want to give too much away about anything. I have nothing to hide, but that’s the problem…it is visual overload…..and lifestyle overload and envy overload, etc. There’s so much more visual information now that the images themselves are in competition, sharing and bragging about whats in your head. The danger is sharing so much there’s nothing left. How cool can we get? The beauty is all the like-minded people out there and really getting inside their heads; it’s like playing a game of cards. We don’t need to speak, just pass pictures around. We are communicating and having fun and expanding our visual capacities. It’s great to be understood. Wonderful for mass communication.”
10/ Name your 3 favorite photographers of all time.
” Irving Penn, Man Ray, Clive Arrowsmith, Guy Bourdain 1970’s.”
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11/ You  make women look fierce, daring, sexy, edgy, powerful….why is this your image of the perfect woman?  Where does this come from?
“It’s what I see. I’m led by the face.”
12/ Why do you often associate beauty with pain ? I go back to your wonderful show in Paris Beauty Shots, at Kamel Mennour’s gallery.  Is there no feminine beauty without pain?
“I am an extremist sometimes…..all or nothing.I’m emotional; i don’t live the perfect yoga,model lifestyle. I live life and have fun and detox and get cut later. Its the image that’s painful and the thought of surgery. I’m not terribly vain but yes, I’m ok with enduring pain to rejuvenate my looks if needed. It’s not for everyone but if physical pain will diminish pain from the soul by achieving youthful looks then I’m all for it!”
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13/If you could publish a magazine now, would it be a digital magazine ? Or a paper one?
“Digital for ease….paper for purity.”
14/ Which magazines do you enjoy shooting for now days?  And why?
“I always like shooting for magazines with a similar POV to myself. Right now it’s 10 and TUSH. There are so many. More than ever, there seems to be outlets for creatives everywhere. It’s still Elitist, but more choice and outlets than 10 years ago. More democratic. We can all be heard and seen.”
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15/Can you explain your transition into moving images?  What is it that you can capture differently on a short fashion film?
“I love shooting moving images (videos), I tried it and I am obsessed. Its as if I can capture all senses and everything I see…….it seems. And the music adds something else. It’s a total trip.”
 16/ What is the last art show you really enjoyed?
“Damien Hirst with butterflies on the actual paintings…..at the LACMA several years ago.”
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17/ Would you encourage a young kid these days to become a photographer?   And if yes….what advice would you give them?
“I’d only encourage someone with a deep passion. I’ve met a plethora of wanna-be photographers, who don’t believe the hierarchy involved. I meet many young photographers and I can tell if the passion is for their vanity or for real…Only real need apply.”
18/ Why are there so few big women photographers out there?
“I’m not sure. I see more women than ever. I don’t really see the difference . I see women are coming on the scene and killing it! “

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Below: one of Donna’s recent shots. Catherine McNeill, Chanel cream, 2015  for 10 Magazine (outtake). 

donna trope Catherine McNeill, Chanel cream, 2015 for 10 magazine outtake


 “My polaroids were all shot (MOST) in B&W and the film was all in colour. I use B&W polas as a reference so I can see tonal differences. It’s so different than digital. It was a real thought out way to think. The day digital arrived for me was 2002, Metro Studio gave me a free digital back to use for the day. I shot a model and the studio gave me a CD to view… It took me 1 year to even look at the CD, I was in such disbelief that digital could ever be as good as 5X4 !

So all of 2002, I stuck to film and polaroid. As soon as I looked at the CD ( a year later)…I was hooked!  I never looked back. Its digital all the way. Those of us trained with film will all tell you that shooting digital is a piece of cake, it’s made our lives so easy…we were all cheering.

The polaroids are all from a time period of mid-late nineties ending with digital 2002.
So it’s PRE-DIGITAL….that was the Paradigm shift. My Polaroids aren’t perfect. they have fixative marks, some faded, have processing marks, etc. The polaroids usually represent the “outtakes”, they have numbers which go with the number of the film I shot which was Ektachrome, and the Polaroids were my reference. I have very few in colour 
Present day: Enter Instagram, Blogs, Tumblr…My plan is 1-4 polaroids per day, some just visual, others with a back story. These were from jobs and like I said, the fully finished image that was printed in the magazine, was very slick and contrived compared to the Polaroids, which have a sense of ‘free association’ to them…
We all love our Polaroids!!!! “
donna trope lindsay dixon
Above: Lindsay Wixon. Unpublished


Donna Trope :  www.donnatrope.com

Donna Trope Polaroids (website) : www.tropepolaroids.com

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/donnatrope/

Donna Trope Polaroids: https://instagram.com/tropepolaroids


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By Max Vadukul in 1983