Alexey Lubomirsky, the photographer who turns Hollywood blonde

Over the course of his two-decade career, photographer Alexei Lubomirsky has wandered into Bruce Springsteen’s dressing room, played cards with Brad Pitt, and captured Gwyneth Paltrow at the end of a supermarket conveyor belt in little more than a bikini. But nothing could prepare him for the phone call he received in November 2017, inviting him to Kensington Palace to take Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s official engagement photos.

„I thought it was a prank call from my friends,” Lubomirski says. Her mother was in surgery at the time and she was waiting for the surgeon to call her at the hospital. Meanwhile, every TV monitor in every waiting room broadcast Meghan and Harry’s engagement news. „It’s a classic thing my friends do, and my mind can’t quite fathom that it’s real.”

„Luckily I don’t swear at them,” Lubomirski says with a smile from across the table at Claridge’s Artspace Cafe. He is in London for promotion The Sittings 2003-2023, a new book of 113 paintings, some of which will appear in an exhibition below. He flips through images of royals and movie stars, which are united by what he describes as „consensual elegance” and the kind of golden, brilliantly flattering lighting that enhances some of the world’s most scrutinized figures — none of them. It is possible if Lubomirski was not so adept at putting his subjects at ease.

Lydia Slater, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK, said: „Alexey is legendaryly charming and thoughtful. „He’s not one for bitterness or controversy. He wants everyone to look like the best version of themselves, which is why people are so excited to work with him.

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Days after the initial phone call from Kensington Palace, Lubomirski and crew photographed Prince Harry and Meghan on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The photos depicted a couple more like Hollywood royalty than actual royalty. One image – with Meghan wrapped in Harry’s coat and her hand raised to show off the ring – was inspired by the image of Audrey Hepburn and husband Mel Ferrer.

Alexey Lubomirsky: 'I want people to be the best and, „This is me, but I look much happier and brighter”

The result was more intimate and low-key than previous royal engagement photos, and public reaction was swift and polarized — with fans praising the couple’s warmth and intimacy, detractors decrying the cost of Meghan’s Ralph & Russo dress. „I knew there would be an answer, but I never felt like it was an answer,” Lubomirski says. „I think it’s because people feel like they’re being called to bear witness to a very intimate moment.”

The couple invited Lubomirski and his wife, Giada, to their May 2018 wedding and asked him to be the official photographer, which had more at stake than just the engagement. At one point, Lubomirski had to apologize to the late Queen Elizabeth for being late as the bridesmaids and pageboys rioted. „She looked at me and said, 'You know, I’m not the one you need to worry about.’

It probably helped that Lubomirski was descended from the royal family. Through his father, he was heir to the Polish House of Lubomirski. „I don’t think they knew until Harry mentioned it to the king [then Prince Charles] During wedding photos. Harry said, 'Oh, you know, he . . . 'That’s it.’

Lubomirski was born to a French-Polish father and a British-Peruvian mother. He grew up between Botswana, Paris and England, and began photographing school friends as a teenager. „One of them came up to me and said, 'My mom wants that movie because she said it was the happiest I’ve ever seen it, which is the highest compliment I can get,'” he says. „Now in all my work, I want people to look their best and think, 'This is me, but I look my best and happiest and most happy and radiant.’

A bikini-clad woman sits on a supermarket conveyor belt

Gwyneth Paltrow (2016) © Alexi Lubomirski

A woman in a white shirt and white dress sits on a mantelpiece

Keira Knightley (2016) © Alexi Lubomirski

After studying photography at Brighton, he put that philosophy into practice as an assistant to Mario Destino. Four years later, she went out on her own, quickly photographing Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, and Kate Winslet for cover stories in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Elle. Stars started requesting him for cover shoots. He needs it, too. That’s because, “I’m not someone who sees you as an inanimate object. I am a people person. Sometimes a therapist.” Roberts’, billion-dollar smile is on the card The Sittings, he says: „Everyone who meets her is star-struck.” On Winslet: “Every inch of her body is an acting tool. It’s amazing.”

„Watching him on set is instructive,” says Slater. „Usually, when the subject changes, everyone immediately descends on them, but he likes to let them settle in, so he can introduce himself when they’re more relaxed. His aim is to make the person being photographed forget they have a camera in their hand, so they let their guard down and their Let personalities shine – he always looks for authenticity.

Portrait of smiling woman pulling red hair

Jessica Chastain (2021)

Celebrity portraiture has changed dramatically since the beginning of Lubomirski’s career. In 2005, it was standard to have two, even three days to shoot a cover and a 10-page spread. Now he gets a few hours for all that, plus digital cover options and multimedia shooting. „As the time to drop is shorter and shorter, the requirements have become higher,” he says. „It’s pointless to fight against the evolution of things. You have to roll with it.

Some things he won’t carry. Lubomirski is a staunch environmentalist and vegan, and in 2019 she launched Creatives4Change, an initiative to pledge signatories in the world of fashion and entertainment to stop working with fur, feathers and exotic skins. „I was never comfortable shooting fur, but I did it because I felt like doing it,” she says, referring to some of her earlier work. “Especially after that [royal] The wedding, my vision was shot through the roof. So I started using my site for good. He asked others to do the same, and Aniston, Winslet and fellow photographers Inez and Vinod signed on. So is Diane von Furstenberg, who says to the blue-eyed photographer at the start of her pitch, „I’m only looking at you because you’re beautiful.”

Although many high-end brands have stopped using fur altogether, feathers and exotic skins are still prevalent in the luxury sector. Holding the moral high ground has cost Lubomirsky some work — some that are painful to lose. But he’s adamant about it now, an attitude he attributes to what he calls a „future retrospective.”

„I don’t want to end my time in the industry with a stack of magazines and a healthy bank balance, knowing that I did things that didn’t sit well with me ethically,” he says. „When you have a voice you have to use it.”

’The Sittings’ is at Claridge’s Art Space, London W1K 4HR until 17 May

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