When David Armstrong (Jed Root) passed away on October 26, both fashion and art lost a unique vision. A fine-art photographer who also shot for high-end glossies like Love, Purple, Dazed & Confused, Vogue Hommes International, Another Man, 10 Men, and VMAN, Armstrong was known for bringing an intimate touch to his portraits that was a far cry from the brash, melodramatic stylings of many editorials. A member of the Boston School, which also included his close friends Nan Goldin and Jack Pierson, Armstrong excelled at capturing moments of quiet introspection, fleeting instants that would otherwise have passed unnoticed, lost forever to the depths of the past.
As a photographer, he prized the direct connection with his subjects, one of the reasons his sittings have left a lasting impression on the many models who have worked with him. Many of them share their thoughts and their favorite of Armstrong’s image of themselves below. Armstrong’s evocative oeuvre is his legacy, an inheritance that will stand as a testament to a singular artist who stood apart from the fashion swirl, an emissary from a far-off dreamland who was here and now is gone.
David was one of the first photographers I shot with, and I remember walking into 615 Jefferson Avenue and David welcoming me at the door. The house was part of David as much as David was part of the house. If you have ever been there, you understand exactly what I’m saying. Once you walked in, there were so many things going on, but in the most perfectly eclectic and intimate way. He had this ability to capture such intimacy in such a genuine and innocent way. He let you be in front of the camera as he was behind it—natural, unaffected, and in the moment. There was a certain chemistry and energy he created that was special, not only within the image, but through the experience. I’m lucky enough to say I not only worked with David but I also was fortunate enough to experience his talent and vision. May you forever live through the images you captured, and the perspective only you could see.
I was so inspired by David. He had so much innate style and grace. He approached everything in his life with the most wonderfully nonchalant sophistication. I think that’s why he brought out so much truth in the subjects that he photographed. He was so generous with me, and I am very grateful to him for his advice and collaboration. His passing has left a huge hole in the lives of those who knew him and the world of photography and fashion. He was a true great and he really stood out in this industry.
I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of David Armstrong. I had the privilege of working with him in what I think is one of the most haunting editorials of my career. People often cast me as the glamorous, sexy model, but David and his team wanted something else, dying my hair black, bleaching my eyebrows, and stripping away the makeup. I will always remember the last shot of the day, when the crew had left and David came to me and asked if I would stay for one last shot. We went down to the shore, just photographer and subject, and started shooting as darkness fell around us. It is my favorite photograph from the sitting. I will always cherish having had the opportunity to work with David, a man who saw the world from his own perspective. He will be greatly missed.
David was the first person I met in New York that believed in me. The day we met, I mentioned wanting to be a photographer. From then on, every time he photographed me, he would tell me I should take pictures in his house. He hadn’t even seen one of my photographs, and, finally, I took him up on his suggestion. The day of my shoot, I was sitting in his parlor editing the first picture when he walked in and from across the room said, “Doll, that’s fucking divine!” Later, when I started working for him, he would always ask to see what I was working on. David seemed to point out the details in my pictures that I was excited about. He quickly became my hero and I became one of his lucky mentees. David changed my life and gave me a future to be excited about. He has touched so many lives and given so much. I am one of many who will carry on his torch.
Working with David was a refreshing experience in which everything revolved around the creation of a beautiful image. Style and context were not forgotten, but his primary focus was on the image itself. I think this contributed to the genuine feeling in his work. As a photographer, he was extremely passionate and focused. He had tunnel vision, and used it to his advantage. As a person, he was able to transcend the superficial and see people for who they really are. I think that’s an extremely valuable characteristic in the fashion industry. He saw a deeper side of my character and used that to bring substance into the images, rather than attempt to express his character through me. He fostered a collaboration between photographer and model, which opened the door for a broad spectrum of possibilities. It’s a sad thing that the industry and the world have lost a true artist and genuine human being. It’s a great fortune that his presence will continue to be felt through the work that he poured his heart and soul into.
Tao Okamoto with designer Zac Posen for Purple Magazine, 2010
I remember that the atmosphere on set with David was very romantic and sentimental. I felt like I could feel a part of his world there. I remember that he was trying to bring my personality and story into the pictures so he was using many words to draw that out from me. That doesn’t happen often with photographers, and it made him seem poetic, earnest, and special. He was respectful and conscientious to his work and to others. There was only one side of him—true to himself and true to his work. I was so thrilled to collaborate with him as I was a fan of his work, and I recall wanting to ask him some questions regarding his previous projects. But I was very shy and hesitated to do so. Now I cannot regret that decision enough.
In an industry where you are so often looked through, covered in makeup, and Photoshopped until unrecognizable, working with David Armstrong was enlivening, to say the least. The David I knew was a gentle soul who loved his craft and was constantly searching for creative expression. Needless to say, from his intricate use of natural light to his sincere demeanor, there was nothing artificial about the man. I will always look back fondly on that afternoon in Brooklyn, when I was fortunate enough to work with the man, the artist, the icon, David Armstrong.
It never felt like work with David, it was always real life with him. He was a very nice, down-to-earth guy who made me feel very comfortable on set when I was just starting out and wasn’t too experienced. He was soft spoken, and that translated into his pictures. He was an observer. He would look at you and see where your comfort zone was, see what you were doing between shots, and he would try to capture that without your knowing that he did. But I always knew.
David was an amazing guy with a hilarious wit, very compassionate and engaging. He was an amazing photographer. His outlook on imagery was one of a kind, and so was his spirit. It almost made me uncomfortable at first how much eye contact he made while shooting, but that’s just because most people don’t try to connect at all. He put me in a baby-doll dress from the Thirties and talked to me about do-rags and bought the ugliest fake flowers he could find, all in his magic house in Bed-Stuy. He will be missed.
Working with David Armstrong was an honor. He was a unique photographer and always knew what he was doing. David was an amazing artist whose passion for his work truly inspired me as a model. I am blessed to have been fortunate enough to have worked with him. It was so important for David to connect with the models, and I could see that the minute I met him at his house in Massachusetts for our shoot. He asked about my life, career, and hobbies as if he wanted to know everything about me. Personally, I feel that is what made him such an amazing photographer. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing, and know he will live on through his incredible photographs that he left as his legacy. David was one of the best photographers I have worked with so far in my career. He was kind, caring, and understanding. I am honored to have worked with him at his own house, and the pictures he took of me will always be some of my favorites.
Working with David was a very memorable and happy experience for me. Even though there were four models in the shoot, and we (he, especially) worked the entire day, I never saw a moment where he seemed unenthusiastic about what he was doing, and he never seemed to get frustrated, bored, or fatigued by the job. I felt very comfortable shooting with him and felt like the job meant as much to him as it did to me, which was impressive. David seemed to have a genuine passion for his job. It never seemed to me like he felt that the job we did was work, it seemed like he was enjoying every minute of it and was excited to find the best angles and locations that we could shoot at. Even though you could tell he was frail (we shot just a few months ago), he was still adamant about getting the best, best shot he could, even if it meant climbing on top of a couch or laying down on the floor. He was also very clever and witty, randomly saying things that would make everyone laugh and feel more like friends than coworkers. I was lucky enough to shoot at his house in Massachusetts, which was a beautiful, Colonial-era home. He really had an eye for beauty; inside every room there were amazing antiques and he had stories for every single piece. It was like walking through a museum! The thing that really made our shoot so memorable was that he truly seemed to care that he was working with me. As we were shooting, I knew in the back of my mind that he had shot with countless other models and that I was really no more special than any of them, but still he made me feel as if he was the lucky one to be shooting me, and that left a real impact.
I had the opportunity to shoot with David at his home in Brooklyn. I remember being astounded by the amount of different articles which littered his house, from large, hand-painted portraits to little trinkets and artifacts he must have amassed during his journeys. Some may call it a mess, but to an artist, it is inspiration in every corner of the eye. No two rooms were the same. David was a greatly talented artist and I got the feeling he surrounded himself in the environment he loved so much, making his home more like an exhibition. As a photographer, he knew how to communicate his ideas to those he worked with, and I found it very natural to reach an understanding with him. He would always entertain throughout, telling stories of his past and sharing ideas to challenge normal thought. He had a soft heart with a strong vision, and I am grateful to have been in his presence and to have worked with one of the best.
I was a new model in New York the day I received a phone call from my agent, his voice raised in excitement, telling me that I had booked a great editorial with the legendary David Armstrong. As I arrived at his house, my face buried in Google Maps, I heard a voice from across the street yell my name, and it was at that moment when I met one of the most talented, interesting, and magnetic artists of our time. To say I feel lucky to have worked with David would be an understatement. His ability to leave a lasting impression on people and bring emotions to life through his work was effortless. When I look at the photos that David took of me and everyone else, I feel an overwhelming sense of love coming from behind the lens. His heart will live on through both those he touched personally and those he will continue to touch through his photographs.
One of my first-ever jobs (for Another Man) was shot by David Armstrong somewhere in a rich neighborhood in an old luxury mansion in London. It was the first time I had visited the city. I really didn’t know what to expect nor what to do, and obviously I was pretty nervous. David was really kind and very polite. He took the pressure away and made me feel more comfortable. He was interested and invested, and he asked me what I did in my own time and how I became a model. David told me how important he thought the personal connection between the photographer and the model was, and I really like that, because it makes things easier and more relaxed when shooting. We shot the editorial in natural daylight with a small crew, which made it a very peaceful and personal experience. This editorial is still one of the most beautiful I’ve done, and I’m really happy that I had the chance to work with David. I wish the family and friends of David strength.
David was such an easy photographer to work with. It was a quick two days out in the country and we took a ton of shots, even with the outfit changes and battling the clouds. He wasn’t interested in the “fashion shot” and was quick to shake you out of a pose. He just shot. He wanted to capture intimate moments, moments when you weren’t thinking, just existing. We would set up a lot near windows to utilize the natural light, and it felt like you were alone in the room with him (even with the team and PAs running around). I distinctly remember going through a bunch of Polaroids with him between shots. Most were from light tests, etc. (the days of film!), but there were several taken in wardrobe and in transition between locations and looks. He was ever vigilant, looking for the next organic moment to preserve. He sent me home with a handful after the shoot. I still have them today.
The way David set my career off was just amazing and it has kept me so busy. When I was 16 years old no one wanted to hire me because they thought I was “weird” and then I got a call from my agent saying that “a huge photographer by the name of David Armstrong wants to shoot you”. I met David in his home in Brooklyn where we shot together all day for Joy Magazine. I remember him tying a bow around my neck and saying “I am going to wrap you up like a present because you are a gift to the world”. It was my first big spread (13 pages) saying “David Armstrong presents Shaun Ross”.
Working with David was unlike anything I’ve experienced in the business. He was calm, compassionate, and thoughtful, and never rushed. His personality naturally affected everyone in such a positive way. Shooting with him always felt like a brief escape from the craziness of New York. When we shot, there was never a mandate of creating some façade of a glamorous lifestyle, just the goal of capturing the truth of the moment. He was truly one of a kind and will be deeply missed.
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