Rihanna mobbed in Paris: Dennis Leupold's best photograph

‘A huge crowd surrounded the car. It was quite eerie, almost scary. Even for her that moment was crazy’

Rihanna’s French fans are wild. They love her so much and they run for several blocks behind her car when she’s travelling through the city. This shot was taken at Paris fashion week in 2014. It was the first day she arrived in Paris and so things were especially intense.

We’d just left the Balmain show and it was really hard to get through this huge crowd of people to the car. When we got inside we were instantly surrounded by people. If you look closely, one of the fans outside has their phone set to record mode – I don’t think you can actually see anything through the glass but they’re still trying. It was quite eerie, almost a little scary. Rihanna is more used to these kinds of situations than other people, but even for her that moment was kind of crazy.

Nothing was planned about the shot. Looking at her expression and the way she looks at the camera, I don’t think she knew I was going to take a picture in that moment. It’s very real, it captures how she felt. Sometimes when you see celebrities in the news they almost don’t seem like human beings with emotions. But here, even though she’s been in the business since she was a teenager, [this situation] triggered something. You can see that emotion in the picture.

Before I met Rihanna I was fascinated by her as a pop star and as a person. She seemed very bold, very authentic and very fun. Before the Diamonds world tour in 2013 she asked me to come along and capture what happens between concerts. We got along well, so we kept working together. She already had a book in mind when we met, and that’s what we’ve spent the last six years doing. This shot was one of the key images for it. She didn’t want it to feature anything posed or set up – she wanted it to capture her life out of her eyes. So even on red carpets with a lot of paparazzi I would have to try to find a fresh angle – maybe include the photographers in the shot, or show a different perspective.

Obviously, as a photographer, Rihanna is the best subject you can ask for. She’s very comfortable in front of the camera. The key thing was building a relationship with her. I can kind of feel her mood to know when it’s the right time to shoot, and what kind of pictures she would like. You don’t want to interrupt her workflow. She’s so dedicated to the cause, whatever she does: make up, music, styling. She will not ever do anything she doesn’t believe in. She works crazy hours. It’s awesome to witness.

When you spend 24 hours a day with someone – on a jet, on a bus – you become very close. But it was always important that I knew my assignments and remained professional. I would go to an after party with her but maybe go home at 2am and start editing pictures.

Rihanna’s very aware of the people around her and she helps them grow with her. Working with her has helped my career in every way. I’ve got to shoot people you would normally never get to shoot. I’ve got pictures of Rihanna and Karl Lagerfeld together – the access has been incredible. It’s also presented me with lots of challenges. When you’re shooting in a studio you get to dictate everything that’s going to happen on your set. But on tour, when you’re taking a picture at 4am with no light and you can’t use a flash, the situation dictates what sort of photo you can take. It really challenges you to get a good picture.

Luckily, there is a trust between us. I think she felt OK to show a side to her that she might not show to other people or photographers.

Rihanna is published by Phaidon, £120.

Dennis Leupold’s CV

Dennis Leupold

Born: Duisberg, Germany.

Training: I learned myself, from working with all kinds of amazing photographers.

Influences:Peter Lindbergh is the main one – he grew up in the same town and was always the person I look up to.”

High point: “I hope it’s still coming!”

Low point: “When I started in 2007 there was a recession in the US. It was a very hard time to be a new photographer.”

Top tip: “Be true to yourself. Don’t look at what trends are happening. Your perspective is unique to you.”


Interview by Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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