I didn’t need to be listening to a Leonard Cohen song to write about the romance of Natalia Vodianova. She was born to be in front of a Zeiss camera lens; born to be an adoring mother, her five children backlit around her in a field of high grass; born to laugh at her own flirtatiousness; and born to be the sort of rare and unforgettable beauty whose kindness toward those less fortunate is never-ending.
I have known Natalia for 15 years—I first photographed her in the Dominican Republic for this magazine after she had just arrived in America, and meeting her was like a thunderclap. It felt as if a cloud had burst open above my head, and suddenly this extraordinary woman had landed in front of my camera. She invaded my senses so completely that I only wanted to photograph her or my dogs every day. Natalia never knew how I felt until she saw my first published portraits of her—her reaction was to just laugh and laugh at what I had asked her to wear or not wear.
See Bruce Weber's photographs of Natalia Vodianova here.
When I made “I Get Along,” my third video for the Pet Shop Boys, Natalia seemed a little skeptical about her ability to act. She was dressed in a paper gown by the famed Broadway designer William Ivey Long. Our director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh—who had been nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography for Jane Campion’s film The Piano—was immediately infatuated with her. In one of the first shots of the day, Natalia hesitantly walked up to a wall we had covered in photographs of babies, punk rockers, and juvenile delinquents. Guess what she did as the camera rolled? She pretended to faint, collapsing into the arms of a boy in a paper suit standing next to her just before her head hit the floor. She had all the drama necessary to be an actress!
Over the years, I’ve concocted one love story after another for Natalia in my photographs. Whether she’s with Ed Harris or a rodeo cowboy, Oscar de la Renta or Cody the bear, Natalia has always played along like a good sport. But I think the only costar she developed a genuine crush on was my pit bull, Billie Holiday. I photographed them together once—Natalia balancing Billie on a vintage bicycle from India, as if they were off to visit Gayatri Devi, the maharani of Jaipur. Billie was a rescue dog we found in Miami, and I imagined Natalia connecting with her story on some deep level; for both of them, their early days had been a difficult journey. I admire how Natalia’s struggle as a young girl inspired her to create the Naked Heart Foundation, which has built so many playgrounds and helped so many children with disabilities in Russia. Her kindness is always something I want to celebrate in my photographs.
Natalia Vodianova Stars in Bruce Weber's New Home Video