There are beauty books filled with glorious vintage photographs, there are beauty books that break down makeup techniques, and then there’s photographer Kenneth Willardt’s The Beauty Book, which is hands down the most futuristic beauty book yet.
The coffee-table book, which is out this week, showcases 15 years of Willardt’s high-drama, bold editorials and print ads for Maybelline and L’Oréal. But — and here’s where it’s different from any you’ve seen before — it’s also interactive. When you download The Beauty Book app on your iPhone and hold it over certain pages of the book, they come alive on your screen, with short, GIF-like animations that include sound. Fueled by image-recognition technology, the app transforms an image of Laetitia Casta eating pasta so that it suddenly sways in the wind. Isabeli Fontana’s orange mask changes from purple to blue to green. A bead of sweat runs down a model’s neck.
The Cut spoke with Willardt about why he chose to animate his book, that time he upset New Yorkers with his nude billboards of Robyn Lawley, and how Instagram has changed the modeling world.
What draws you to capturing beauty up close?
If you’re going to do something that requires you to be up close to women, and that’s your job, and you do it every day … how could you not like it? It can’t be so bad. I just really love it. There’s so much detail in the face, you know? I never get tired of looking at it and shooting it. There are so many angles, so many different lighting sources; there are so many scenarios. I wanted the book to show that sexy women are strong — they’re always confident.
Some of the images in the book move and make sound with the help of The Beauty Book app. What inspired you to create an interactive book?
How do we communicate now? It’s all through the phone. It’s always like this [mimes staring down into his iPhone]. They always have this thing! [Points at phone.] I wanted to incorporate the phone with the book to better connect with the audience.
You shoot fantastic images of models who are considered plus-size in the fashion industry.
That’s how it should be. You can’t just get these skinny girls. That’s not how the world looks. Someone like Robyn [Lawley] is a real woman. That’s what’s sexy. And I think if you put that image out there, people will be happier and more comfortable with themselves, and the media will slowly turn a bit in that direction. When I did the show [Size Does Matter], it was very successful. I think if it had been a skinny girl, there wouldn’t have been the same reaction. People really embraced Size Does Matter, but the city didn’t.
What do you mean by that?
I put Robyn on a billboard last year. Before her, it was a skinny girl and nobody mentioned anything. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. And then bam! When I put Robyn on, somebody got offended and it’s been taking me a year with the city to get my billboard on my own building. You see these other buildings? Big billboards everywhere! This really infuriates me. I wrote a letter to the mayor. We’ll see.
Can you tell me about a particularly memorable experience from shooting the images for the book?
There was always something happening when I was shooting. When you look at the images, that’s when you remember the date. That’s what’s nice about revisiting these photos again. [Looks at an image of Kim Lemanton covered in mud.] I’m like, This was such an incredible trip to Israel at the time. It was so innocent and raw. But my most favorite picture? Hopefully I haven’t done it yet.
How did you create the special effects for the interactive pictures?
For some, I had an intern, and she shot the sounds separately with an iPhone.
Wait, an iPhone?
Yes! The one with the water and the dark-room image with Barbara Palvin — those interactive features were shot with an iPhone. It came out like whoa. It was so good; it’s shocking.
What sort of makeup features do you look for in your subjects?
I like dewy skin, a little bit of rosy cheeks, with a little bit of a glossy lip. That dewy, natural look, with a little bit of tan to the skin. It looks healthy.
What’s next after The Beauty Book?
My next book is going to feature a bunch of Instagram girls. Not the typical type of bathing-suit Instagram girls. Not in my book. One is going to be this clothing designer who’s also a model. The book is going to feature like five of those girls who have 50,000 followers, or something like that. They’re making a change in the model world. People connect more with them. You have to embrace whatever’s new.
This interview has been edited and condensed.