At rarefied weddings, including those of British Vogue’s top editor, Princess Diana’s niece and Paris Hilton, German Larkin has become a fixture.
German Larkin, a self-trained photographer, came to the medium with a background in sociology and an interest in capturing what he calls “real life,” or what goes on “at the tables, on the tables and under the tables.”Credit…Marco Arguello for The New York Times
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German Larkin had never photographed a wedding when he booked his first job, at the Palace of Versailles in May 2017.
In the last year, he has taken pictures at the April wedding of the celebrity Gen Z couple Nicola Peltz and Brooklyn Beckham; the February nuptials of Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor in chief, and Alec Maxwell, a filmmaker; and the November 2021 marriage of Paris Hilton and the venture capitalist Carter Reum.
But were it not for a chance encounter, Mr. Larkin might have never become a wedding photographer.
Mr. Larkin, who is 41 and lives in Milan, was out one night in Florence, in June 2016, when he bumped into his friend Natalya Maximova while she was having dinner with Leslie Cohen Amon, a swimwear designer. Ms. Cohen Amon at the time was planning her wedding to Ronen Chichportich, who works in the diamond industry. Ms. Maximova, knowing that Mr. Larkin had been photographing at parties and fashion events, saw an opportunity.
“Natalya knew I was looking for a photographer to shoot my wedding and mentioned how talented he is when she introduced us,” Ms. Cohen Amon said. “I was specifically looking for someone different, who had never shot a wedding but had a connection with fashion — more an artist than a photographer.”
With no formal portfolio to show her, Mr. Larkin scrolled through his Instagram account for Ms. Cohen Amon, who then asked on the spot if she could book him for her nuptials at Versailles. “His images were strikingly good,” she said. “He had a way to use flash like no one else.”
That Mr. Larkin (whose given name is pronounced GUR-mun) had no previous experience or even an interest in photographing weddings did not matter once Ms. Cohen Amon mentioned her venue. Of the opportunity, Mr. Larkin had one thought: “Versailles? Yes, please!”
After the wedding, Mr. Larkin’s photographs appeared with an article about the event on Vogue.com. (The article was written freelance by this writer, who did not know Mr. Larkin or the couple when she pitched it after seeing photos of the wedding shared on Instagram by Giambattista Valli, the fashion designer who made Ms. Cohen Amon’s dress.)
It wasn’t long before other couples took notice of Mr. Larkin’s career pivot.
High-profile nuptials he has since photographed also include the July 2021 wedding of Princess Diana’s niece Lady Kitty Spencer and Michael Lewis, the chairman of the fashion conglomerate Foschini Group; the September 2020 marriage of the model and charity founder Natalia Vodianova and the fashion executive Antoine Arnault; the January 2020 nuptials of Dasha Zhukova, an entrepreneur in the art and magazine worlds, and the shipping heir Stavros Niarchos III; and the July 2019 wedding of Elie Saab Jr., the chief executive of his father Elie Saab’s namesake fashion company, and Christina Mourad.
Mr. Larkin, who was born in Semey, Kazakhstan, to a German father and Russian mother, did not professionally pick up a camera until he was 30.
At 13, his parents divorced and he moved to Nuremberg, Germany, with his father. Three years later, at 16, he moved to Moscow to live with his mother and at 19, he moved to Milan, where he graduated from Bocconi University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2003. Mr. Larkin then sought opportunities to “do something in media,” as he put it.
He spent six years working in press offices for fashion companies including Aeffe, an Italian business that owns Moschino and other labels, before starting to write freelance for publications including Style.com, Russian Tatler, Grazia and Elle Ukraine.
As a writer, Mr. Larkin gravitated toward covering fashion shows and other events that drew “a cool gathering of people,” he said. For certain assignments, he would have to suggest pictures to run with a story, but often struggled to find photos that he liked on wire services.
“That’s when my artist-photographer friend Timoféy Kolesnikov showed me this small Leica D-Lux camera, which was really impressive,” said Mr. Larkin, who in early 2011 bought his own Leica camera so he could photograph events that he wrote about. (Leica remains his preferred brand to this day, though he also uses a Canon camera.)
Mr. Larkin, who had no formal photography training, said that his approach to the medium was influenced by his background in sociology. “I was really studying society with my lens,” he said, “to capture the rawness of what was happening behind the scenes at very glamorous events.” From the start, he was less interested in taking staged photo ops as he was in seeking out what he described as “real life,” or what was going on “at the tables, on the tables and under the tables.”
“As a boy coming from the middle of nowhere, gala dinners were representations of the most glamorous and glitzy life,” Mr. Larkin added. “But in reality I discovered that people often feel lost at gala dinners. It’s a totally non-intimate situation and people try to get intimate in a very impossible way and this leads to very interesting visual situations, which I was always eager to photograph.”
In 2015, he was contacted by Alessia Glaviano, who was then a senior photo editor at Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue. She asked Mr. Larkin to become a regular photographer at parties and events, sending him to cover Paris Fashion Week, in March 2016, the Cannes Film Festival, in May 2016, and Milan Fashion Week, in September 2016.
“Usually when you meet photographers who do events,” said Ms. Glaviano, who is now the head of Vogue’s global photography network, PhotoVogue, “their pictures look really fake and commercial.” Mr. Larkin’s images have more of a “documentary style” that she compared to the work of the photographers Roxanne Lowit and Ron Galella, who died in May. “He really makes pictures that are fresh and glamorous and joyful and beautiful,” Ms. Glaviano added.
While contributing to Vogue Italia, Mr. Larkin started to book jobs with fashion labels including Bulgari and Moncler. Working on photo shoots and at events led him to meet many of the people whose weddings he has photographed. “They get a sample of my eye, taste and the way I see them in photos so it comes naturally for them to think of me for their big day,” Mr. Larkin said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Larkin says his appeal as a wedding photographer is because his background isn’t in weddings. “I am a fashion photographer and I see wedding photography as fashion shots,” Mr. Larkin said, comparing himself to Mario Testino, Alexi Lubomirski and Ellen von Unwerth, all photographers who are known for their fashion work but have also shot at nuptials.
Mr. Enninful, the British Vogue editor, was first drawn to Mr. Larkin by a picture that he took of Mr. Enninful and the singer Dua Lipa at the 2021 British Fashion Awards. “German’s images feel very intimate, but also playful, with just the right amount of glamour,” Mr. Enninful said in a text message.
The younger Mr. Saab, who became acquainted with Mr. Larkin through Robert Cavalli (a son of the fashion designer Roberto Cavalli), said that Mr. Larkin “has a very spontaneous way of taking pictures” as well as a knack for “capturing a moment in a very editorial way and in a very glamorous way that is really, really special.”
Though weddings have become a consistent part of his business, Mr. Larkin only takes on a handful each year in order to leave time for fashion jobs, which he said help keep his “eye sharp.” (Other labels he has worked for include Off-White, Prada and Schiaparelli.)
His fee to photograph a wedding starts at $30,000. “All of my wedding shoots have been paid, with no exceptions,” he said. Though he does not enlist any backup photographers, he works with a team of six, who include “a lighting assistant and two post production guys who do all the color correction and retouching,” he added.
From the thousands of images he can take at a single event, Mr. Larkin typically gives couples “around 170 handpicked, post-produced” pictures, he said. “What makes a photographer is his or her selection of images.”
Just as important, his clients say, is the way Mr. Larkin makes them feel in front of the camera. “For me, you can read on my face in five seconds if I’m insecure or unhappy or sad — I can’t hide that very well,” said Ms. Peltz, an actor. Mr. Larkin made her feel “so beautiful and confident” while photographing her wedding to Mr. Beckham, she added.
Ms. Vodianova, the model, said Mr. Larkin is “quite selfless in the process and the way he takes pictures,” adding, “he has this very cheerful demeanor and always knows the right thing to say in the moment to make you feel comfortable and relaxed.”
As for the future of his career, Mr. Larkin keeps an open mind. “Becoming a photographer was never a plan, moreover a wedding photographer,” he said.
Nevertheless, weddings perhaps most epitomize what he described as the best part of his job: “Being around people, interacting with different kinds of humans around the world, in the happiest and most glamorous moments of their lives.”
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