-Rachel Matthews-Frederick

Photographed by the famed Annie Leibovitz, for Vogue, the photo series Brief Encounter sees Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and model Natalia Vodianova act out the age old story of star crossed lovers. Set against a backdrop of steam-trains, the ‘railway rendezvous’ was inspired by the megamogul’s latest album Last Train to Paris (Sullivan, R 2010). While evidently advertising Combs’ new album, the shoot goes beyond publicising Diddy’s latest album drop.

Annie Leibovitz is the undisputed queen of fashion photography. Her constructed images are marked by their cinematic nature and Brief Encounter is no exception.  The rich colours and depth of tone within the images, as well as the contrast between the clothes and the background, build a sense of dramatic complexity (Kismaric & Respini 2008). The careful composition creates an aura of personal intimacy, while other images that lend themselves to action shots suggest a more detailed narrative to be completed by the viewer.


This narrative is established in the first photograph of the sequence. Combs and his entourage over power half the picture frame, while Vodianova draws just as much focus sitting alone. The connection between the two major players is made as one of the men in Diddy’s party gazes in the direction of Vodianova, and so, as the writing in the corner of the image suggests, ‘the romance is set for departure’ (Sullivan, R 2010). The following sequence of photographs, bathed in all the glamour and melodrama attributed to cinematic nature of the photography, encourages the viewer to construct a tale of whirlwind romance and mystic through both written cues and blatant gesturing. Vodianova’s character reaches her pinnacle in the second to last shot looking ‘absolutely like a World War II herione’- a stunning contrast to the hulking metal of the train.


In what is to be considered a common technique of fashion photography, the gaze of the characters within the photographs is directed away from the viewer. This disconnectedness allows the viewer to project themselves into the place of the model and therefore expand on the narrative in a far more personal and intimate way. This technique is highly effective in fashion advertising as it allows for identification and desire in the viewer.

Through this personal association Brief Encounter engages the viewer in a narrative of fast romance. The cinematic attributes of the series create an intimacy and dramatic complexity that do little to let go of the viewers’ attention. Leibovitz in her usual style has constructed a story that allows the viewer to linger in a self-directed narrative. Truly these images prove to be far more than a Brief Encounter.

Kismaric S & Respini E 2008, ‘Fashioning fiction in photography since 1990’, in Shinkle, E 2008, ‘Fashion as photograph: viewing and reviewing images of fashion’, I.B. Tauris London;New York pp. 29-45.

Sullivan, R 2010, ‘Brief Encounters’, viewed 24 August 2014 < http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/natalia-vodianova-and-sean-diddy-combs-brief-encounter/#1&gt;