Clifford Coffin (June 18, 1913–March 2, 1972) was an American fashion photographer, particularly for Vogue magazine.
He started working as photographer first in London. While working for Vogue UK, he was reclaimed to New York to work for Vogue USA. For over a decade after the Second World War, he produced some of Vogue's most impeccably elegant fashion pictures in London, Paris and New York.
Clifford Coffin was a perfectionist in his work. He was said to know more about fashion than his editors. In order to achieve the results he wanted, he often applied his models's make up and even managed their clothes and accessories.
‘It is hard to think of Coffin with anything but admiration. The fashion world needs its eccentric heroes and if he had lived now he would certainly have been applauded for his flamboyant behaviour. He reduced models to tears, fashion editors to desperation and himself to exhaustion. But out of the chaos, Coffin took some undeniably great pictures.’ - ‘Flashback’, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 1 June 1997. Photo by Clifford Coffin
He was also an innovator. He sometimes used the light he called ring light, which he said was inspired by the lighting of the dentists, to create a special visual effect, making his photos look like surreal paintings.
Clifford Coffin has often been called "the greatest of Vogue magazine’s 'lost' photographers". But in his short career, he not only captured the essence of elegance, glamour and joy of living in the post war years in the most cosmopolitan cities across the world, but also helped promoted the careers of the super models of the era like Barbara Goalen, Wenda Rogerson(later married to photographer Norman Parkinson, Clifford Coffin's greatest rival at the time), Suzy Parker, and discovered Elsa Martinelli, the Italian actress and model.
He was not, however, enamored with Audrey Hepburn while working with her in Paris. He called her "fat", a word that can hardly described the forever too slim British actress.
Other than fashion photographer, Clifford Coffin was also a great photo portraitist who photographed many subjects for Vogue's 'Spotlight' pages, including Christian Dior, Lucian Freud, Gloria Swanson, Lady Diana Cooper, Gore Vidal, Ernest Hemingway,
Clifford Coffin was known for his eccentricity, he was called an "outspoken homosexual with a heroic appetite for self-destruction, his bad behaviour was legendary".
Coffin suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and died of throat cancer in Pasadena, California, in 1972, aged 58.
In 1997, London's National Portrait Gallery paid tribute to the photographer by mounting the exhibition: Clifford Coffin: The Varnished Truth – Photographs from Vogue 1945 to 1955.