As the relentless pace of the Fashion Week piles on the pressure, I'm suddenly left thinking "what, another season already?". I didn't really make the most of the images I took backstage last time, luckily the magazine I shoot for, Fated and Fabled, is very forgiving! So, before the new season starts, here's a selection of my favourite ones from SS18. This time I decided to make actual prints rather than negative scans, better less material but better utilised. See you at the AW18 shows!
Fashion editorials are such fleeting moments, they are old news as soon as the seasons change and the issues move on. However there's a large amount of planning and work behind each one, I thought it might be interesting to offer a little insight into the thought process behind my recent editorial featured in HUF magazine, Elemental Geometry.
This project was a real labour of love and the ideas for it were rattling around in my head for several months. As creative processes tend to go, it went through many iterations and stages of planning. It all started when I stumbled across an interview in a magazine with renowned french parfumier, makeup artist and photographer Serge Lutens. His highly graphic aesthetic (a few examples below) immediately stuck me as a unique visual language that was more sculptural than photographic.
(images sourced from google)
If there's something I love it's unphotographic photography! Anything that leaves you wondering whether it's actually a photograph immediately captures my imagination.
I wanted to explore the idea of use of geometry in fashion photography in a more formal way, really restricting the parameters and playing with very few elements in order to explore the boundaries of where a particular shape could go, so I decided that each image should feature just one shape and one shape only. I wanted to communicate the interactions of a shape with itself and see what visual language could be derived from pattern repetition, something which I strongly believe is fundamental to the human concept of aesthetic and often a hidden motif in a lot of successful photography.
One of the most successful visual story tellers of the 20th century was the great Gary Winogrand, this famous image for me sums up the perfect reason why geometry is so important to photography. The symmetry of pattern repetition between the rhinos, their shadow, the woman's glasses and the bow on her dress doesn't need any analysis, it just instinctively works.
So ideas start to evolve and I start thinking about creating 4 tableauxs, each dedicated to a particular shape. Circle, Square, Diamond and Triangle would be the cardinal points to explore. These would be diptychs, where one fashion image would be coupled to a still life. I start planning, mood boards, set design ideas, for weeks on end I would filter any garment, prop, shop window through the lens of these geometric shapes, a bit like a toddler slotting wooden block shapes into a cutout hole.
Circles - The first part of the story was to be about the most symmetrical shape of all, representing infinity, wholeness and eternity. These mystical qualities are hard to associate with human traits, so my thoughts strayed towards representations of the mythology and spirituality, and the best aesthetic fit was the circular halo in Russian iconography. The reference is purely visual rather than cultural, my icon would reference only the shape and colours of Russian iconography, but the icon itself would be more vaudevillian than saint, an icon of excess rather than piety. I can never thank my amazing stylist Liz, for painstakingly making the top for this image out of shower curtain rings after we poured over dozens of options which never quite fit the bill.
Squares - I'm a big fan of Tarantino and one of the things I love about him is his unashamedly explicit tributing and homage paying to his cinematic influences. The man loves cinema in all its genres and references many of them in his work. Sometimes I encounter a film so visually stunning that I cannot refrain from paying my own homage. The set design for Squares and Diamonds pays direct homage to the 1973 surrealist masterpiece that is Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'The Holy Mountain', particularly the scene where the thief enters the alchemist's tower. I'm late to the party with ol' Jodo, it's the sort of thing you should fall in love with as a dazed and confused art student, but I happen to have only recently discovered him.
(Polaroids courtesy of Liz Sargeant)
Diamonds - Again this is inspired by the opening scene of The Holy Mountain, where the alchemist is performing a ritual inside a curved alcove type space with a diamond patterned tiled wall. The diamond image replicating the idea of a sorceress or high priestess.
(Polaroids courtesy of Liz Sargeant)
Triangles - This would be a more sparse set, focussing on a very simple lines and reduced colour palette. The triangles is the most basic of polygons and has been so widely used in all manners of narratives for all manners of religious and spiritual meaning, it would have felt biased to pick one narrative over another so I decided to leave it in its most fundamental unembellished form. Once again the capable hands of Liz's styling got the perfect garment celebrating the form in its purest simplicity.
(Polaroids courtesy of Liz Sargeant)
Still life - In the still lives to couple with each fashion shot I wanted to explore dimensionality, how the shape extends to the third dimension and beyond. For example arranging the rubiks cube in a cubic alcove of square mirrors would extrapolate it beyond it's 3 dimensions to represent a tesseract or hypercube, extending it to the 4th dimension. Similarly with the triangle, it's existence beyond the flat plane, where it interacts both with triangle based solids like the tetrahedron and icosahedron and with a Sierpinski triangle, a fractal object of fractional dimension (Hausdorff dimension of 1.5849 to be pedantic). In such a meticulously curated project, the Sierpinski triangle is also the sole reference to the element of chance, which is typically always present in my photography, since it's an object that's created through a simple probabilistic algorithm.
A most important element in the whole project was the team work. Choosing the right team was going to make or break this, as the brief is so specific. I needed people who were both onboard with the vision and happy to work to strict guidelines. I was lucky to be able to call on my friend Liz Sargeant to add her expert styling input to the project and together with the talented Sarah Hubbauer , Darcie Harvey and Nickie Rhodes-Hill, the team really came together and delivered.
Full team credits
Photography, art direction and set design - Ralph Whitehead
Styling - Liz Sargeant , assisted by Rachel Williams and Jenny Pickets
Makeup - Sarah Hubbauer
Hair - Darcie Harvey
Nails - Nickie Rhodes-Hill
Throughout the month of May I had my first exhibition at SHED, an amazing studio space and cafe' in East London. As always when self curating, some of the images don't make the cut, although there is sometimes not a rational reason, just a choice in a particular momenta. Here are a few that didn't make the exhibition but perhaps still deserve a bit of exposure.....
(from the exhibition press release)...
Any fashion photographer is inevitably caught up in an idealized and unrealistic ideal of beauty that is incessantly drilled in by the usual advertising and editorial cahnnels. Many of the sitters for these portraits are either models or work in and around the fashion industry in some form, some are reprints from previous fashion shoots and some are taken backstage during london fashion week. This body of work looks to counter the expected canons beauty through a process of distress and transformation. Where traditional beauty decays (in this case artificially), new beauty can always be found and a new cycle can emerge. the element of chance also plays a role as different textures occur when chemicals mix and drip on the page, which can be controlled only to a degree. Through this process, every print is compeltely unique and individual, again at odds with the disposable, replaceable and infinitely reproducible models of beauty models that exist in fashion.
This season I was shooting again backstage at London Fashion Week for Fated and Fabled magazine, this a collection of my favourite shots. Many of these didn't make the editors cut but they are none the less some of my personal favourites. I decided to include just the black and white ones shot on my Leica for this particular set. Fashion shows I covered include Pam Hogg, Mark Fast , Ashley Isham , Cimone and many more but I'll let the fashionistas pair up images to designers. It's not really the intention of this blog post to make a fashion statement, just to convey a little bit of the atmosphere of those backstage moments.
One of my favourite printing techniques involves the use of chemistry to get colourful images out of black and white paper. Here is an article I wrote about it recently for the artist collective I'm part of, the Film Shooters Collective.
A few all-analogue backstage candids from behind the scenes. The madness back there is way more fun than the few minutes of walking up and down the runway! Shot for Fated & Fabled magazine here is a selection of my personal favourites.
Every now and then a project comes along where you can quite liberally draw inspiration from some great artist from the past. This was certainly true for this shoot for a really cool young brand Koua Mexico , inspired by the great Frida Khalo. I always loved those early colour photographs of her by Nikolas Muray, the technique for those original 1930s tri carbro prints is almost impossible to reproduce nowadays so I opted for a cinematic 1960s type classic movie look. Modelled by blogger Laura Blair, these were taken in the hottest (no pun intended!) Mexican bar in London, Tonteria.