Miles Aldridge and Francis Hodgson | Photo London Talks 2016

A great example how to interview a photographer!

As part of our training we have live presentations by various practitioners and for various reasons I rarely ask any questions. My decision to reflect on this particular interview is based on two factors. Firstly, Francis Hodgeson managed to keep me engaged throughout, and secondly, this is interview is a great piece of work to analyse critically.

Fig 1. I just want you to love me (Aldridge,2013)

“Miles Aldridge, the distinguished fashion photographer and artist, is interviewed by Francis Hodgson, Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton, the photography critic of the Financial Times and the former Head of the photographs department at Sotheby’s. Francis Hodgson is also the Chairman of the Photo London 2016 Curatorial Committee. Miles Aldridge is highly respected for his brilliant fashion work, and in particular for a unique and bold colour sense (Hodgson and Aldridge, 2016) . ”

From the start Francis Hodgson introduces himself and why he is doing the interview. Thus establishing his legitimacy and putting the photographer, Aldridge at rest. He makes a great point around the way photographers from various practices snub each other at Art Fair. After he describes himself and his role as a generalist he merely introduces Aldridge as a specialist making him the key speaker.

Hodgson used Aldridges photograph’s as the basis of the photographs, knowing that Aldridge will be the person that knows the subject the best and feel comfortable and that the selected photographs have been selected as pieces of art. However he had a different strategy. He took the lead. he selected the images he wanted to discuss. This could be interpreted as him being a know it all, but it had a great effect. He could control the discussion, and he made Aldridge seem less of a rock star and celebrity. It directed the audience to view Aldridge’s work. Unfortunately the images displayed was too small.

Hodgson listened to what Aldridge said and he found an important area to discuss, directed his questions to expose that subject. In that way he got Aldridge to explain how he got started, whether he does personal projects, how he manages to get assignments and manage to keep creative control or influence, how he started, his creative process, how he collaborate with the design and support teams, how he interact with other fashion photography pears and his long term relationship with his key customer. In my view it was brilliantly done and led to an informative and educational experience.

Aldridge revealed a number of interesting points. Firstly, that even though he ocasionally does personal projects, he sees all assignments as fulfilling his creative aspirations. “I (Aldridge) really feel is that the commissioned work is the personal work. In as much as that all one’s feelings about the world and oneself, the sort of autobiography of oneself should appear in in the commissioned work. That’s why, in a way, the New York or Vogue Italia asking me to do a picture is they want my sense of the world and the culture at that point,in the picture (Hodgson and Aldridge , 2016) . ” He conceded, he entered the market as the the “grunge” look was in vogue when he and his peers were working on, was in demand at that time. He admits he came into the practice as a “bluffer”. This highlights how in step your work needs to be to initial get assignments and his chosen aesthetic and visual direction aligned with his customers need. It also confirms the process of how Creative directors select their new photographers. “But I quickly realised that if I carried that on I would be completely forgotten about and would just be a kind of a suburb a footnote in the book of grunge photography” which means if you don’t mimic a style you will never achieve greatness.

After that his initial stage his background in illustration frustrated him but enabled him to define his direction over time, and gave him the insight to get him creative influence on every assignment that followed. “I started to draw these pictures and bring them to the photo shoot – almost as a kind of a map of what we were going to do and by having this plan or plots or design about the the image it actually gave me an immense amount of power over everyone else in the studio (Hodgson and Aldridge , 2016) .” see Fig 2. He goes to the design sessions with at least ten ideas on paper, giving his customer and creative staff a starting point and get them to add their ideas. “I was now a photographer who was thinking more like a filmmaker about images and how a set of images could work together rather like a series of images in a movie to tell stories or at least kind of bring you into the idea of story telling. It was this part that intrigued me. It aligned with my investigation into story telling in my practice. I could see how for him this story telling developed from a storyboard until it is realised in the final photograph. Figure 2 also indicate how he uses Polaroid photographs in hi creative process.

Fig 2: Various examples from Miles’s Instagram showing his use of illustration in his planning. From concept, to lab shot using Polaroid to final print (Aldridge, 2019)

Aldridge quickly realised that he needed to build a long term relationship with both his creative and support team. It made all of them comfortable to collaborate through understanding and respect. This respect also extended to his customer and his products which was clearly evident from how he spoke about him. It brings me to the point that the edification and acknowledgement of your peers is extremely important in a competitive market. something all photographers need to adopt at this stage of the photographic game.

When asked how much the current market and his peers influence his work, he denied it saying that he followed his own direction and rarely looked or discussed his the work with others. But he follows with the statement as his peers he was keeping his darkroom secrets to himself. So he does not reveal everything to us.

All of this discussion was done while viewing some of his best work and I must say, I perceived his creativity with awe. He is truly an artist. But if you read further you will see that I have some serious concerns about his work.

Critical reflection on his work ala Susan Sontag.

“Photography is not practised by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defence of anxiety, and a tool of power. (Sontag ,1977 p 17)”.

Aldridge in his discussion used the words power and control relating to how he works. but is their more to that? His use of bold saturated colours reminiscent of Andy Warhol, and his illustrations may obscure his primary motives dressed up as art. He want to control everything. The creative aspect, the lights, the background, the model he uses and even the way they pose. To what purpose may well be asked?

“Still there is something predatory about the act of taking a pictures. (Sontag,1977 p14). He denies that the customer have control, he admits that it is his vision, then why does some of his photographs use woman as sex objects, being abused, an object of amusement or at the worse end, present them as being raped/abused to advertise a watch for a man? See Fig 3 and 4. the man remains anonymous. All this with a sense of detachment. Is he representing the photographer? He describe the photographers and models of his period as sexy.

Fig 3 Watch Add 1 from New news website (New-news 2019)
Fig 4 watch add 2 Fig 3 Watch Add 1 from New news website (New-news 2019)

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves…(Sontag 1977 P14-15)” And he does this with premeditation. Is this the culture he wishes to promote? “Photographs can abet desire in the most direct way.. (Sontag 1977 p 17).” and as this is an open forum I will not continue this sentence. Some may call it art. Susan Sontag clearly doesn’t.

Some of my peers on the course may well agree with her. I still like his creative approach and work as it is intended for the fashion industry, which still uses sex to sell, and promote carnal hedonism and materialistic possessiveness. I can see why Aldridge is successful in his practice.

Reference

Hodgson, F. and Aldridge, M. (2016). Miles Aldridge and Francis Hodgson | Photo London Talks 2016. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhZvA4plK18 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].

Aldridge, M. (2013). I Only want you to love me. [image] Available at: https://www.filmsnotdead.com/miles-aldridge-i-only-want-you-to-love-me-somerset-house/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].

Aldridge, M. (2019). Miles Aldridge (@milesaldridge) • Instagram photos and videos. [online] Instagram.com. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/milesaldridge/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].

New-news (2019). Photographer Profile ~ Miles Aldridge. [online] Available at: http://new-news-2012.blogspot.com/2011/11/photographer-profile-miles-aldridge.html [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].

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