You Are Trying To Catch It

By Emma Robertson

14 February 2024

“I do like having a signature! And I think if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been doing this as long as I have. The camera is incredibly easy to use, especially nowadays, it almost doesn’t need anyone to take the picture. There’s a randomness that one can translate to photography, whereas with painting, the painters are heading towards one thing that they really want to do, and  the use of the paint and the paintbrush is how they’re going to get there. The camera has far more autonomy over the picture than the paintbrush, and it will take a picture regardless of your talent. When you’re painting with no talent, your painting probably isn’t very good, you know what I mean? What gets me excited about working is it will be an image that doesn’t exist already, that it has this signature, that it fits this universe that I’ve been working in.”


The photos are satisfying you because you’re achieving that goal of a signature look.

Yes, it’s rewarding for me, for example when I see in a retrospective exhibition like Virgin Mary. Supermarket. Popcorn. at Fotografiska in Berlin, and you see all the 75 works together, taken over the course of 20 years, there’s not a sense that this is early work, and this is middle work, and this is later work, they all hang together as one universe. And I do find that quite satisfying actually.

“I’m attracted to the idea of an image that is enigmatic. My ambition is always to make people stay on my image, to hijack them, and to draw them in.”


Apparently you’re very thorough in how you plan out each photograph, they all start with a detailed drawing or concept that you then re-create in a studio setting.

Drawing is my first port of call, yes, because I was trained as an illustrator, and I did pursue that for a while but found it very boring. When I found photography, I remember I picked up my pencil quite quickly and was sketching ideas in advance of a photograph. That’s something that I think separated me from a lot of my peers in it, especially in the fashion world. And the thing is that my studio is just a big industrial space with not a lot in it, so I don’t come in here and get inspired by something I see. The hard work of imagining a scene or scenario is very endless, I’m drawing constantly. And when I get to a point where I think it’s interesting, that it’s something that I haven’t seen before, either by somebody else or by myself, where I’m drawn to it… Then I try to make the photo.


These imagined scenes or snapshots — a woman screaming in bed, or a girl robotically blowdrying her hair — often look like they’re part of a larger film or story that we’re just not shown. But do you as the photographer know the rest of the story?

That’s a good question! I think the answer is that I don’t know what the rest of the story is, but I’m intrigued by the idea that there is a story, and that the story is enigmatic and fleeting and hard to grasp. In the same way that someone you see on the train or on a bus is interesting, lost in their own thoughts, and for that brief moment that you study them, they seem to be as compelling and interesting as somebody in a Hollywood movie. And who knows where they’re going or what they’re thinking about, maybe they’re just thinking about going to the dentist. But that ambiguity is really interesting for me, and I’m attracted to the idea of an image that is enigmatic in that way. My ambition is always to make people stay on my image, to hijack them, and to draw them in.


One thing that definitely accomplishes that is your models’ facial expressions; stark and somewhat sad, almost like a doll’s face. Is that intentional?

Sure, I really want the expression to look like someone who is thinking about their life, someone who is sort of lost in thought in a really completely engaged way, not distracted by the phone. And I think when humans are thinking deeply, they’re very beautiful. That’s when we are at our most beautiful, we express what is most wonderful about being human. What defines us against the animals, I imagine, is our sense of imagination, and the power of the fantasy in our heads. So I think these women I’m photographing are thinking deeply about their lives and how they got to be where they are, and whether they think that journey has been worth it. The false promise of luxury, this idea of having a beautiful home and beautiful children and a beautiful marriage… Are we now content with that? I would say most people are not. They’re searching for something more.


You once said that your mother is sometimes the one represented in these portraits, because you realized that she was actually very discontent in her marriage. How is it for you to confront her sadness in these photos?

My mother and father divorced when I was about nine. My father was a very famous art director, and then illustrator. He worked with incredible musicians, like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elton John, The Who, he was kind of a visual whiz kid, a psychedelic genius in the art and publishing world. We were a very groovy, golden happy family, very artistic, we lived in this big psychedelic house where the walls were different colors, and my dad’s art was everywhere. But then there was this very dramatic divorce, and I witnessed lots of drama and even some violence. And the mother that I remember from that time is this very beautiful woman who was endlessly silent about stuff. The experiences of my childhood kind of ossified her into a kind of statue. I’m sure there was emotion beneath the surface, but she had no intention to share that with us. So I ended up with this image of this kind of mysterious implacable woman.


Is it difficult to achieve that very particular expression with a model in this controlled studio set up?

Well, I simply work towards it. Especially when we have the reference drawing, we start with something that feels very close to the drawing, but then we can try different gestures, different facial expressions. I’m not always tied to this one expression or story. I play with the music in the studio quite a lot, I use a lot of soundtracks from movies. The studio is kept very intimate and dark. I do a lot of directing, but if it’s going well, I don’t want to disturb it. I guess it’s like trying to capture a butterfly in a net. You are trying to catch it; you want to take the picture and not lose it. It’s fleeting, that moment when everything aligns. The face and the body language and the props and the setting and the lighting… Then suddenly, it all kind of convenes fast. Then you get the picture, and it’s great, it’s what I’m aiming for.




You Are Trying To Catch It


To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

Subscribe to the Miles Aldridge newsletter

By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy

Thank you for your enquiry, we will be in touch shortly.



For information on upcoming exhibitions, events and books, subscribe to the Miles Aldridge newsletter below.

By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy

Thank you for subscribing!