Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn: Miles Aldridge on his Cinematic and Chromatic Tableaus

By Nina Azzarello

10 May 2021

From now through October 2021, New York’s photography museum Fotografiska takes visitors on a psychedelic, surreal, and cinematically-inspired journey through miles Aldridge’s creative universe. Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn. Photographs 1999 to 2020 comprises 64 works spanning the British artist and photographer’s career, imbued with false promises of luxury, confinements of suburbia, and richly adorned references to art history. The monumental show features Aldridge’s portraiture — with subjects including Marina Abramović, david lynch, and Zaha Hadid — as well as his 2015 project (after Cattelan), in which artist Maurizio Cattelan invited Aldridge to respond to his sculptures over the course of one night together in a paris museum.


Aldridge is one of few photographers still shooting predominately on film, and every print in the exhibition was captured on kodak colour negative. ‘Film still seems like a magic trick to me,’ Aldridge tells designboom in an exclusive interview, ‘I am always slightly amazed to see the images on contact sheets once the film is developed at my lab.’


Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn. Photographs 1999 to 2020 at Fotografiska reflects on three strands of Miles Aldridge’s colourful cosmos. Virgin Mary references the religious paintings of artists such as Caravaggio, who portray their spiritual subjects and experiences in an almost cinematic manner through the use of dramatic chiaroscuro, costuming and staging. meanwhile, supermarkets becomes a metaphor for consumer society, and the idealised hope of self-improvement through retail therapy. Finally, popcorn pays homage to the history of cinema, and the many directors — such as Hitchcock, Lynch and Fellini — whose rich visual language serves as a pool of creative inspiration for Aldridge’s own style and approach.


designboom spoke with Miles Aldridge about his cinematic heroes, the magic of film photography, and slowing down the image making process.


designboom (DB): In your drawing studies, you often develop narratives and initial thoughts on paper with ink and watercolours — how often do the final photographs deviate from their initial planning and take on a life of their own? Is there room for improvisation and spontaneity while working?


Miles Aldridge (MA): The preparatory drawings are made very quickly in an attempt to capture the basics of the idea. these are made in black ink with washes of watercolour to indicate the desired palette. I use these sketches to design the set and then take them to the studio to set up the shot. As the sketches are quite rough they do not dictate the image but rather allow a free interpretation where improvisation and inspiration can take over. My hero Hitchcock stated that once a script was finished and turned into storyboards, he found the process of shooting the film boring. I love his approach to image making in general, but I do not understand this aspect of his practice. For me, one must be critical until the image is finished and keep one’s mind open to ideas as they come — of course making a film does require sticking to a plot whereas my images do not.


DB: Can you recall the first moment you were struck by a scene in cinema, and what impact that had on you at the time?


MA: This might be the scene in ‘a matter of life and death’ by Powell and Pressburger, where the protagonists ascend a staircase to heaven. The film is shot in incredible technicolor, but all the scenes in heaven are in black and white. For some reason it has stayed with me since I first saw it on television aged 10.


DB: Your long use of film photography is highlighted throughout the exhibition at Fotografiska — is there anything about the format that still surprises you?


MA: Film still seems like a magic trick to me and I am always slightly amazed to see the images on contact sheets once the film is developed at my lab. Even though I have worked consistently on film for the last 20 years, because the colours are produced by a photo-chemical reaction, I can never predict exactly how they will come out. I know they will be super saturated but beyond that it is a surprise. I think this is what has kept me excited about colour photography.


DB: Within your articulated and carefully-composed scenes, what details within a composition do you most obsess about?


MA: Honestly everything is given the same scrutiny; the model, the clothes, the set, the props, the shadows…I recently read a biography on Stanley Kubrick which stated that not even a trouser crease escaped his critical eye. I can relate to this in my practice as a photographer.


DB: Looking back, how do you reflect on more than 20 years of work as seen through this retrospective? Does time change the way you view your own images?MA: I am immensely proud of this body of work. to my eye the images feel as potent now as when they were first shot and not tied to the fashions of the day. I was never interested in the clothes and I think this has protected the work from feeling dated.

DB: What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your creative practice?


MA: I am more and more interested in screenprinting and over the last five years, I have made several series printed in this way. as always, the image starts as a photograph shot on colour negative film but with the decision to make a screenprint, one has to make numerous tests with the inks in order to control the colour. I love the analogue process of screenprinting; simply dragging ink across a gauze of silk by hand to make the image. in a world where images are created in the billions daily on iPhones, I like to slow down the process where I can. shooting on film, processing the film, editing the contact sheets and breaking the image down to various colours to be screenprinted one by one by hand is my way of slowing down the image making process.


Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn. Photographs 1999 to 2020 is curated by Nadine Barth, Barthouse Berlin, in collaboration with Johan Vikner, director of global exhibitions at Fotografiska international. the exhibition has been made in close collaboration with the artist and his galleries; Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, Lyndsey Ingram gallery, London, Christophe Guye Gallerie, Zurich, Reflex Gallery, Amsterdam, and Casterline Goodman Gallery, aspen.
Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn: Miles Aldridge on his Cinematic and Chromatic Tableaus


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