Miles Aldridge Keeps Building the Mystery
10 July 2013
Having arrived at a 15-year sweet spot in his fashion photography career, Miles Aldridge is continuing to do what he likes to do; eschewing pretty images of pretty women in pretty situations. His is an intensely personal story: a life spent surrounded by model sisters, a successful yet wayward illustrator father, and a glamorous but suffering mother. Through the lens, he constructs a graphic, deep dream world, wholly focused on his fascination with the ‘mystery’ of women; a discontent and bewilderment that belies their seemingly perfect universes. ‘I am the very best person to take my pictures,’ Aldridge says.
In London, at least, this month belongs to Aldridge, with celebrations thrice over town: I Only Want You to Love Me, a retrospective put on by Somerset House; a monograph by the same name, published by Rizzoli (with a foreword by Glenn O’Brien); and a small gallery exhibition of limited-edition works at Brancolini Grimaldi. All three reveal his inimitable ability to create cinematic pictures, which chart a place between attractiveness and unease, in what O’Brien classifies as ‘high glamour photo fiction.’
Aldridge’s is a tale well told: the pictures he took of his first model girlfriend kick-starting his career by way of British Vogue in the ’90s, and a long list of intimidating supermodel names—Linda Evangelista, Anja Rubik—succeeding. His is a postmodern universe, ‘apt for now,’ where his colourful, couture-clad subjects, photographed in playgrounds, supermarkets, showers, or in fast cars, is a place where more is still more. A strange beauty, which sidesteps all the clichés, suggests beneath their “vacant” stares that endless consumerism is merely a short-lived antidote that can’t erase the inner doubt behind their external beauty.
For this celebratory retrospective, Aldridge includes previously unpublished photographs, drawings, scribbled notes, casual tears, storyboards, and Polaroids. Though he still calls himself an ‘amateur’ player ‘shy’ with women, the book is reflective of the maker himself: direct, dynamic, engaging, imaginative, inquiring, sophisticated, considered, and complex.
CATT: Are there any other autobiographical elements woven in?
ALDRIDGE: Yes, I think in two ways. When I look at the women, it’s from a male gaze of being fascinated, because beyond my mother, I’ve been around notorious women all of my life, and then, secondly, when I look at women and try and create fictional stories around them. I’m inspired heavily by film influences—Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Fellini, Hitchcock, Almodóvar, and what I see in the cinema—so there is a linking, an interweaving between memory, cinema and contemporary life, which the women in my pictures encapsulate.
CATT: As a viewer, your images certainly draw you in.
ALDRIDGE: I think the power of image is in mystery—I endlessly create mysteries, by way of this dystopian message, to initiate intrigue. I want the viewer to be like a voyeur—look at the power of old Hollywood actresses, who sometimes weren’t even making eye contact—but unlike film, an image can catch the combination of how we are and how we want to be. I suppose even though it does feel like my world, I am happy to be a magpie!
CATT: You also include unpublished material and for the first time the drawings—your initial starting point for work. Why did you decide on this?
ALDRIDGE: I like the drawings. And as a photography fan myself, I would look at Newton or Penn and like to see the initial notes or drawings, to see where the ideas grew from. Also my sketches are key to my work because I came to realise early on that by doing drawings, I could formulate a plan of what I was thinking of—I could take control and direct the work. It’s amazing how if you turn up at a studio without an idea, a picture will take itself from momentum, and you quickly can lose control.
CATT: What is your personal favourite image featured?
ALDRIDGE: It would have to be Immaculée—Alana Zimmer as the Virgin Mary [above, at beginning of slideshow]. The concept was very actually very simple; a combining of a sexual ecstasy and religious ecstasy in the picture—but the whole collaboration just really clicked. There is a chapel especially designed as part of the Somerset House retrospective for those five images alone. I’ll always remember Jean Paul Gaultier, who did a project based on Madonnas, remarking on the images, ‘Yours are much better.’ Gaultier is really smart, so it’s good getting a compliment from him! [laughs]
CATT: I was drawn to Glenn O’Brien’s words in the foreword: ‘Planet Aldridge is a luxury world where surreality reigns. All is perfect, yet something is amiss. Life is fashion, after a fashion, but this is hardcore fashion, the end of the luxury road.’ You mentioned to me once previously this was the unhappiest your women have ever been. So where can they go from here, now they’ve got everything they’ve been chasing after?
ALDRIDGE: It’s a big mystery. I’ve been so deep in thought about this book and this point, I really haven’t thought about the next move. After this I am going to have to pause, sit down and really consider it. In a way, though, the work is never finished because women forever will be eternally mysterious to me—and I will always find that point where people are lost in thought, observed but lacking self-consciousness, the most beautiful. I’ve thought in the past about moving into film, making these women move, but I am not sure it’s really me to weave a whole story.
CATT: And how do you see the next 15 years as a photographer?
ALDRIDGE: Well, all work included in the book and exhibitions is shot on film—I love the way color and women come together and look on film—which I haven’t found to be the case on digital. I’ve stuck with film but am curious if that will still be the case in 15 years. I might not still be riffing on the same sarcastic message—they could end up actually happy! You never know! [laughs]
Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You To Love Me is on display at Somerset house today through September 12, and the monograph of the same name is available now from Rizzoli. ‘Miles Aldridge: Short Breaths” opens at Brancolini Grimaldi this Friday, July 12, and runs through September 28.