Miles Aldridge | 'Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn.'
4 May 2021
Miles Aldridge opens Virgin Mary. Supermarkets this month at Frieze NY, Fotografiska. The British photographer gained recognition in the nineties for his brightly coloured images that referenced film noir, art history, and pop culture. His highly stylised images have made him a photography icon. Some of his collaborations include Sophie Turner, Viola Davis, Michael Fassbender, and Donatella Versace. Flaunt caught up with the photographer on hsi first American museum retrospective, taking a look at work spanning from 1999 to 2020.
How did you come up with the name Virgin Mary. Supermarkets. Popcorn. and why does it encapsulate this body of work?
The title refers to 3 of my most iconic works; an eroticised Virgin Mary with red lipstick, two shoppers dreamily pushing their trolleys along the aisles of a supermarket and a cinema-goer eating popcorn and sipping Coca-Cola while mesmerised by the screen. This selection highlights my interest in religious iconography, consumerism and the world of entertainment.
This exhibition spans from 1999-2020. Can you talk through the selection process? Did you always imagine these images together or did they come together when you were planning this show?
When I began back in 1999 there was no plan to create this body of work as it is shown at Fotografiska but as my concept of photography crystallized each image became part of a universe governed partly by style and partly by concept. In terms of the selection for the exhibition, I was lucky enough to have Nadine Barth curate the show to which she brought her cool objectivity.
You have mentioned that you believe your work is the antidote to the realism currently dominant in the photography landscape. How does this project relate to that? Especially being viewed during the current social climate?
As my hero Hitchcock said “It is not a slice of life but a piece of cake”. The real world is easy to capture; just point your iPhone in front of you and voila! But is it interesting? In my work the real world is synthesised into abstract and stylised means. The viewer has to work harder to read the image because it is not familiar but in this way they engage with the image. I like to think that my work is like the real world but as if it is a Hollywood musical. Everything louder, brighter, more synchronised and weirder.
Can you walk me through your favourite image from this project?
I don’t have a favourite image per se but I can talk you through Chromo Thriller; the image shows a woman in a bathroom holding a blow-dryer to her head. The idea was inspired by remembering my mother drying her hair. I designed the set based on the palette of colours taken from a Francis Bacon painting and then it was built in a studio to my specification. In order to see how the colours of the clothes, the hairdryer and the set worked together I asked the model to simply hold the hairdryer up to her head and not to model or act but just to stand there and I took a Polaroid. (I work on Polaroid in advance of shooting the final image on film—everything in the Fotografiska exhibition was shot on film—NOT DIGITAL!). Once I saw the Polaroid I was happy with the colours and I asked the model to blow dry her hair moving around as she did and running her other hand through her hair and switched hands with the hairdryer creating different options. She was performing like an actress; her actions were real and believable. After we finished the shot I picked up the original Polaroid I had taken to check the colours and the model just standing there holding the hairdryer to her head looked so powerful and way more interesting than the acting of the shots I had shot on film. I realised that by just standing there like that the hairdryer became like a gun to her head and the image became more layered and complex. I asked the model to go back on the set and repeat this pose and I took one more frame and got the shot.
For people who are unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe this show?
The modern world seen through the filter of cinema and painting. There are also some famous people too.
Do you think the photographic realism of today will shift towards a more escapist practice as we navigate a new world?
No, but that is fine by me. I prefer to be outside the mainstream not part of it.