Miles Aldridge's Best Photograph: A Fashion Shoot Without a Model
5 November 2015
Miles Aldridge: ‘This is a scene of domestic madness, rather unpleasant but beautiful’
I was fed up looking at all the pictures in fashion magazines showing beautiful women having a beautiful time. They irked me. It was the early 2000s, when I was just starting out, and fashion was a kind of chocolate box universe, totally bullshit and phony. If you read the newspapers, you knew life and the world were not like that.
I always wanted the women I photographed to be more like the people I knew: edgy, desperate, destructive, dangerous, demented. This image was part of a series called Red Marks, shot for Italian Vogue in 2003. I wanted to see how far I could push things and get away with it.
I asked myself the question: how to shoot a beauty story without a girl in it? Where would lipstick be left behind? A cigarette was an obvious place. Other images in the series were an apple core and a cup of coffee that had been knocked over. There are cinematic references in my work, from Alfred Hitchcock to David Lynch, and I remembered a wonderful scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca where a matronly lady stubs out her cigarette in a tub of cold cream. It was a great image of contempt and disgust. I thought: how can I evolve that?
My father [the illustrator Alan Aldridge] was a psychedelic whizzkid. He introduced me, at an early age, to a broad range of imagery – from pop art to religious imagery and comic books. From my childhood, too, I remembered the work of Michael English, and I wanted this photograph to feel like one of his meticulous, airbrushed hyper-realist close-up paintings of objects like Coke bottletops.
We went through about 36 eggs for this shot – we had them cooking on a little Calor gas stove in the studio. I kept getting the prop stylist to crack and cook them, have a look at them, and if they weren’t right, we did it again. They were the cheapest eggs we could get from the corner shop and the smell in the studio was like old farts. I used Consulate cigarettes because when I was a teenager at school it was the cigarette of choice to smoke during the lunchbreak on Hampstead Heath. Like a lot of my work, there’s an element of nostalgia somewhere in the grain. I also liked the turquoise-green and pink colours of the type.
The magazine loved the pictures and printed them as double-page spreads, which was a big surprise. It was a risk because people who read fashion magazines don’t want to be challenged. I chose to use colour the way I did because I wanted people to stop on my pictures. And the only way to do that was to show something that was provocative but still beautiful, to draw them in. It’s a trick, a sleight of hand.
Even though I’m 50, I see my work up to 2013 as juvenilia. I’m now working on what I call my second album. I’m divorced now and I don’t look at life in the same way as I did when I was married. This, like a lot of my work up to this point, is a scene of domestic madness – rather unpleasant but beautiful.
Miles Aldridges CV
Born: Hampstead, 1964
Education: Central St Martins, London
Influences: Fellini, Hitchcock, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, David Lynch, Irving Penn
High point: ‘My retrospective at Somerset House in London in 2013.’
Low point: ‘My death.’
Top tip: ‘Tell your story!’