Shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards, Rory Carnegie’s series of images explores the building blocks of fashion
Browsing Rory Carnegie’s images, published in news papers and magazines ranging from The Observer in London, to the LA Times, and GQ, and awards including the Design and Art Directors Association and Gold at the AOP, doesn’t reveal a huge interest in fashion. But spend time with photo-projects such as Autoportrait (images taken by subjects with a long cable release) and Botley Road (portraits of shopworkers in their place of work) and you see a photographer exploring the conventions and assumptions of the photographic portrait.
It should be no surprise that Carnegie would be curious about the fashion photo – the most fabulously contrived example of the portrait, a slice of visual theatre, an elaborately staged fiction. And equally no surprise that Carnegie would want to do a shoot inspired by the magical dance scene in Godard’s Band A Part, a scene whose fading in and out of the soundtrack reminds us of the beautiful lie of cinema.
Though Carnegie lost out to the dramatic, Icelandic, fashion-myth of Klaus Thymann (we will return to Thymann’s work), Carnegie’s Mannequin is a visually intense take on the building blocks of fashion – colour, styling, model, props – that are reduced to a visual concentrate of oranges, yellows, greens. It’s fashion Hyperrealism where the styling and photography means you’re never quite sure whether the model is less-than-real or more-than-real.
The shoot is also a testament to the collaborative aspect of image-making, between the photographer and stylist in this instance. Partly inspired by an Android character in science-fiction classic Blade Runner, Mannequin is a reminder that fashion photography at its best immerses us in the storytelling imagination of the photographer.
Fashion photography doesn’t seem to loom large in your body of work, how did this shoot come about?
I am not a ‘fashion photographer’, though as a much younger photographer, I did many backstage stories.I am quite interested in fashion as a socio economic phenomenon, but not really interested in the rather bizarre cyclical obsession with hemlines etc. I was however keen in putting together a ‘synthetic’ shoot, where all the materials had some relationship with oil. The backdrops are nylon net curtains, the clothes don’t appear to have much association with natural fabrics, the carpet gave everyone regular electric shocks and the models wig was no relationship with real hair.
Is there a persona, a way of looking as a fashion photographer?
I couldn’t really explain the thinking behind most fashion photographers. For most ,I suppose it is some sort of celebration of transience. I like the work of Paolo Roversi, that seems to explore a pre- and post-war decadence.
You mention on your blog that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was an inspiration for this story. Is it just Blade Runner or is sci-fi imagery something that fuels your imagination?
Characters from other photographers work and other cultural mediums burn into your visual memory. I like the girl in Godard’s Bande A Part, especially the dance scene, and may some day do some project inspired by her and that scene.
Similarly the character played by Darryl Hannah, Pris, made an impression on me when I first saw the movie. After the shoot, I went back and looked at some of the pictures of her online, and they didn’t really look anything like I remembered her and how I visually reimagined her.
I am not really a big scifi person. I am yet to see Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, whilst incredible felt overly Digitally enhanced; I am told by many that Game of Thrones is good.”
Could you tell us a little about the thinking behind the 1970s colour and styling?
I have worked very closely with a stylist called Karen Smith. We often work together and also do test shoots, mainly because we are freer than when working commercially. We came up with the styling and colour palettes together and as I explained earlier we wanted the shoot to have a very ‘not real feel’. That is also why we made up the model to look like a mannequin; we wanted the viewer to be uncertain whether it was a real person or not. Her expressions are meant to be android and lacking in emotion.
You are currently working on a very different project with writer Tim Pears broadly about the idea of community. Why this project and where are you at in the process?
I am working on a project with Tim Pears, who is a great novelist. The project is about a wall that was erected on a street and which divided the poor from the wealthier. Astonishingly, this wall stayed up for over 20 years, despite many legal attempts to have it taken down. The project is ongoing, but we are finding it difficult to get access to everybody’s house and to get them to sit for me.
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