On first glance, Miles Aldridge’s north London studio resembles the workspace of an artist rather than a photographer. Pencils, pastels and paints crowd a large table, complete with colourful sketches visualising finished shots, while carousel horses — props — canter by the window. But then the eye is drawn to the colourful, larger-than-life photographic print tacked up on a wall, showing a glossy pony-tailed model posing by a sparkling pool, her golden skin illuminated by the light. Alluring, certainly, aspirational, arguably — and yet something is slightly off.
A master of dissonance, Aldridge has become renowned for his highly stylised shots of glamorous women in bold, saturated colours — but what sets him apart from his peers are the subtly disturbing inflections he injects into images, effectively subverting established fashion photography tropes. “I want my pictures to have a slightly unsettling resonance. When people look at my work, many say, ‘There’s something odd here, but I can’t put my finger on it’ — exactly the feeling I want,” Aldridge explains. “I’m fascinated by the strangeness of human nature. A lot of the women in my pictures are trapped within a domestic utopia and are in many ways victims of consumerism; simultaneously beautiful and troubled.”
The purpose of art is to provoke a series of questions that confront and stimulate the viewer
Elegant and striking, his model subjects are undeniably gorgeous. Nudity — either partial or full-frontal – is also a common feature, but does he see his work as sexualised? “I don’t like my pictures to seem erotic — that would be wrong. In my opinion, the purpose of art is to provoke a series of questions that confront and stimulate the viewer.”
A born-and-bred Londoner, Aldridge studied illustration at Central Saint Martins and arrived at fashion photography almost by accident, after taking a photo of his aspiring model then-girlfriend for her portfolio — it was later seen by someone at British Vogue, who was struck by Aldridge’s aesthetic and invited him in for a meeting.
This was 20 years ago and the field has, of course, changed since then. Aldridge agrees. “Fashion photography is in an impoverished space now — magazines are less of a fertile ground for creativity. That said, there’s been an amazing development in contemporary photography as an art form. Galleries and museums are more open to understanding where photography fits into art.”
Indeed, while Aldridge’s work has been published in any number of prestigious style titles, recent years have seen him gravitate towards the world of art. He has been experimenting with screen-printing alongside conventional colour photography printmaking, opening up his work to a new audience of fine-art collectors. February saw him stage an exhibition of screen prints, polaroids and drawings at the Christophe Guy Galerie in Zurich, but he is already looking ahead to several international art fairs this year — The Armory Show in New York, Art Basel in Miami and Photo London, to name a few — in addition to an exhibition at Fahey Klein in Los Angeles.
Images should reward the viewer, making life more colourful, more interesting, more enlivened
“My pictures take weeks to get right, but the energy put into them is to create something eternal. Images should reward the viewer, making life more colourful, more interesting, more enlivened.”
A white witch conjures a menagerie of exotic beasts, as a woman in a burning ballgown walks on water and a bride gazes from a library window, a ship caught in a storm at her feet. Such is the beautiful, fantastical work of Miss Aniela, nom d’art of one Natalie Lennard (née Dybisz).
“I like to think my work goes beyond photography into the realm of painting, evoking a feeling of nostalgia and cinematic flair,” says Lennard. “I want to craft something laboriously beautiful, as in art of times past — I am not a fan of minimalist modern art, which has nothing to offer aesthetically.”
Lennard fell into photography by chance, first experimenting with the medium in her spare time as an English student. She discovered an interest in self-portraiture, leading to a body of work called “Self-Gazing” that would be developed over some seven years — along with a talent for creating surreal post-production on Photoshop. “It’s not easy to make a photo look like a painting; it’s a mix of lighting technique, location, posing and subtle colour enhancements in editing,” explains Lennard. “In my earliest self-portraits, I used only natural light, but now I have found myself working more with high-speed-sync strobes to almost cut out natural light completely and carve light from scratch.”
I like to think my work goes beyond photography into the realm of painting, evoking a feeling of nostalgia and cinematic flair
Dreamlike and intriguing, showing Lennard multiplied, floating or contorted in impossible positions, these self-portraits signalled the photographer’s aesthetic fascination with femininity, which she has explored in numerous projects since. For instance, her “Surreal Fashion” series — “a concentrated party of colour, beauty and escapism” — sees models styled in high-end couture subverting traditional fashion photography tropes with conceptual visuals, while the award-winning “Birth Undisturbed” takes an unflinching look at women giving birth in all its bloody rawness.
Other career highlights have included advertising campaigns for the likes of Nikon and HTC, a landmark commission for restaurant Kai Mayfair and work being exhibited in such prestigious venues as the Saatchi Gallery and the Houses of Parliament.
Capturing such exquisite imagery requires top-of-the-range tools. Lennard generally uses a powerful Phase One IQ3 medium-format camera — or a Nikon D850 when needing increased speed and pace — complemented by a Broncolor lighting set-up with a selection of strobes and modifiers. In post-production, Adobe Photoshop and Capture One Pro give pictures their final polish. Her partner, Matthew Lennard, works alongside her on all projects, typically dealing with front-end pre-production — logistics, location sourcing, planning and so on — which allows Lennard to focus on the creative aspects.
“Artmaking can be frustrating, though, even with years of experience. Even when you spend endless hours preparing a concept, it won’t always guarantee that magic happens in the final strokes,” says Lennard. “That gamble keeps you on your toes — and then, suddenly, you have a big day of shooting that contains an entire adventure.”
As the son of a lithographic printer, Leon Chew was immersed in the world of print from a young age. He recalls sitting on the floor of his childhood home, reading stacks of National Geographic magazines and being transfixed by the colour-saturated images within, “so far removed from the world I knew at that time”.
A career in photography seemed inevitable. Moving down from the north-east of England to London, for the past five years Chew has worked from a studio located in an old sweet factory in Dalston among a community of fellow artists. His repertoire is wide-ranging, running the gamut from interiors, objects and abstract compositions to characterful portraits and even short films, often incorporating bold graphics.
Cars are also a key feature in his images. “There is an automotive thread that runs through my work, from the details of J G Ballard’s car for a work I made in 2009 to the asphalt textures that appear in my latest series, ‘Automated Aesthetics’,” says Chew. “I combine analogue [aka film] photographic processes with high-resolution digital post-production; this combination gives me a desirable amount of texture and chance results in the work. I don’t like super-crisp digital photography — it has no life.”
Chew’s client list glitters with such high-profile names as Christie’s, Tate Galleries and The Royal Academy, while brands include HSBC and Hermès. A few years ago, he was commissioned by WSJ on his most challenging project to date, an arts and culture story shot over five days in Kabul — the photographer’s first time in a warzone. However, he cites one of his most memorable career highlights as the time National Geographic came calling to reprint one of his Seoul cityscapes, originally shot for Wallpaper*: “National Geographic made such a big impression on me as a child, so it was pretty special to have its picture desk contact me.”
There is an automotive thread that runs through my work, from the details of J G Ballard’s car for a work I made in 2009 to the asphalt textures that appear in my latest series
Chew is currently working on the pre-production of a music video set to shoot in California in March, while May will see him present new work at the India Club on The Strand in London — an offsite event of Photo London at Somerset House.
Creative inspiration comes from a variety of sources, from looking at the work of mid-20th-century still-life photographers, such as Herbert List and Maurice Tabard, to his frequent walks through the capital — “looking and listening, no headphones; I need to hear everything”.
His thoughts on producing a truly standout photograph? “We live in the age of image over-saturation, with millions of pictures uploaded everyday to social media,” says Chew. “The entire fabric of our existence, from the way we present ourselves to the colour of the coffee cup in our local café is all curated to look good on Instagram. The technology we carry in our pockets also makes it so easy to create a pin-sharp, nicely exposed picture.
“How do you make a truly standout image when society is engulfed in not-bad- looking images? You need a narrative, a process, an aesthetic that stands you apart from the crowd,” he says.