The parallels of attraction and aversion in the work of British photographer Miles Aldridge invite the viewer to engage in a mysterious world where beauty often meets an enigmatic and disturbing femininity. In this manner, there is an overriding characteristic of ambiguity. This notion of ambiguity sets him apart from his realist contemporaries in the way that his images promote a unique interactive response between the photographs and the viewer.

  • The photographer’s sense of strange beauty cries out for elaboration as enticingly it beckons the viewer to participate in his fashion story. the result is often the beginning of a dialogue between photographer and spectator, and the spectator’s individual story as he or she discovers their own personal and
    unique interpretation of it.

  • Whether the subject matter is a girl in a night car, a topless woman seated at a banquet or a constrained Stepford wife lighting a cigarette from a gas jet of a stove, these women possess distinct personalities that draw you into their uncommon and perplexing lives. though their worlds are vastly different, they share the same qualities of beauty, mystery and intrigue.

  • Considering this aspect of his art, Miles is the embodiment of opera aperta or open work; a term first coined by Italian novelist and literary critic, Umberto Eco. open Work considers the artist, in this case the photographer, to offer an element of multiplicity and plurality in art, insisting on an interactive response between artist and spectator. this is demonstrated when Miles states, “For me, the great joy of a great photograph is the mystery of it. So in a way, I don’t really like to explain it. you want it to be an enigmatic image that people are intrigued by and stare at it and question the idea of the pictures. you are meant to look at them and question what’s going on in the picture and then hopefully in some way even question your own world. that’s what I’m aiming for in the work”. to achieve such a conversation in his work, Miles prefers “to leave clues or symbols, allegorical references, just anything in there that they (the viewer) may try to interpret but in the end I’m hoping that there’s never a single interpretation. It’s trying to effect people in a subliminal way”.

  • Never one to shy away from a sense of erotic transgression or a model’s subversion into a dubious world, aldridge allows the viewer the freedom to experience a suspension of the safe, the known and the natural. When Miles started his career producing work in fashion magazines during the early nineties, photographs often appeared safe, presenting a world of happiness and beauty, wealth and success: “they (photographs) were without any irony, kind of implying that the world and everything in it was a happy place but then of course you read the newspapers, you realize it is not”. Miles reacted to this notion of “safety” by gravitating towards “women who were in a way questioning this world that they were in, even if it were a world of extreme glamour and extreme success and having everything but I liked the idea that they were questioning it. that started to create a kind of fictional woman who was a kind of heroine of my ideas in as much as she could express the disease and unhappiness and the questioning of all the trappings of modern life and in that way I thought that she was far more interesting than just a pretty girl”.

  • Miles is himself, an enigmatic personality, a true English gentleman who possess a sharp intellect and an artist who is able to challenge any preconceived notions of traditional female stereotypes. Interviewing him from his london studio, Miles generously spoke at length and offered a fascinating insight into his art and his evolution as a photographer. the period of photography that Miles describes as ‘falling into’ was the era of grunge photography which included the work of photographers such as Juergen teller, david Sims and glen luchford: “this was quite a sexy, exciting movement in london that was kind of proposing an anti glamour, almost documentary approach to fashion photography. The grunge photographers were bringing their focus to a sort of underbelly of rejects, drug addicts actually, because there was a kind of heroin chic that was being championed at that point but I was very happy to get involved in photography during that period because it was really exciting and the magazines such as The Face were month after month showcasing
    really interesting photographs”.

  • Following the honeymoon with grunge there was “a sort of reaction back towards glamour” which meant that the door for Miles was open to new ideas in photography and fashion photography in particular: “the grunge movement had heralded this change and for me, I could see a place, as the magazines were so interesting and so exciting, that of cinematic vision. I got a chance to say something that I wanted to say, that I was interested in this kind of woman who is not just happy with all the trappings of success but is actually questioning them, questioning everything about her life”.

  • It is quite well known that Miles started out in illustration, which seems to be the foundation of his work. “there is quite a history of illustrators becoming fashion photographers. Steve Meisel was an illustrator and then of course the great andy Warhol was also an illustrator before he was playing with screen prints and photographs but for me I found doing sketches, doing drawings of my ideas in advance of the photo shoot, really helpful because as I started to create more and more complex narratives and scenarios, it felt that it was really helpful to know in advance whether they may work”.

  • However, it is his relationship to cinema, which has influenced his
    distinctive approach in attaining the desired image. “the parallels with cinema are very very clear for me. It’s the way I approach everything. It’s the casting of the model, it’s very much like casting an actress, my direction of the hairdressers, the makeup artists are also very much in keeping with who is the character and what’s her world and what do we have to say with the hair and how does the hair say those things? In that respect, I think I’ve managed to not be caught up in trends. If you look at my work from 2000 and you look at it from now, there is good continuity. like a thread where through all the work, it’s not like the work from 20 years ago. It looks like it is all from the same kind of movie because I’ve had this same kind of consistent approach to my way of making pictures. Kind of like, these are my films and these are my stories, this is my protagonist and let’s put them in a situation that is interesting and let’s put them somewhere the audience wouldn’t expect them to be and still be beautiful and put them in a position where it’s unusual but fascinating”.

  • The key to Miles’ work was that he produced images that hadn’t
    been seen in magazines before: “Even working within the very
    strict confines of my own visual language, I still like to kind of
    stretch as much as I can within that universe. It’s always the
    universe of a woman who is deeply focused on her life, deep
    contemplation, deep anxiety”.

  • Miles possesses the ability to transform the everyday universe of a woman into an image infused with intrigue. It’s as if the image itself has the power to draw one into its beautiful yet perplexing world, often challenging society’s norms: “I love working with models, I do get a lot from them, I can give them a very small bit of direction and they can go very far with it and in a way they’re very happy to go on this journey with me to create a character who is inexplicable”.

  • One photograph, which illustrates the collaborative effort between photographer and model, is Home Works #3, an image from a fashion story published in Vogue Italia in 2008. Brazilian model, Caroline trentini, bathes in a kaleidoscope of intense bright colours as she delicately yet fearlessly approaches the gas jet from a stove in order to light a cigarette. her pseudo reptilian reach to the flame invokes a world of fantasy as her alluring eyes beckon one towards the light. She seems oblivious to the danger of the fire so close to her long blonde hair and exquisite features.

  • Miles described to me the freedom he experienced in creating such an extraordinary image: “When I asked this model to light the cigarette from the stove, she took that direction and she transformed it in her own way into the most, not really sexual, but extraordinary beauty or female beauty. To take this one mundane act of lighting a cigarette and make it so incredibly and aesthetically beautiful, visually beautiful, was remarkable. I thought it was the length of her neck, the expression of her eyes, the way the cigarette is held between the lips”.

  • Miles is a gifted photographer who pushes the boundaries of fashion, art and culture. What is undeniable is the fact that the work of Miles Aldridge leaves us with more questions than answers and the prospect of delving into a vast array of visual and intellectual stories infused with his brilliant creativity.

Narcisse Magazine - Issue 7