Photos courtesy of Sarah Richardson and Richard Bush for Models.com
While conversations have consistently been about the restraining arms of “The Man” upon the creative process for several decades now, every once in awhile a new spark occurs, and from it, the whole world is for a time, ablaze. The dialogue between photographer Richard Bush and stylist Sarah Richardson reeks of an honesty so relevant, one can’t help but nod in agreement while strolling along the sentences and statements of their interaction. Once past the opening subject of the suits, whose penny pinching and lack of creative comprehension oftentimes leaves the more imaginative in a state of utter frustration; we are reminded of the importance of the “off moments” in photography, the roles of passion and fantasy in the process and the dire need to remember when having one’s own identity surpassed the need to match the masses.
With a respectful nod to the rebels like i-D’s Editor-in-Chief, Creative director and Publisher, Terry Jones, this husband and wife make a series of statements that pose very relevant questions. Where have all the rebels gone? What is the future of youth culture? Finally, what will happen when confidence returns to a world so frequently dictated by insecurity?
You have a very intellectual approach to photography and analyse the idea/subject beforehand and afterwards, yet you like to be very instinctive and free when behind the camera. I feel this is something that is a challenge these days, to be able to keep the intellect and freedom that creates the best images with the business having so many restrictions and lead by the money men (the suits).
You mean misled by the money men! It surprises me how many people I speak to these days shy away from “intellectual” discussions, too scared to voice an opinion and perhaps be wrong. I find it disturbing because to me this suggests we live in a time with a real lack of responsibility. I recently met someone who like me loves a good banter and naturally has a strong point of view, it’s so refreshing. The second or third time we met we had a great conversation about beauty and he’s not even in the industry, we discussed everything form aesthetic, objective and sensual beauty.. Unfortunately the control is now pretty much fully in the hands of the “money men” and as a result the way we shoot is dictated to us. I also think they no longer appreciate the efforts creatives go to, in whatever capacity, to make their brands successful. I also think the recession has not incited more creativity and fresh approaches as a lot felt it could but has in fact knocked confidence so badly that we have become shrouded in a wave of mass conservatism.
I remember when I first heard Nick Knight’s statement “photography is dead”, I was just starting to shoot fashion and I didn’t accept it, I was shooting 10×8, totally immersing myself in the craft and enjoying my own creativity and that of those I was working with. Around the same time I went to a Helmut Newton open talk at the Barbican, the last one he did I believe, and it was so disappointing because nearly everyone in the audience was asking the most ridiculous questions like “what type of light did you use on that shot” or “do you like red lipstick” and there was no real debate going on and I felt I just couldn’t ask the questions I wanted and a few people said to me afterwards they felt the same, that it was a ridiculous arena full of people not really into him, photography etc, in fact you could sense Newton got frustrated on a few occasions.. It was at this point I saw a validity in Knight’s statement although perhaps not in the way he initially meant it with the whole digital thing but somehow the whole digital thing is what stopped people thinking. It has paved the way to a certain group stupidity, image by consensus where the inexperienced or unqualified have an opinion on something they don’t know about or even worse don’t care or feel something for.. it’s now just about figuring out the quickest fast track approach to success and the digital revolution has in many ways exacerbated this mentality.
I was on a shoot last month and there were two creative directors which is odd.. the job was nightmare, early hours, going round the houses etc. They had spent weeks figuring out the whole campaign but when it came to it there was no direction, nobody knew what they wanted and the structure was so rigid it took them hours to let go of their formulas and accept that A did not work with B and their decision process had been flawed. Ironically the idea was quite good it was just how they thought it should be executed.. I was amazed as there was some old hands present but clearly the said Ad agency is so at the client’s beck and call that they say yes to the impossible. It was funny because a few nights before I had been watching Horizon on the BBC and this very smart guy who had been employed by NASA to work out how many things could go wrong sending a man to Mars calculated 3 billion potential problems! Anyway using his genius he developed something called “decision theory” and reduced the potential problems down to around 300,000, not bad I thought, still I wouldn’t have stepped on his spaceship. Anyway on the shoot I was thinking what these guys need is one of his algorithms fed into their system and see what happens, could be a dream scenario..
I assisted in the mid – late 90s, looking back there was so much more creative freedom and the creatives were trusted and pretty much had full reign; with this came a spontaneity and individualism for the imagery and fashion in general which I feel is lacking now. I often think that this is caused by too many people who have come into the business with little or no experience in the world of art, fashion and imagery calling all the shots, controlling the shoots down to wanting to see every image taken rather than the photographer’s edit, which in turn makes the photographer feel conscious every time he takes a shot- it has to be perfect as everyone will see the mistakes. It all seems the wrong way round to me as surely the photographer is employed for his style and the fact that he has the experience and has the know how to which images are the strongest… Sometimes I feel they should have a lighting technician and take the shot themselves. I guess this all came about with the digital camera taking over from film now everyone watches the screen to find ‘the perfect image’ but I often feel that when we look through the images later together that the images everyone liked on set are the neutral, most literal images and the ones with the imperfections or off moments are the most exciting… recently you went back to film to get a feeling of this freedom as an experiment. I recall you could only get black & white polaroids and the make up artist said ‘I need to see my make-up in colour to see how it looks and that the polaroid was so tiny he could not see the face clearly'; it clicked to me that everyone wants perfection but when I was assisting it was the imperfections that gave the originality and the beauty, especially as I was working with Venetia Scott & Juergen Teller and the off moments created unforgettable imagery… It seems to be everywhere in the world now this need for the perfect beauty where Botox rules and girls as young as 13 are getting it and nose jobs. I find it hard to get my head around this need for homogenized perfectionism, as a teenager growing up in London we wanted to be different and rebel, you never wanted to look like everyone else; it made you feel powerful and cool to stand out. I did not have much money growing up but I went to jumble sales and remade these clothes into something I thought was cool and unique, me and my friends actually felt sorry for the Chelsea kids that all dressed alike and had no identity. I remember buying my first designer dress when I was 17 and having a friend who went out and brought the same dress as me, so I stopped wearing it, you just wanted to stand out and be an individual. Why do you think this has changed so drastically in the last 10 years, why does everyone wants to look and dress the same?
Well that reminds me of a young celebrity I shot a few years back, she was 17 and arrived wearing a full designer look including accessories made for a woman at least 20 years older. It just looked so wrong, no real style of her own just what she was told she should be wearing by those contracting her. When I was growing up my sister was a punk, I remember watching her come down the driveway with her punk friends and hiding so I could spy on the spectacle. This form of revolt and crying out to be different is a big part of growing up and the formation of your identity. It’s not healthy to be a dull conformist at such a young age, I’m not saying you need to be the next political activist but be experimental especially when you can get away with it at those stages of your own evolution then one day you can carry off the designer look. I often drive through Camden and think this is one of the only paces left on Earth where individualism still exists.. not always in the best way but I love people watching there; it’s the one place I don’t mind a bit of traffic! Actually, I think you growing up in London, having worn so many trends, going to all the cool clubs, working in Browns when you were just 20, lived it basically, that you have an understanding and feeling for fashion second to none and that luckily you made it your career for the right reasons.
Just coming back to the polaroid moment.. Helmut Newton once said in a documentary that polaroids were like “crutches” because before polaroid arrived the make-up, hair lighting had to be spot on, there was no room for error and then correcting it once you’d seen a 2D version of what you had done. I guess digital has taken that one step further, we’re in a wheelchair now! The team isn’t acting as spontaneously as they could allowing their imagination and talent to run freely. I think part of the reason to shoot film recently was to reinvigorate myself and perhaps remind myself of what I might have been missing and the optimist in me thought maybe it would feed back into the digital process when I next shot digital, did it? Imperfectly maybe.. The problem with digital is it makes it look deceptively easy to take a picture and naturally people think I can do that and start taking pictures, it’s a bit like watching an on board shot of an F1 car driving in Monaco- it looks easy and people think I could do that when in fact they probably couldn’t even get the car out the pit lane without injuring themselves.
It’s a bit like everybody thinks they can be a stylist or creative director now with no experience, taste or worse still no passion.. a bit like those people who turn up on X Factor and can’t sing but convinced they’re the next Rihanna!
Yes, passion.. you have to have passion and fantasy; it was in fact passion for clubs and music that made me get into designer fashion initially. I had always loved clothes even as a small kid, my mum had given me this vintage gypsy style dress when I was around 4 years old, I think it must have been an old theatre dress she had found in a jumble sale or something. I loved this old dress.. in fact I would not go out without wearing it for a good month or so.. it would be a drama otherwise, even in the rain I would wear it to the shops with my wellies. I must have looked like an odd little thing but I have never really cared what others thought about what I wore. I guess the dress gave me a fantasy of being a different person, I was obsessed with it. This love of clothing and style developed and as I grew I would draw fantasies of clothing after watching old films or looking at my mum’s Vogues and as an only child until I was thirteen I would spend all my time sketching these outfits. Anyway, as a teen I got into clubs in a big way.. this was the late 80s/early 90s and the clubs in London were amazing; full of the most incredible characters all dressed up to the nines- all individual and fantastic, there was a big drag scene at the time especially at ‘Kinki Gerlinki’s’. These characters were larger than life, everyone looked incredible, this need to be different was so prevalent in the London clubs at this time, so I would save up my money and buy Westwood. I remember getting a velvet corset, rocking horse shoes and a mini crinoline, I used to mix these with vintage bits I found so it was not like a runway outfit. This feeling of transforming and hanging out with likeminded people was euphoric and the passion that everyone had for individual fashion at the time was intoxicating and addictive… in fact I got my first job at Joseph purely so I could get the discount on the clothes that I wanted to wear to the clubs. It really was an addiction and looking back, becoming a window dresser, and a stylist have all been part of this addiction for clothing and the buzz it gives you. What made you get into the fashion business?
Well, I was destined for the city like most of my friends. I took a gap year and spent 6 months working in an accountancy firm which was complete drudgery. I was basically writing out cheques all day for bankrupt nursing homes, hilarious! I spent most of the day on the phone chatting up the nurses.. anyway I also spent a lot of time looking out the window and realizing a job in the city was not for me. I went to university, studied French literature which was in a way very creative and I left wanting to be a writer. On the Spanish side of my family there is a very strong creative impulse, my grandfather was in the film business and made documentaries so I had a certain right in my mother’s eyes to pursue something other than a lawyer etc and play it safe. The old man wasn’t so keen at first but in the end he was cool with it and I remember him telling me something quite touching and in a way something that allowed him to understand my choices, which was one of my teachers from primary school once said to him that most kids go into a field and see grass but when Richard does he sees all the different kinds of grass.. in fact I would say that this one statement fully describes my general outlook to life and my obsession with beauty.. Photography and fashion just fit in neatly with that impulse and need for self expression. Also I had been playing with photography on and off whilst at Uni since a friend was a photographer and so it was an option whether I knew at the time or not.. I might add it was a time when the alternative career became a possibility thanks to Thatcher in a way.. when I arrived at Uni there were 2-3 decent places in the country to study photography, when I left there were tons of photographic courses, you could even mix and match with classical subjects at some institutions. I never assisted and I really enjoyed my early formative years and I was lucky meeting the right people, life is circumstantial for sure. I didn’t start with fashion at the outset but I ended up there, partly my wish and partly who I met.. then of course it led me to you so it all makes sense!
Yes, it brought us together! We are so fortunate to be in an industry where we have the possibility to share our lives and our creative process together. It’s definitely great to meet and work with like minded, inspiring and creative people.. I could not imagine doing anything else! Just coming back to Camden, I love Camden, it has that feeling of London I had growing up, nobody cares who’s looking at them, everywhere you look there’s someone drumming to their own beat, like the eccentric old man we always see walking on Camden road, last week he was wearing the men’s brogues, where he cut off the heel as they were too small for him and they were like the coolest mules, one shoe was brown the other was black and he had his trousers hitched up under his chest with a belt as they were too big… this eccentricity is very London.
Yeah, we discussed eccentricity on What’s Contemporary last time and I still believe the loss of it is one of the chief dangers of our time. Conformity has always been creatively and spiritually oppressive. There’s not enough people around with a sense of rebellion and of “being” themselves and following their convictions rather than living in the eyes of other people and hopelessly conforming. The recession, for the time being, has subdued the potential mentality for revolt as people are just trying to survive, it’ll be interesting to see what comes with more confidence..
Talking about rebels, there is a certain creative director that has had a hard time with some of the press but he is designing what he feels personally is right and creating a complete wardrobe for men and women. Much of the collection is designed as separates that can be worn in many ways, giving complete freedom to interpret them in their own way, this for me is refreshing and feels almost like an approach that has been forgotten for a long time, I think it’s admirable that he is sticking to his guns and you never know what he’s going to design next as it’s purely his vision, he’s a real rebel, something that is far and few between, not many people have the courage to stick to their own vision and not be swayed.. Terry Jones is a rebel too, such characters are unpredictable and spontaneous but there’s not many of them around. Many brands and especially some of the big houses design pieces that can only be worn in one way which in itself is a sense of control, not allowing the person to wear pieces in different ways other than the way they design it to be worn. I remember working with one particular brand in the past for whom I was styling the show and I put together a look together for the show and the designer said, oh I love how this looks so I am going to make it into a dress so these pieces can’t be worn in other ways… I said but surely it’s more interesting for you to have the customer wearing your clothes with their own vision rather than just how one person sees it put together. I think it’s inspiring to see how people can wear fashion in their own way, I don’t think fashion should be a dictation. Even trends can be interpreted in so many different ways. Growing up, a lot of the street trends I followed were music inspired that seeped into fashion trends.. but inspiring musicians are very few and far between these days and the kids are looking at the bloggers as inspiration and as fashion icons which I find bizarre… When I first became a stylist my fashion heroes were stylists like Anna Cockburn, Venetia Scott & Melanie Ward, they were so passionate and rebellious, there seemed to be no rules… I could relate to them.
I recently read something interesting by Suzy Menkes about the bloggers being so high profile in the industry right now that they are getting more attention than the editors and in some cases the shows they are attending. Many of these bloggers lack individualism and dress in outlandish designer pieces to attract the attention of the photographers. It makes sense that they get front row seats at some of the shows as they are a new breed of brand promotion, often they are head to toe in one brand which of course is clever publicity.. yet it saddens me that young kids who are trying to find their identity are looking up to these women and wanting to look like them. When I discuss this with my peers pretty much everyone hopes this will be a phase the fashion industry is going through and something more exciting and revolutionary will come along soon.. but the cynic in me often wonders if it just going to get worse. Don’t get me wrong, some of the blog sites are fun and these girls know their fashion and contemporary trends, I just don’t think many are original and have anything new to say.
I don’t really read blogs that much, that said when I have I tend to find them fairly amusing.. I did read one recently that my assistant showed me about some discussion regarding “over retouch” and that models look so different from one shoot to another which is kind of the point of having different photographers lending their style or signature to someone.. Anyway it made me think, since when is photography about truth? It’s a process of manipulation from beginning to end.. even great photojournalism, like history, is selective. I mean why is “that moment” more true than all the others happening 360 degrees around the photojournalist simultaneously? Photographs may be accurate but photography is not a system of truth.