When I first started studying photography I was drawn to the old issues of Nylon Magazine in the early 2000s. I’d never seen a fashion aesthetic that I could relate to. A little bit gritty and personal but more importantly, real. Valerie Phillips was a consistent presence in the pages shooting editorials and musicians and I have always admired her work all these years later.
Alice in Londonland, her latest book follows Alice Vink around London and throughout her daily life. I was beyond excited to get the opportunity to ask Valerie some questions about her work and this latest project.
FG: What is your history with photography? What sparked your interest into shooting full time?
Originally I wanted to get into clubs to see bands for free – so I started shooting live music.
That led to working for music magazines and record companies – doing album covers, press photos, and working on video shoots.
It got frustrating pretty quickly because it’s almost impossible to make 5 guys in a photo studio look interesting. And most bands have an attention span of zero when it comes to the process of taking pictures. I also hated most of the styling and it was a battle trying to impose my own taste on the situation.
That said, I had some amazing experiences working with PJ Harvey, The Manic Street Preachers, Snoop Dogg, and a handful of others – but I knew it was kind of a dead end just shooting music so I got into fashion/advertising. And I started to give much more attention to my personal work.
FG: It’s so fascinating to see the variety of your subjects. What is your process of finding a new person to photograph? Do you start with a series in mind or does it happen more organically?
I don’t really start with a series in mind, I usually start with a person. I don’t have a casting process – I’ve met girls on planes, in cafes, on the bus, in a halloween parade…all over.
I just know immediately who I want to work with when I see/meet/talk to them.
FG: How did you meet Alice from Alice in Londonland?
I saw Alice across the room at a book party of mine in New York, but it was so crowded I couldn’t get to her. Then she was gone. It took another 9 months until we were both in the same city at the same time – London.
That’s when I asked her to do the book with me.
FG: If you could spend the afternoon shooting one person from the past, who would it be?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti the Pre-Raphaelite painter. Not because I’d like to photograph him, but because I’d like to spend hours talking to him.
I have no interest in photographing anyone from the past because I don’t think about my work in that way. I have to be inspired and excited by someone who is real and standing infront of me. I’m not a dreamer, I’m very much a realist.
FG: What advice do you have for photographers in this digital & social media age?
Unless you willing to work your ass off, and have something unique and very much your own vision to offer, do something else.
That’s not meant to sound cynical, just honest.
The mechanics of Photography has been made so easy and accessible with good quality phone cameras, photoshop, and platforms like instagram – which is great in many ways, but it also means that there is an enormous amount of shit to wade through and if you want to stand out, you need to do your own special thing from the get go.
FG: You have done work in film as well. What are you some of your favorite films that inspire you?
The Ice Storm – Ang Lee
Harold and Maude – Hal Ashby
Bully – Larry Clark
Ken Park – Larry Clark
Lost In Translation – Sofia Coppola
Christiane F. – Uli Edel
Gummo – Harmony Korine
L.I.E. – Michael Cuesta
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane – Nicolas Gessner
All About Eve – Joseph L Mankiewicz
FG: Do you have a current playlist of what you’re vibing to right now?
Today I’m listening to:
Sixteen Again – Buzzcocks
Made For Now – Janet Jackson
Plainsong – The Cure
Carolyn’s Fingers – Cocteau Twins
Carnage Bargain – The Paranoyds
Eight Miles High – Hunker Du
Nevermind – Dennis Lloyd
Blue Sky Day – Died Pretty
Dry – PJ Harvey
Another Girl Another Planet – The Only Ones
In da Club – 50 Cent
Little Fury Things – Dinosaur Jr
My Love Is Winter – Smashing Pumpkins
What A Waster – The Libertines
FG: Is there a project or subject matter you haven’t documented that you would like to?
In general I don’t tend to think about what I haven’t done because it doesn’t interest me much.
It takes all my brain cells to think about what I’m working on now and for the next few months.
I’d be up for doing a clothing collaboration with Stussy and/or Hysteric Glamour. Love those brands. I’m really into doing that kind of thing at the moment and I’m currently collaborating with some amazing people in Tokyo, on various apparel.
It might be a fun change to do a book with someone ridiculously famous, because you almost never see a really cool body of photographs of a celebrity.
When’s the last time you saw a great photo book of interesting pictures of someone famous? Only Juergen Teller has managed it.
Most tend to work with the same tedious 4 or 5 ultra safe shit-boring photographers who they know will make them look like sanitized wax figurines.
When I was working with Nylon we got to do some pretty great shoots with well known actors/musicians/models, and we had a lot of freedom to make the kind of images we wanted to see. There seems to be less and less of that happening in my opinion.
Most famous people are too concerned with “monetizing their brand” rather than making interesting work.
FG: What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new book – a collection of unpublished photographs from the first three books I released….’I Want to Be An Astronaut’, ‘Look At Me, I’m Lacy’ and ‘One More Minute For Courtney Please’.
Those books have been out of print for ages and I always get asked about them.
There is so much material from those projects that has never been seen – including tonnes of landscape / cityscape / weird Americana from my travels finding those girls.
It’s a really fun but tricky piece to assemble – I’m only just starting to get my head around it.
Watch this space…