Behind the lens: five rising homegrown fashion photography talents
From Annie Leibovitz to David Bailey, fashion photographers are artists in their own right. Here, our reporter meets five Irish talents to find out how they pursue that art in the Instagram age…
Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30
For as long as fashion has dictated what we wear, the camera has been there to record its reign. During the 20th century fashion photographers emerged as visionaries in their own right as they captured the mood of the era and the faces that defined it. Irving Penn's monochrome mannequins exemplified mid-century style; David Bailey introduced us to an unassuming teenage icon by the name of Twiggy; Roxanne Lowit took us behind the scenes of '90s excess catching Naomi, Christy and Linda in the bath, whilst Corrine Day revealed the fawn-like beauty of Kate Moss.
The photography saloons of yesteryear may now be replaced with shared studios but fashion photography has become no less exciting. Yes, it may be plagued by the advent of social media but the newest pack of young photographers have taken this in their stride. They strive to stay true to their discipline with just as much vision and oomph of all those masters who have gone before them. Here, we meet five rising homegrown fashion photography talents…
For 23-year-old Dubliner Ellius Grace, a good back story is just as intriguing as good bone structure. "When I take a portrait I want people to see the subject and connect with them like I have, instead of seeing an image. I want the photo to be a connection with a human," he says of his work.
"There are so many models who I'd love to meet and shoot, from more familiar faces like Cara Delevigne or Karlie Kloss to newer models like Molly Bair, Willow Hand or Elliott Jay Brown. I was fortunate enough to spend the last year working freelance, doing a lot of my own photography and model testing in Dublin, London, Paris and New York. I've shot with faces who have gone on to be huge in the fashion world. Emily Butcher is now one of the faces for Gucci, Julia Fleming has been in Vogue and walked tonnes of shows this season and Megan Puleri was in the last Victoria's Secret show. I feel really lucky to have worked with them early on and met them."
Having spent the past year travelling between fashion capitals to photograph new faces from modelling agencies like IMG and Elite, he is still fascinated in the everyday, not just editorial; he cites a recent shoot in his hometown for cult fashion bible i-D as a career highlight so far.
"Straight Ups is a feature that has been running in i-D from the very start, with Nick Knight shooting the first ones. It's essentially straight up portraits of people from a certain place, to show their style. I was honoured to be asked to represent Dublin for this and spent a week cycling around the city meeting friends and people on the street. I think my fashion work is very portrait- and human-orientated too so being able to shoot fashion portraits was amazing."
A graduate of Goldsmiths University in London, it was fine art photography that initially beckoned for Dubliner Holly McGlynn (32). However, after exhibiting throughout London and Dublin she set her sights on fashion. Her current work is eye-wateringly vibrant; think limbs flung asunder, searing pops of colour and "the impact of flash, it's part of my signature style."
"I like working in a team, I like deadlines, I like producing a lot of work. I thought fashion could give me the dynamic, exciting environment I craved whilst retaining the creative, conceptual and artistic values of fine art photography."
Since making the transition four years ago she has accrued an impressive client list and honed that explosive aesthetic, as well as negotiated the ever-changing impact social media has on the profession.
"It's made photography accessible to everyone and disrupted how we view fashion photography. It's made it easier for photographers to get their work seen and for them to be found by clients and agents. However, the industry is in the midst of a massive shift in how it operates.
"Brands recognise the power of social media, but still hold onto the idea that the photography budget is in traditional advertising. If I had a pound for every time a client queried my quote with 'but it's just for social media', I could probably give up this taking photos lark!"
Holly is navigating these uncertain times with aplomb if her recent achievements are anything to go by.
"I won gold at the Paris Photography Prize last year, that was really exciting. I've worked with some major brands such as Levi's, Primark and Mulberry and that remains a constant highlight. I've been commissioned this year to give a series of fashion photography masterclasses by the Soho House group in London and NYC so that's been amazing."
A quick skim through Johnny McMillan's portfolio shows how he has managed to capture the breadth of the fashion industry. Alongside evocative portraits of fashion notables John Rocha, Angela Scanlon and Danielle Romeril are editorial images of our most promising young talent, including edgy graduate designers and fresh-faced models.
A self-taught photographer, it was in those murky in-between years after college that the Wicklow man (32) first picked up a camera. "I did a degree in Fine Art printing in NCAD and after I graduated tried to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. At the time my older brother's hobby was ornithology and I once borrowed his camera to photograph a friend and that's basically how it started.
"The following years I spent photographing numerous worried-faced friends as I was figuring out how to photograph. Friends then turned into new model faces and then turned into work. At the start I didn't receive any photography training and still today I'm a bit 50/50 as to whether it's necessary or not after finally doing a Masters in London."
The 50/50 toss-up certainly seems to have paid off, with McMillan graduating from the Masters programme at the prestigious London College of Fashion with top honours. In a rather tongue-in-cheek move, his impressive score was largely down to a thesis on "why not to take photographs, with the whole thought of enjoying the moment rather than trying to capture it."
"When I first started out it was about the aesthetic beauty of someone that I was trying to capture and now since I'm getting older, the enjoyable part is being able to photograph anyone with their own individual stories and every time the challenge for me is to try and capture that."
Environmental consultancy might seem a million miles away from the bright lights of fashion photography, but that's exactly where Antrim-born photographer Eilish McCormick (37) was just five years ago. Since her foray into high fashion she is a regular snapper for glossies as well as niche titles.
"After leaving that job, I changed direction. I completed a diploma in photography at Griffith College Dublin and then shortly after began working for a portrait studio in Dublin. Fashion was never in my mind at all but it seemed to naturally develop whilst working in the studio. My interest in this then led me to begin making contact with model agencies and stylists in Dublin and the UK and things took off from there," she says.
Retouched and trussed-up her photos are not; models hold themselves purposefully against stark backdrops, steadily holding the camera in their gaze. "I think my images display how I approach work and life. There is an element of quiet simplicity and clean lines; these are the things that I seem to be drawn to naturally. Inspiration comes from lots of different things; my childhood, my home, family, landscapes, music, film."
Her work is imbued with the same quiet confidence that emanates from Eilish herself, and it becomes all the more apparent as she muses on her next half decade in this fickle industry: "It's a challenging process to get your name out there and also for people to trust that you can deliver. You really have to be patient yet persevere and believe in yourself and your ability. I'm really happy that the career change I took is now paying off for me in lots of ways. Five years in, I know I have lots of hard work ahead but hopefully in 10 years' time I will have achieved some more of what I have set out to do."
Conor Clinch. Photo: Anouska Proetta Brandon
Since he was whisked under the wing of photography legend Rankin at just 18, the work of Conor Clinch has been keenly eyed by industry insiders. After taking part in the TV programme The Ones To Watch on Sky One he caught the eye of the iconic photographer and became his protégé. Describing it as a "surreal" experience, nonetheless his feet remain firmly on the ground as he carves out his burgeoning career.
Despite his client list including ultra-covetable London brand House of Holland, cosmetic giant Smashbox and bigwigs Topman, H&M, River Island and GAP, his style is in fact more underground than high street.
Now 20, alongside these global brands the Dubliner's work is littered with raw portraits of the young creatives, designers and models that inhabit London. In capturing this next generation of the fashion industry you feel he has managed to capture the zeitgeist along the way.
"Different types of people and characters interest me the most. It's only a short-lived excitement when I shoot someone "famous". Interesting faces, cults, youth - all keep me obsessed with what I do. Perhaps someone like David Attenborough would be great to photograph. I always enjoy watching his programmes, mostly because I wish I lived in the rainforest!"
As with many of his peers, the current tug-o-war at play between fashion, photography and social media is as much a cause of consternation for the young photographer as it is celebration.
"I guess to be a photographer has become quite trendy now through social media. It's easier nowadays to take a photograph and share it online but that doesn't make everyone a photographer. Your online status doesn't prove your skills, however the sad reality of it is the more followers you've got, the more work you get. Right now it's essential for anyone working in the creative industries to be on top of their Instagram game."