Paging: Glen Luchford Comes Full Circle

By

Published October 21, 2009

Kate Moss, 1994

 

A young man in a small town on the south coast of England with only the prospect of working at the local chemical factory receives his first camera at the age of 9. At 15 he moves to London to pursue a career in photography, finds his way into the brutal, over-saturated field of fashion photography, and carves a place as one of the most important image-makers of his generation.

In 1993 that young photographer, Glen Luchford, drops off a few prints to The Face magazine, and within a few weeks is commissioned to make a portrait of Ian Brown of the Stone Roses—an image that opens Luchford’s forthcoming, self-titled monograph (SteidlDangin). At the time, Luchford had no phone, no studio, and no equipment, but he borrowed an 8×10 plate camera and a few sheets of film, and captured an image of Brown that became his first-ever published picture. From that point Luchford would work steadily for The Face, as well as i-D, before taking on some of the most illustrious advertising clients in fashion. Although the breadth of Luchford’s body of work is vast, spanning nearly two decades, it was his ground-breaking Prada campaigns in 1997 and 1998 that secured him a place in the history of fashion photography—as well as at the Museum of Modern Art; The images Luchford created for Prada were a significant part of the 2004 exhibition Fashioning Fiction, the first MOMA exhibition devoted exclusively to fashion photography.

 

LEFT: FROM VOGUE ITALIA, 2002

Luchford’s earliest memory of photography was the photojournalistic action and combat pictures in the Time Life series of books his father owned-an influence that is evident in his early 1994 reportage-inspired images of Kate Moss frolicking in the pre-gentrified streets of New York. At that time Luchford used only a single, 35-mm camera, and  black and white film to make his photographs.

In the book, Luchford’s pictures are for the most part sequenced chronologically and mix editorial and advertising imagery, which allows us to see fully his progression from large-format film to 35-mm, and ultimately to digital. Slowly we see the introduction of color, starting with pictures of Stella Tennant in a seedy motel room staring blankly. Like the Moss pictures, these are environmental images, with a striking narrative that begs a viewer to inquire who the subject is, and why they are there—but there is an obvious shift in Luchford’s approach, an increased desire for control of the environment and light. Luchford’s method of working changed, and so did his imagery. The pictures become more methodical, with less motion and movement. By the time you’ve flipped to the infamous Prada ads, the work has evolved dramatically. By then, Luchford was doing multi-day shoots with set designers and scores of lighting, often taking hours to set up a single shot, and employing techniques of illumination used by the great cinematographers of bygone days. That was a moment of luxury, in both time and budgets, probably not to be seen again.

LEFT: PRADA, 1997

As the years pass, the technology changes, and a nostalgic, introspective, even sexually suggestive quality emerges. Although Luchford is one of the last of a generation who actually learned photography the darkroom, by the time we come to his work of the 2000’s, particularly his editorials for W Magazine, Luchford has completely embraced working in the digital realm, and liveliness again emerges. Models jump about, bodies dance, all the while maintaining the cinematic quality he is so known for, working entirely in controlled sets, designed and constructed specifically to execute his concept—like the human-sized water tank created for model Gemma Ward—and within his distinct color palette, achieved through highly-manipulated lighting.

LEFT: STELLA TENNANT, 1995

The newest image in the book is from 2009-a black and white portrait of a single, nude female model. There is no set, no exquisite lighting, and only a rosary around the woman’s neck. It is scaled back, stripped down, somber and vulnerable-Luchford’s aesthetic and approach coming full circle.