Miles Aldridge is perhaps best known to AAD’s readers around the world for his unsettling images of glamorous but disconcerted women that combine vibrant colour, cinematic narrative, and meticulous attention to detail. His photographs have appeared regularly in international publications such as American Vogue, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and most notably Vogue Italia.
There are several books devoted to his work, including Pictures for Photographs (2009); Other Pictures (2012); and I Only Want You to Love Me (2013) – an extensive monograph of his photographs and drawings that accompanied a major retrospective of his work at Somerset House by the same title.
In April 2014, he was invited by Tate Britain to create a temporary installation entitled Carousel II, as a response to Mark Gertler’s 1916 painting, Merry-go-Round.
Ahead of the forthcoming major exhibition in St. James London, AAD’s Alessandra Massameno sits down with Miles Aldridge in an attempt to dissect his creative process, his artistsic intent, and dig a bit deeper into that which has influenced his career to date.
SITTING DOWN WITH MILES ALDRIDGE
When thinking of Miles Aldridge, the saccharin-sweet images of his Betty Crocker housewives surely come to mind—their flawless complexions, their blank stares, and their eyelashes. “My father had a Nikon F from the 60’s, and I think he bought it…to photograph The Beatles. He gave me this camera to play with and I remember him distinctly saying to me, ‘the trick is to focus on the eyelashes when you’re looking at somebody.’ That’s exactly what I do. I learned that when I was 10 and I still do it today. I’ll frame the picture, but the focusing is always on the eyelashes."
His last exhibition, I Only Want You to Love Me, conjures mixed feelings; likely, less than savory memories of childhood—memories of which, you wouldn’t otherwise be aware. Aldridge has that effect, forcing you to acknowledge a narrative that’s uncomfortable, something that Freud would love to dissect (more on Freud later).
“If I was to photograph you, for example, I’d probably shoot a couple Polaroids and arrange a composition for the film. Now, of those Polaroids, none of them may be interesting in the end. But, had you moved, or had the cat stood in your place while you went to get a cup of tea…”
I feel like I’m at the opposite end of his viewfinder as I rummage through the Polaroids on the table. As flat images, they are so aesthetically beautiful that you almost fail to see them. Like a car wreck on the highway, they’re mesmerizing in a way that they shouldn’t be. In a phrase? Morbidly intoxicating.
Aldridge seems to agree with me on that point. As he talks, he seems stuck on one term: “Impenetrable strangeness,” that’s what makes for a good image. “…A strangeness, which… can also be akin to a crime scene photograph…you’re not sure what it is you’re looking at.”
And he’s right. The strangeness of his photos is what keeps you coming back, looking again and again to pinpoint what it is, exactly; he tiptoes around an idea. He’s adamant about that: “Rather than telling the story, I’m trying to hint at a story that I don’t want to tell…it’s sort of a game of show-and-tell and…trying to keep the idea that the image is enigmatic and mysterious.”
Clearly, Aldridge isn’t exempt from retrospection. His latest exhibition spans his twenty-year career, examining the countless Polaroids he used to prep for his shoots—the only trace of black-and-whites you’ll ever see from him to date. His show, Please Return Polaroid, is set to premier at Lyndsey Ingram Gallery at Dickinson St. James, on May 16th.
On the cusp of his first show since 2013, anyone who’s a fan should be excited. Still, a question looms overhead: Should I feel disempowered by his portrayal of women as one-dimensional vehicles of male desire? Or should I view his art in a less sinister light? He seems to think so.
“I don’t do the pictures for that reason at all. I mean, for me, the pictures are about women I’m interested in and the women I’m interested in are way more complex than just that. They obviously have elements...of the mother…and other kinds of fragile people I’ve experienced. They’re sexual. We are all animals, as well. It’s not as simple as saying they’re sexual toys. The photographs aren’t sort of sex ‘things.’ Sex like that is really uninteresting whereas eroticism is fascinating because eroticism is much more about the mystery of the human rather than the biology of them."
Sitting next to him in his London flat, it’s hard to think in sinister terms. So we’ll settle on this interpretation: Aldridge’s photos challenge patriarchal thought—ideas of what a woman should be; what she should look like, how she should dress; what she should do— and demonstrate its absurdity. A woman, vacuuming in lingerie, a garter belt, and sheer stockings; is this what men expect? If they’re anything like Donald Trump, then yes.
I’m sure plenty of people don’t give a shit about what Miles Aldridge is or isn’t saying with his photos. For some people, looking is enough because his is the type of art that’s impossible to feel ambivalent about. Love or hate, there’s no neutrality.
I’m something of an Aldridge groupie, in case you haven’t noticed; it’s hard not to gush.
He’s wearing his signature, thick-rimmed glasses, the type that declare to the world: “I’m an artist, f**k off.” A pair of bright red socks peek out at me from beneath his pants leg. If nothing else, he’s consistent.
As for his apartment, it looks like an artist lives here; I’m assuming there’s a hardwood floor underneath the papers and books. The twenty-something, gazelle-legged creature who answered the door— undoubtedly, a model—has one of those complexions you’d say was photo shopped if you saw it in a magazine.
Do you mind if I get some shots before I go?
“Oh, no, I don’t want to be photographed, sorry." I find this ironic, for obvious reasons. "I’m not in the mood. I’ve had a really late night,” he explains, laughing. Mr. Aldridge’s stubbled face wears a “late night” rather well. Admittedly, he would give Clooney a run for his money— not that you’ve been permitted a chance to find out. If you haven’t yet, give him a [Go]ogle. You won’t regret it.
While you’re at it, look over a few of his prior interviews. Namely, the two published by Bullet Media and The Cut, where he discusses the eroticism that his work entails; you’ll find that in the same breath, he credits his mother as his inspiration (which would explain the utter lack of diversity in his models, I suppose). I couldn’t help myself.
You’ve said before that you draw a lot of inspiration from your mother. But you’ve also said that you find your models sexually arousing. How would you characterize or explain that?
“Unlike every other man, you mean? I’m not sure what bit you’re quoting from… I think what I was saying, and I was quite a bit younger…was that I thought, rather like Freud, I suppose, that sex is a sort of pervasive motivation through a lot of human actions. And that that kind of undercurrent of sexuality and eroticism can be found anywhere. The women that I kind of truthfully create in my mind have a mixture of the mother figure, who like all great protagonists, is tortured…plus, this sort of the erotic, which is all pervading. I choose to photograph them in a way that carries elements of my mother’s fragility and elements of the constantly erotic, so it’s sort a duality that I see…in the women that I create. I’m not saying these women exist so much as I’m saying that these are truthful feelings that I, as a man, feel. “
It’s difficult to look him in the eye at this point, and not because I’m blushing (I’m not). I’m too busy looking over his Polaroids so I can preserve this moment—when I got a narration of the artwork from Aldridge himself.
Of course, this is the moment that his cat decides to take a seat on his Polariods.
I didn’t catch its name, but it followed me on my way out and no one seemed to notice. So if anyone happens upon a black Persian cat (with predictably vibrant, green eyes), you should probably get in touch with Miles Aldridge.
Sitting Down with Miles Aldridge
Exhibition - Miles Aldridge: Please Return Polaroid
Starts - Monday 16th – Sunday 22nd May 2016
Location - Lyndsey Ingram at Dickinson
58 Jermyn Street
London SW1Y 6LX
MILES ALDRIDGE: PLEASE RETURN POLAROID
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