‘Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water’. Set unobtrusively against the backdrop of the Design Museum’s ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition, Amelia Troubridge’s photographs do just that. Standing quietly along the room’s outer walls, amidst the vast array of multimedia objects pertaining to the exhibition’s theme, the dozen, photographed women exude a quiet confidence. They purvey the scene, staring quizzically at the visitor as if to say, ‘Oh you’re here, well you can observe me, but I’m just going to carry on being fabulous.’ The installation is made up of images from the London-based photographer’s latest book entitled ‘Joan of Arc Had Style’ (Trolley Books). Taking its title from Charles Bukowski’s canonical poem, Amelia’s photographs pay homage to stylish, influential women encountered during her long-spanning career as a photographer.
I caught up with Amelia to ask her a couple of things about the installation and her new book….
The launch of your book fittingly coincides with International Women’s Day, as well as the Design Museum’s exhibition, which is very much in line with the agenda of your latest body of work. Coincidence or planned?
Planned and a little bit of coincidence! To get the project out there, the sponsor and the Design Museum all realised Women’s Day was a great time to release this book.
Could you say a couple of things about the book?
It was a project that was a long time in the making, an idea I had ten years ago, that took on a number of forms and different edits. It became a collaboration with a lot of women, a place to discuss our lives, the world we live in, and to celebrate being a woman, individual style and creative thought. I would meet women and want to photograph them with this project in mind. Although the book came together in a very unplanned way, which is very much how I find myself living my life and developing my career. You never know who you are going to be working with next. It also became a personal story about my life as a woman.
I couldn’t help but think of Bukowski’s invocations of style as I walked through the exhibition, particularly the line ‘sometimes people give you style’. What would you define as style? ‘Women Fashion Power’ aims to show how women have used clothes to enhance their position in the world. Do you think style is heavily dependant on fashion or does it transcend materiality?
I was interested in looking at personal style. That comes from within….not just in the fashion sense…but in the sense that when a women walks into a room, she resonates a certain energy – that’s style. I like the idea that women can be whomever they want today. This was not the case not so long ago….
Whilst the exhibition is organised chronologically, the placement of your photographs defy this linear progression. Was this a conscious decision? To what extent did you pair your images with the objects on display? I thought that the image of Tiko Tuskadze next to the voluminous opera coat worked really well, the photograph could have been taken in the early twentieth century.
I didn’t over think where the images hung. I think it came quite naturally to me. The young girl came first because I was interested in looking at all ages of women. I liked Dita [Von Teese] in between the two images of the women with men because that Dita image is about questions of love and identity without the conventional power couple of the man beside her. Tiko [Tuskadze] worked perfectly there with the mannequin; that was our favourite. The image of Justine [Picardie] was very hard and corporate, so I felt it worked well next to the brightly lit technology display within the exhibition. I’m a visual person. I put something somewhere and it either works for me or doesn’t. I’m a great believer in going with your gut feeling.
I did try at one point to do my book in chronological order but it didn’t work. The book felt ‘magaziney’. In the end I handed over the final edit to my publisher. The book worked much better that way.
Back to Bukowski – thinking about style as ‘a way of doing, a way of being done’, can you talk a little bit about the artistic input of the sitter, alongside your own vision? The image of Polly Morgan comes to mind, casual yet staged, dark yet innocent…how did you capture her style in the creation of this image?
It always helps if you think the person you are photographing has immense personal style, and I think Polly has great style. She arrived in an old Jaguar and has great legs and makes beautiful art. But I love the idea of her as a little messily dressed, she shows herself as an artist like that and I find imperfection as something beautiful, so that was something I wanted to display. She really got into the shoot and we spent a couple of hours doing it. I like the formality of the table and chair, in the informal surrounding of nature. I think nature inspires most of us artists, so all the elements worked well together: landscape, props, persons and what they are wearing.
Finally, you have met a huge amount of inspiring, strong, courageous, fabulous women throughout your career. What do you seek to capture, preserve and share through these portraits?
For this project I was interested in collecting images of women as modern heroes/warriors; women taking on new frontiers, and as always, capturing a little bit of what’s going on on the inside too.