The fashion images produced by British photographer and artist Julian Marshall are quiet, contemplative and multi-layered. They halt you in your tracks and encourage you to look a little closer, to dig a little deeper, to uncover the emotion that lies beneath their beautiful glossy surface. They reveal the photographer’s fascination with the exquisite qualities of light, and how it can be used creatively in order to fashion the dressed body. His work probes various boundaries; between the real and the artificial, the active and the passive, the feminine and the masculine, the subject and the viewer. I caught up with Julian to find out a bit more about his work, and to examine some of his images in closer detail.
On how he got started…
‘I was working as an assistant for Eammon J McCabe . He was a real genius with light, and I learnt everything about light from him. Then one day I woke up and decided – today, I’m going to be a photographer. So I didn’t assist for one second longer! I phoned up all the magazines, I went all around London with my book, showing people my work. I only had about 5 photographs because I was very reluctant to take pictures…I am still very resistant in fact. And then a PR agent for Ghost phoned me back and they wanted a lookbook. But I really enjoyed that experience of showing my book…meeting people, speaking to people, getting feedback on my work. Making a connection with people – it’s so much easier than trying to communicate through email.’
On his photographic Achilles heel…
‘When I started taking photographs I had a good connection with how I wanted the image to feel, but no idea about composition. Though both my parents were artists, I had studied for a Law Degree and I hadn’t considered composition at all. I couldn’t connect with composition on an emotional level. So I was shooting on 35mm film and I would think to myself, oh I should put the model to the side of the frame at some point. Just because that’s what people do. But I didn’t know why I should do it at all. And for a long time, I felt that composition had been my Achilles heel. I think it’s because I didn’t relate to it emotionally, so a lot of my early pictures were shot against a wall, which I found far less traumatic. I decided I couldn’t go on like this, so I hired a 10 x 8 plate camera and shot exclusively on it for 2 years. You cannot hide behind this camera, you have to make your choices and it forces you to address any issues you might have with composition.’
On what he’s searching for in his images…
‘I want to move people through my images. Photography is a great way to connect to people. I was quite shy at school. Often people don’t realise how incredibly shy I am I hide it well. So being a photographer is quite funny for me. It’s a bit like being a tightrope walker who is afraid of heights.
On his relationship to his subjects…
‘I have to go in front of people and connect with them. This connection with my subjects is one of the things that drives and informs my work. I feel a great duty of care to the people I photograph. They are allowing to me into their lives to photograph them. So to me that’s very special, and I feel like have a responsibility towards them. I know other people don’t shoot like that – maybe they look for a conflict, I don’t know, but for me this relationship with the subject and the responsibility I have towards them is central. I want the experience to be positive and I think why not. My images are driven by love. I always remember that when I like photographs in magazines, it’s because they are so moving that you want to touch the image… so I’m directing the model towards a way of being that expresses what I want to say. Sometimes if a model has done a lot of commercial work I have to deconstruct that, to make it more real, in order to express a feeling that is key to the photograph.’
On why photography is a form of performance art…
‘I have come to feel like photography is in itself like a performance art. The moment I walk through the door I can feel how everyone in the room is feeling. And all that energy needs to go towards making a great picture. I can feel how the assistant’s assistant feels, and how the assistant’s assistant feels may affect how the makeup artist feels. So I can throw something over to one side of the room to make a reaction on the other side of the room. And all of this comes together to have an effect on how the subject feels and appears before the camera. It’s in this sense that the fashion photograph is very much the result of a live event’.
Some highlights of Julian’s work include a series originally shot for Spanish Vogue in 2002. It was inspired by the 1998 photobook Albanie: Visage des Balkans, ecrits de lumiere [Albanie: Face of the Balkans, writing in light] – a collection of images taken in Albania by the Marubi photographic dynasty, between 1858-1956. One of Julian’s images, succinctly captioned Albanie 1, depicts a model dressed entirely in black and standing confidently in the centre of the frame. The monochromatic palette highlights the clean, sharp lines of her streamlined, tailored clothing, which is punctuated only by a teasing glimpse of bare midriff. With a self-possessed stare she gazes directly at the viewer, observing him or her with an equivalent level of curiosity to the gaze that is placed upon her. Her gaze thus subverts the asymmetrical balance of power frequently attributed to ethnographic-style portraits, such as those presented in Albanie: Visage des Balkans, by displaying the subject, rather than passive and powerless, as determined, active, and in charge of her own representation.
Albanie 1, 2002
Another series, and my personal favourite, was first shot for the Financial Times in 1998. Cheryl 2 is a contemporary deconstruction of classical ballet and captures an ungainly figure against a bare concrete wall. She arrives in motion from the left-hand side of the frame; barefoot, with arms extended to display her muscular physique, and gaze focused straight ahead, she is a contemporary re-presentation of the classical ballerina. The muted tones of her cream and peach satin dress swirl around her limbs as she moves, whilst her painted white mask-like face adds an element of mystery and disguise. The visible line between the dark floor and bare wall encapsulates a tension, between the polished perfection of high fashion or classical ballet, and the vibrant realism of street style or contemporary dance.
Cheryl 2, 1998
A final, more recent, series shot by Julian entitled ‘In the Service of the Mind’ featured the fashion model Tessa Kuragi. These images were inspired by Man Ray’s provocative fascination with the female form, and originally shot for Volt magazine in 2014. One example from this series, Tessa 7, captures the model in a uncompromising position: arms awkwardly flung behind her head, body bent forwards and face contorted. She wears a Fyodor Golan [http://fyodorgolan.co.uk/] futuristic dress, which has been designed using a variety of high-tech fabrics and neon plastic applique flowers. There is a sense of a frenetic energy now lost in this image, a once active body reduced to a passive and inert form of exhaustion. With her equivocal facial expressions and distorted pose, a direct interconnection between subject and the viewer is refused. Instead, the viewer is left unsure of how to read this image, confused by the event that has been documented. Whilst the model’s exposed feminine form has a seductive, even erotic quality, the pieces of wood discarded in the background suggest something else….a violence or danger, perhaps, that is about to happen, or potentially, has already occurred.
Tessa 7, 2014
Julian’s work has featured in publications that include Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Financial Times, Volt, and Nylon, and brought him into contact with the likes of Kate Moss, Ines De La Fressange, Bella Freud, Emanuel Ungaro, Gemma Arterton, Daisy Lowe, Emma Watson and Alberta Ferretti. To find out more visit his website www.julianmarshall.com and www.julianmarshallprint.com, or follow him on Instagram @julian_marshall