Close-up on the profile of woman. She’s wearing a hat with a veil that covers her nose. Smoke billows from her thickly painted lips, and the whole scene is washed in shade of violet blue. A few meters away a woman stands on a chequered kitchen floor. All you see is her ankles and feet in Wizard-of-Oz-like shoes, and between them a bottle of Heinz ketchup has smashed splattering blood red sauce on the ground. These are just two of Miles Aldridge’s photographs at a Somerset House retrospective celebrating his hyper-coloured and intriguing fashion shoots.
This is a small exhibition but there’s plenty to see as you view one doll-like woman after another, emphasising the tension between the ‘high fashion style and sense of hopelessness’. Each image is taken from a longer fashion spread, but has an individual story – at the centre of which, Aldridge explained, are ‘close-ups of a woman’s face thinking, and she’s realised that her whole world is wrong’. And this effect is very cleverly achieved. Each picture is vibrantly coloured but drained by the plasticity or deadness of the model’s expression – she’s there but not there, creating instead a sense of sadness and emptiness.
Aldridge is influenced by film noir, Hitchcock and David Lynch, portraying troubling scenes in glamorous ways. When planning a shoot, he hand-draws a storyboard to ensure the final images will almost exactly match his imagined version. There are good examples of this and copies of the final spreads. Some of the best are First Impressions, shot in a supermarket, where Stepford-Wife-like woman with trolleys are posed in front of mundane but highly colourful displays of margarine or washing powder.
There’s not much explanation of the images, presumably so you’ll buy the expensive accompanying book, but you don’t need it to enjoy the photos. The gallery walls were painted in different bright and pastel colours to enhance the image they displayed which was a nice touch. If you’re going to Somerset House, there are also some free exhibitions as well as the Courtauld collection, so you can make an afternoon of it.
Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me is at Somerset House until 29 September and costs £6. The Courtauld is also £6, but there are also several free exhibitions in other galleries.