This summer, Somerset House celebrates the career of Jim Lee, the original wild child of British Fashion photography with a free exhibition of his works.
Often referred to as England’s answer to Guy Bourdin, Jim Lee’s take on fashion was fresh and illustrious. He was a revolutionary in his time, ditching rigid, mostly studio based product photography in favour of rich narratives. He took to the fields to create strong enchanting stories in a new form of visual expression and became a pioneer of the new type of fashion photography. Often inspired by life itself, Lee’s narratives have a strong relationship with its own time, drawing from political events such as the Vietnam War, Baader Meinhof events or even the win of Mitch ‘Blood’ Green in the 1977 Golden Gloves match in New York.
Photographing the stars of the Swinging London from Beatles to Rolling Stones, Lee shot to fame in the 1960s. He moved on to become the photographer du jour for the leaders of the fashion pack of the era, Yves Saint Laurent and Ossie Clark among others. He developed a close personal relationship with Anna Wintour in the early days of her career and continued working with her when Wintour moved to New York. In a career that spanned over five decades, Jim Lee collaborated with the likes of Alexander McQueen, Gianni Versace and Valentino, creating some of their most distinct images.
The exhibition ‘Jim Lee: Arrested’ brings together a collection of images, films and memorabilia, capturing a 50 year eventful and prolific career. The exhibition will coincide with the release of the book with the same name, written by Peter York.
We pinned the photographer down to find out what he thinks about the stare-worthy in life:
What was the last thing that made you stop and stare?
A powder blue 1965 Ford Mustang. I was on holiday in LA with my girlfriend Loli. We were walking down one of the boulevards, when we went past a car dealership and outside on its forecourt was my retro dream machine – I’d always had a wish to own one exactly like this, but had never paid any serious thought to it – after all, it wasn’t really my scene to be cruising around Kensington in an open-top car! But I was in awe – I couldn’t stop looking at it and had to buy it there and then. Loli and I then took the next month to do a recce of the road trip we wanted to make in the Mustang and we made our dream come true a few months ago – a journey of a lifetime!
Do you think it’s rude to stare?
As a photographer, I have to say no, I don’t think it is. Inevitably, the majority of work produced by photographers is set up with the scenes, the vantage points, the expressions proposed by the photographer, but I’ve always found that my best shots came from taking almost a backseat role and observing movements, behaviour, or I guess simply ‘staring’ at the scenarios, until you find your moment. Capturing something fleeting rather than something staged will often reward you with something better than you’d originally hoped for. That’s what happened with my work ‘Tears’ in 2010. At the top of Holworth Cliff in Dorset, there was a howling gale and lashing rain and I couldn’t get down to the spot I wanted to shoot from. As I was stood in the mud taking in my surroundings, I saw a ledge further down the cliff and started to scramble to it. When I got there, the gale suddenly seemed to stop and there was a stillness as the sun broke through. For ten minutes the light was magic and I managed to shoot two films in quick succession. The heavens opened up again and the small window of light went for the rest of the day.
What makes life worth staring for you?
Getting the perfect shot – if such a thing exists!
Jim Lee: Arrested
May 16th – June 5th, 2012
Strand London,WC2R 1LA
(Images: © Jim Lee, courtesy of Somerset House)