This article was published online at Pigeons & Peacocks on 15th May 2015.
If you are looking for something to do in London this weekend, I urge you to see photography exhibition Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process at Tate Britain, that is due to close this Sunday. Displaying behind-the-scenes images of one of McQueen’s final and most celebrated collections Horn of Plenty, the showcase gives insights into the working process of McQueen and his unique collaboration with photographer Nick Waplington.
The exhibition is a beautiful alternative (or addition) to the V&A’s blockbuster fashion show Savage Beauty. It is within the space of this gallery here, that the audience’s attention is drawn to something quieter and more detailed, and offered a more intensive look at what was going on within McQueen’s studio during the making of an haute couture collection.
McQueen contacted Waplington in 2007 because he wanted to make a photobook about his working process on Horn of Plenty from start to finish, over the course of six months. This was a collection that was going to be a ‘best-of’, an iconoclastic retrospective of his work. Reusing elements of his previous collections for both his garments and catwalk set, Horn of Plenty was a radical parody, full of contradictions and extremes, and representative of its time.
“I’m always interested in depicting the age that we live in and this collection depicts the silliness of our age. I think people will look back at it and know that we were living through a recession when I designed it, that we got to this point because of rampant, indiscriminate consumption. They’ll know that we’re referencing recycling but in a twisted way. That’s why the set is a pile of rubbish and why I have to make clothes out of bin liners and broken records. Of course, I’m not really making clothes out of bin liners and broken records. They’re silks. There’s an irony to it, to all of it, and I hope people will see that too.” Lee Alexander McQueen, 2009.
Waplington, who is best known for his photography dealing with issues of class, identity and conflict, manages to capture the atmosphere within the studio in a realistic manner. In an image, the main focus might be the fitting of a model but then there is something in the background that suddenly catches the eye. You see McQueen’s reflection in the mirror, in another shot he has his eyes half closed. They look like snapshots, often out of focus, as if everything was random and instant, when in fact a meticulous editing process has gone into the making of the photobook from which the artworks on display have been taken from.
The studio shots are juxtaposed with gigantic photographs of recycling plants and landfills that appear to have hidden messages on fragments of text visible on bits of newspaper or cardboard. Within the last room of the exhibition the white walls have turned black and we are in Paris, moments before the show. The photographs have been illuminated so the gallery visitors are no longer distracted by their own reflection that, in the previous rooms, had been visible within the dark spaces of the glossy pictures behind glass. The real world has disappeared, everything has turned theatrical.
Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process is on display at Tate Britain until 17th May.