Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

meet the london laureates of dior beauty’s photography prize

Dior have partnered with École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, Arles on a photography prize that champions emerging talents. We meet two graduates of London's RCA about their nominated projects.

by Ryan White
09 July 2019, 4:48pm

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

“Everyone was young and struggling once,” says Peter Philips, Creative and Image Director of Dior Makeup, while sat on the top floor of a small hotel overlooking a picturesque cobbled square in Arles, south of France. “There's a lot of talent in-house at Dior, a lot of expertise and experience, and to share that with young talent is very stimulating for us as well as for them.”

Peter is explaining the impetus behind the brand’s relatively new photography prize, The Art of Colour, run in partnership with the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, Arles and hosted by LUMA Arles at its annual photography festival. Since joining the brand five years ago, he’s sought to bring together Christian Dior’s legacy while championing young, emerging artists. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Peter studied graphic design in Brussels before returning home to study fashion. He soon became part of the city’s vanguard of new fashion talents -- Raf Simons, Willy Vanderperre, Olivier Rizzo -- forging a new visual identity. After two decades of creating some of the most celebrated beauty looks in fashion, from catwalks to covers to campaigns, Peter is now looking to ensure the next generation get the opportunities he himself once needed, with a little bit of help of his network of world-leading contributors.

“Last year we launched a book -- it was a tribute to Christian Dior and the point of view of Dior Beauty,” Peter says. “I started working on the book and exhibition to pay tribute to the creative directors who came before me, Serge Lutens and Tyen, who spent a total of 40 years here. I was up against big competition. The Art of Colour was a tribute to show the world that in the DNA of Dior, there is a passion for colour and fearlessness.”

Gangao Lang with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

This year, the prize specifically focused on female photographers looking to bridge the gap and address the gender inequality that still plagues the fashion industry. “At Dior we can't forget that we are a daring brand,” Peter says. “The Art of Colour was a way to pay tribute but also show the world that we are not just masters in colour, strong concepts, in being creative. The idea was born... why not give a chance, a platform, to young talents. We're in this place where we're pushing for women because, at the root of the problem, there are not enough women.”

Each of the prize’s 10 international laureates were invited to exhibit their photography at the prestigious festival, before a jury including Peter and French photographer Dominique Issermann decided on a winner of a €10,000 prize grant and a commission from Dior. Scooping the top prize, Gangao Lang of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts blew away the competition with an evocative series of portraits of her best friend, celebrating both inner and outer beauty.

So what makes the best partnership between a photographer and a make-up artist? “Trust,” says Peter finally. “It's all about trust. There are some photographers that I would do certain make-up for that I wouldn't do for other photographers. It's about trying to understand the photographer's point of view and what they stand for. It's trying to feel and understand how they're working. That's also why certain photographers will book me and other photographers won't book me. It's a relationship mainly based on trust.”

With their work on show at the Grande Halle at the Parc des Ateliers from 1 July to 22 September in Arles, we take a look at the work of the two laureates hailing from London’s Royal College of Art, and discuss with both their work, their nominated projects and how they responded to this year’s theme.

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

Ana Pinto

When did you first start taking photos? I studied video and photography at college, but I have to say it was not a very inspired time and the wish to create a more serious body of work came much later than that. I decided, okay, maybe if I'm having all these ideas I should just go back to school. What has studying at the RCA been like? It has been great. I felt I had to go to art school to get some kind of guidance and have the one-on-one support of someone that knows better and is able to give guidance. I think my work has evolved in a very positive way. How does your work relate to the theme of Woman -- Women Faces? The brief was a bit new to me, but I was really interested in participating in the contest so I tried to follow it but adapt it to my current work in progress, to merge that theme with my own approach, style and aesthetics. It was quite simple. I have been using my bedroom as my studio, so I invited two women to be my models and the setting was quite intimate. I explored colour and light and ways to create a timeless quality to these two characters. I think the images are quite cinematic and retro.

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

How does it relate to the wider theme of The Art of Colour? Colour is very important to my work, so it was easy for me to appropriate the theme into this project. I tried to concentrate on the colours blue and red, that was the aesthetic foundation. What do you hope to express through your photography? I'm interested in the concepts of desire and the search for happiness. I'm very interested in the relationship between our interaction with certain objects, technologies, and a feeling of desire. I use constructed and staged scenes to try and express that. What do you think makes a powerful, emotive image? If it excites the imagination of the viewer... if they can make up their own stories, then I think that's it.

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen

When did you first start taking photos? I come from more of a fine art painting background, and I only started a photography course on the second year of my masters degree. I transferred from contemporary art practise. I did my Fine Art BA at Chelsea College of Art. I also did some sculpture. Has the fine art and sculptural background shaped the way you take photographs? Oh yeah, I think the fact I joined photography kind of "later" and without having the basics of the use of the use of the camera initially, I had to catch up, especially when I joined the second year. It's definitely influenced by the painting and especially classical painting, old masters. Can you talk a little about this project you’re exhibiting? I've been working on this project and these images since December, but the theme and the way I work has been kind of continuous. I took the angle of more of the feminine. The colours were already there and as a woman, photographing at night, so was the theme. I photograph mostly women.

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

Where did you shoot these images? This series is all shot in the same location, Holloway station. I don't use a tripod, I don't use a light, I don't use models, so I need to find a perfect location that's got the right background, with the right lighting and crowd, but allowing me to keep the distance. But I'm not hidden, I'm across the road, under the lantern, people just don't really look up. No one's ever come up to me. Sometimes people will look straight into the camera, but I never really had any problems. How do you feel in that position, do you have a certain power? I love working at night, alone. To me London is the safest place in the world. When I used to go back home to Poland for the summer holidays and go out, I wouldn't feel comfortable or safe on the streets at night. In London, it feels safe. I've always had this thing where sometimes the best part of the night when you walk home alone. What do you hope to express through your photography? I mean, what do you see?

Magdalena Joanna Wittchen with authorisation of use for Parfums Christian Dior

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

peter philips