here we are now, entertain us: inside burberry's celebration of british photography
Christopher Bailey, Lucy Kamara Moore and Alasdair McLellan join forces to curate Here We Are, a stunning celebration of Britain in all its brilliance.
Martin Parr, Mayor of Todmorden’s Inaugural Banquet, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, England, UK, 1977 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Galler
Burberry chief creative officer and president Christopher Bailey first met photographer Alasdair McLellan in a cafe in the west end of London in March this year. "We hadn't met before and we talked a lot about both being from Yorkshire and what inspired us growing up," recalls McLellan. "Chris really loved the book I'd done called Ceremony and he based the new Burberry collection on a lot of the ceremonial troops uniforms. This season he really wanted to curate a British photography exhibition with photos that inspired him and the collection. He was keen to include the Ceremony series, and as we loved the same photographers it made sense that we curated it together along with Lucy from Claire De Rouen books."
Located in Clerkenwell Green at the Old Sessions House (where Mr Bumble first encountered a hungry Oliver Twist), Here We Are celebrates the work of over 30 British photographers including the iconic Tom Wood, Ken Russell and Martin Parr alongside Karen Knorr, Dafydd Jones and Ian Macdonald among countless brilliant others. The exhibition is split into 14 sections taking in Lovely Day For It, Romance and Picnics and draws upon cliche without ever being ironic or sardonic. This is a labour of love and a love letter to home, heritage and happy times. Buckle up and enjoy the drive as you are taken on a romanticised journey through a Britain of then and now, where mother lounges as father plays football with the kids, where debutantes get drunk and gaudy at their graduation, where couples find their true loves kiss and where pomp and circumstance share equal billing with barrow boys and desperate housewives. Here We Are shows a new confidence for Burberry and also stands as an important marker in time and celebration of their first campaign collaboration between Christopher Bailey and Alasdair McLellan, one which highlights skateboarder and artist Blondey McCoy, model and actress Agyness Deyn and the iconic Glenda Jackson among its city of stars.
Bailey and McLellan share an unwavering knowledge and expert eye for all things British, their taste levels are exacting and perverse, they are proper, like to do things properly and fully understand that the monarchy, chintzy ceramics, literature, skateboarding, Adele, the theatre, Coronation Street, rain, twitching curtains, suburbia, multiculturalism, Sunday roasts or a ride on the ghost train at a seaside funfair all add up to help make Britain great. In their idealised world Brexit is a swear word, family, home and heritage are a given and fashion is always well mannered, handsome and stylish. Together the Yorkshire lads are as steeped in tradition as a strong cup of tea made with an extra tea bag. There is humour, pathos and beauty present at every turn in their exhibition and seeing this incredible body of work hung together in the bare bones skeleton of the one-time courts of justice and former masonic lodge is a truly inspiring experience.
Realising they needed expert help to fully realise the project, they called upon the marvellous Lucy Kamara Moore, curator and owner of Claire De Rouen books, to take the task in hand. "I have long been enchanted by British "social portraiture" -- photography that reveals the ways in which we live, work, dream, celebrate and challenge -- both individually and collectively", says Lucy on Here We Are, before Bailey further embellishes. "I wanted to celebrate a certain strand of British photography that I have always loved -- one which documents the varied tribes and clans and classes that make up this island of ours. They provide a portrait of British life, in all its nuances, both exceptional and mundane, beautiful and harsh."
In the twilight of its closing, we caught up with Lucy to discuss how, where, why and when this wonderful project came about.
"One morning back in June, Christopher Bailey sent me a very lovely email asking if we could meet. The next day I was in the Burberry showroom seeing the September 2017 collection and hearing about the set of photographs that Christopher had been thinking about when designing it. He has a deep interest in late 20th century British social portraiture and so do I. His invitation to help him curate an exhibition based on these photographs felt magical and I accepted straight away. Christopher is a keen collaborator and I'm honoured that he invited me - and my bookshop, Claire de Rouen, to be one of his collaborators for this season. I'd never met Christopher before, but I liked him instantly. We talked about Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Britain, Brexit, and many other things on that first meeting."
How was it to work alongside a fashion designer and how easy was it to interpret his vision through your photographic knowledge?
"Christopher is sagacious and kind and fun. A good combination. I felt we shared a certain sensibility regarding the photography of the post-war period up to about the mid-80s, and so the curatorial process was fascinating, rewarding, productive. We co-curated with Alasdair McLellan and he is… MEGA. All three of us have our roots in Yorkshire funnily enough."
Which photographers did you agree/disagree upon, who did you and Christopher fight for and who slipped through the net?
"Haha, great question. Actually we agreed on almost all. Shirley Baker, Brian Griffin, Jo Spence, Armet Francis and Charlie Phillips are some of the photographers I introduced to Christopher and Alasdair -- I think they like their work as much as I do. Alasdair and I adore Tom Wood, and we're honoured to have vintage prints and some very rarely seen works by Wood in the exhibition. We had hoped to have Don McCullin and Chris Killip in the exhibition."
What is your favourite room/collection in the exhibition and why?
"They are all favourites but Brian Griffin's room is super special because it presents the entirety of his Copyright work from the 70s alongside unseen artwork by graphic design legend Barney Bubbles, made for three books that he and Griffin collaborated on. It's a world first."
Who was the hardest artist to find/convince to take part?
"None were too tricky, but there is one little Tom Wood print of an older gentleman wearing a patterned jumper that I prayed would be found by Tom for weeks (he did find it and sent it to us in the post)."
What was your perception of Burberry before this project? What was your perception of Burberry after this project?
"I think I've always thought of it as the trench coat brand, which isn't very original is it! But I love design classics and that's what their trench is. Also they fitted the military during the war -- it's a truly British brand. Now that I've worked on the exhibition and spent so much time with the new collection, I've noticed the beautiful quality of the textiles used for the pieces, and the romanticism of tradition that the brand dwells within so well."
If you could own one of the pieces from the exhibition, which would you choose?
"Tom Wood's youth couple, embracing, both wearing white T-shirts, from 1985."
Which artist/artwork would you love to include in the exhibition that isn't currently?
"I would have liked something very special by Snowdon, the most majestic photographer of the 20th century."
Alasdair McLellan is the only contemporary photographer featured -- what is it about Alasdair and his work that you empathise with and why did you choose Alasdair to conclude the exhibition?
"Alasdair shot the campaign and the exhibition was a significant opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which his work explores British youth and middle class identity. His work is an exhibition within an exhibition. It's the largest presentation he's ever made and includes his iconic Ceremony series. He has a love of many of the photographers in the show, and that is why his work feels like a very appropriate inclusion in Here We Are. Also he loves Kate Bush and that is as good a reason as any."
Here We Are runs 18 September – 01 October, 10am – 9pm at Old Sessions House, 22 Clerkenwell Green London, EC1R 0NA