This weekend at London Fashion Week, Burberry opened the doors to Old Sessions House, the brand’s new London home, coinciding with the launch of their latest collection and a major photographic exhibition, ‘Here We Are’ curated by Burberry’s President and Chief Creative Officer, Christopher Bailey. With work from over 30 photographers displayed over three floors, the exhibition celebrates the art of social portraiture and British spirit. LUX Digital Editor Millie Walton speaks to co-curator Lucy Moore, director of Claire de Rouen Books about the works on display and the significance of space.
Millie Walton: Why hold the exhibition now? Is the timing significant?
Lucy Moore: At a time when we all create and consume images at the fastest rate in human history, I think the works in this exhibition, mostly made in the pre-digital age, have a particular power and resonance. It’s also an interesting moment to think about ‘British-ness’ and what it might mean. I hope the exhibition offers up many possible answers.
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MW: The exhibition aims to explore the British way of life and character through photography. What time span does it cover and how important was the geographic location of the photographs to you as a curator?
LM: The earliest work is from circa 1935 and is by Bill Brandt. The historical aspect of the exhibition runs up to about the mid-1980s, with work by Tom Wood, Jo Spence and Homer Sykes, for example. There are also two presentations by contemporary photographers Alasdair McLellan and Gosha Rubchinskiy. McLellan is showing an extensive series of works and he has also shot the campaign for Burberry’s September collections. Rubchinskiy was commissioned especially by Burberry to create work for this exhibition.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, London, England, 1977. Peter Marlow. Courtesy of Magnum Photos.
Belfast. 2005. Alasdair McLellan
MW: Do you think that the photographs lean towards a certain atmosphere or mood? How would you describe that feeling?
LM: There are quite a few moods, in my mind: bold, energetic, carefree, aspirational, creative, tender, committed, industrious.
MW: Did you make any intriguing or surprising discoveries when you were preparing the exhibition?
LM: I was very fortunate to have been able to view the archive of work by Shirley Baker, now looked after by her daughter Nan. It’s incredible and much of it unseen. Ken Russell’s beautiful film ‘A House in Bayswater’ was a completely new discovery, as was his series of photographs of the military horse guards at Whitehall taken in 1957. The guards were the subject of a commission called Ceremony for Arena HOMME+ magazine by Alasdair McLellan, almost exactly 50 years later, and I’m very honoured that we are showing it in ‘Here We Are’.
Millie Walton: The re-opening of the Old Sessions House ties in with the opening of the exhibition. How do the photographs and spaces interact?
Lucy Moore: In some cases there is a very strong connection – for example in the room which contains photographs that explore Britons’ relationship with weather. This has a skylight in the ceiling through which you can see, and hear, the real weather outside. Many of the rooms in the building would not have been originally intended for public visitors. They have a sense of domesticity because of this, and we have reflected this in the approach to the exhibition hang.
MW: Is there a photograph or series of photographs in the collection that you feel particularly connected to? And if so, why?
LM: There are 3 very small, but very important, photographs by the late Jo Spence in ‘Here We Are’. Her concerns were primarily sociological, historical and educational. She was a deeply intelligent, courageous artist and her work has long inspired me.
‘Here We Are’ runs until 1 October at Old Sessions House, Clerkenwell, London.burberry.com