Photo of Alicia Clarke by Annick Wolfers
It comes as no surprise that Alicia’s dance photography bursts with energy, momentum, movement. Only one who has felt her own body reach its limits this way would be able to portray in a single still shot the flexibility, endurance and perfection of form that are within the body’s capabilities.
Born in Birmingham in 1975, Alicia moved to London nearly a decade ago to pursue her career. She started as an assistant, moved through the ranks as in-house photographer for Northern & Shell publishing followed by a stint as Managing Editor on Happy magazine which eventually led her to become the freelancer she is today.
For this week’s London Art Spot, Alicia gave up a bit of her time to talk to us about intertwining her passions for dance and photography, how assisting on Page 3 shoots for The Sun has influenced her current photographic study of femininity and tell us when to next catch her performing burlesque as her alter ego Cici Darling.
Audrey Doklan, Dancer
LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
AC: That depends on whether the sun is shining or not! At its best, London is a hotpot of everything inspiring and influential. I truly believe that whatever you want to do, whoever you want to be, it can happen in London. It’s been my home for nearly 10 years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I recently moved to Deptford and it’s got such a fantastic arts scene, loads of small galleries, artists’ studios, vintage stores and little cafes, but co-existing with the grungy old crazy Deptford and all its kooky characters! It’s never boring! Sometimes London is just too much though. So much going on, too fast, hard to keep up, I need to take a breather and disappear off to the sea to empty my head. I always want to come home though!
LLO: Favourite place to take your camera in London?
AC: I’m not much of a street photographer, always feel I’m intruding on people, so I guess my favourite place to take my camera at the moment is when I go and photograph burlesque nights for my friends. I get in free, get to see lots of acts and get inspiration for my own performance. And I meet interesting people who I might arrange to photograph later for my personal projects.
LLO: Do you remember the moment you fell in love with photography? How has your style evolved since then?
AC: I do remember the exact moment – funny isn’t it? I was 7-years-old at the most and for some reason my Great Uncle handed me a cheap plastic camera and I fell totally in love with it, pottering around my back garden photographing the flowers. I would hope my style has evolved since then! When you put a frame around the world you’re effectively editing out the bits you don’t want, but nowadays I quite like being in the studio and controlling exactly what is put in instead. We’ve all become so image savvy these days that I want to be really careful about what I put into my images, whilst accepting that we all bring our own histories to a reading of an image so I have to relinquish control at some point!
LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
AC: I completely love Cecily Brown’s paintings – is she still based in London? Kind of abstract erotic, really thick sensual paint that you really want to jump into and immerse yourself in and then you realise its a picture of an orgy! Different people for different reasons really. I like Anderson & Lowe’s beautiful bodies and their melancholic circus pictures. My friend Rachel Warne does beautiful flower photography – she makes me interested in a genre that normally doesn’t stir me. I’m always jealous of my brother’s travel photography and for over a decade have been wishing I’d taken the pictures that dance photographer Hugo Glendinning takes. Another friend Lottie Davies (who photographed me for the winning image ‘Quints’ at the Taylor Wessing Prize 2008) inspires me in her bravery and certainty in her image-making.
Charlotte Wheeler, Dancer
LLO: In your work for See You Next Tuesday, you’re “using men to enact ‘visualities’…to explore the idea of woman as mask”. Can you explain what this means and how you’re using photography to reach this goal?
AC: This is based on a Lacanian psychoanalytic theory that postulates that there is no such thing as ‘woman’ other than what is put on the outside of the body – that there is no essential femininity, it is merely a masquerade. I wanted to explore this hypothesis using men, attempting to locate ‘woman’ through the props we’ve come to associate daily with femininity. You can see from the pictures that they fail, that woman cannot be found through such stereotypical details, however I still can’t find where ‘woman’ might be and how she might be represented. Tricky huh?! I can trace back the origin of this work to being in a tranny bar in San Francisco and realising that all the guys had their labels sticking out of the backs of their dresses, they’d slipped up in the details their masquerade… I also used to work as a photographer’s assistant on shoots for The Sun’s ‘Page 3’ and when the girls went home after the shoot there would be all this left over bits of pretend woman lying around – broken false nails, pulled-out blonde hair extensions, smeared fake tan, false eyelashes and skimpy knickers – it fascinated me. I recently started performing as a burlesque dancer so this reignited the interest in representations of women and their bodies…
Gabriel Prokofiev, composer
LLO: You studied dance for many years. How does this experience influence the way you approach your photography? Do you look at movement of the human body differently as a dance photographer than as a dancer?
AC: When I’m dancing, I’m feeling movement, its ebb and flow and I can feel the strength and the fragility of my body moving through space. The job of the dance photographer is to somehow capture and communicate that in a single frozen image, to convey how it might feel to be the dancer. I love using the possibilities inherent in the camera (long shutter speeds, etc) to show motion in time, but I also like to reveal that moment when the body reaches the perfect point in the movement and freeze it there. I get so excited when I’m shooting dancers, I want to be them, I want to be able to do what they are doing, I want that relationship with my body.
Mari Frogner at Laban Centre, Dancer
LLO: What kind of camera, lens, kit, etc. do you use?
AC: I recently sold my old Hasselblad and it was a very sad moment, but I’m a digital convert. I shoot on a Canon 5d Mark 2, with L series lenses. I use Bowens lighting usually, but for high speed flash for freezing movement, I hire in Profoto lights which have a shorter flash duration. I always shoot RAW to give me the freedom to develop the images creatively later on – like shooting negative film. I found a load of old transparencies I shot of live performance recently. I must have been mad! It was a good learning curve but I want to be thinking about the image itself, not the technicalities when I’m shooting…
LLO: How did you work your way through the industry to eventually become a freelance photographer?
AC: By working very long hours for several years for hardly any money! I moved to London to work as a full-time photographer’s assistant, and whilst my high earning flatmates lived the high life, I slept on their floor, exhausted by the long hours, getting further into debt. I loved it though – I felt that I was the lucky one! Melvyn Vincent, the guy who employed me, was so supportive, inspiring and nurturing, I had a bit of a shock when I went freelance and realised the industry was so full of divas! I eventually ended up as the in-house photographer for Northern & Shell Publishing, shooting celebrities for them, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m more interested in real life and scratching below the surface. And I’m totally obsessed with dance photography too!
LLO: As your alter ego Cici Darling, you have been a burlesque dancer for the past few years. Where are the best places to check out the burlesque scene in London?
AC: I started out performing at the Tournament of Tease at Bethnal Green Working Mens Club which is a launch night for new acts – I’d recommend it, they do male and female burlesque. Volupte, a supperclub in Holborn is well-established and a fun night out, and Proud Cabaret in the city has recently opened to really good reviews. The London Burlesque Week is coming up too in April, organised by Chaz Royal. I’m performing at the VIP awards & closing party at Cafe de Paris – come and see me!
LLO: Which photo are you most proud of and why?
AC: I don’t know why I like this picture so much, but I do. Isn’t that a great thing about photography? It’s communicating to you beyond words… He’s showing off and performing to the camera, dressed halfway between being Russell and his alter ego Russella, but there’s this sensitivity and vulnerability there. He’s feeling empowered by his make-up and the part transformation, but he’s still the contemplative boy from his real life…
For more of Alicia’s work, check out her website: www.aliciaclarke.com/
For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.