Melissa and I recently had the privilege of visiting an exhibit at the MET (The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art) in New York City of the late Alexander McQueen’s contribution to fashion. It was truly amazing to see the highlights of his extraordinary 19 year career. I could easily cut and paste articles I found relating to Alexander McQueen but rather I wanted to share with you what I learned from his work and recent exhibit personally. As many of you may know, I am a huge lover of fashion and gain much of my creative inspiration from the industry as well as from cinema and music.
Alexander McQueen was born on March 16, 1969. He was very close to his mother and a week after she died on February 2, he took his own life on February 11, 2010. His mother’s funeral was held the day after McQueen died.
Apparently the exhibit at the Met (which ended on the 7th of August), was the most viewed exhibit in the museum’s history. That is quite extraordinary when you realize that an exhibit dedicated to fashion was even more popular than paintings and sculptures from the masters. I have been to 4 out of the 5 Alexander McQueen stores in the world in Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles and New York. Whenever I enter one of the stores, I always feel as though I’m visiting an art gallery rather than a retail store. I already have a few of his pieces in my wardrobe and some of you may remember that Melissa carried a McQueen clutch rather than flowers on our wedding day on January 24, 2011. We were really excited to discover that the same clutch was also featured in the exhibit at the MET.
Taking the clothes out of a store and into an exhibit made you appreciate them even more as works of art rather than so-called overpriced fashion that few will ever appreciate or wear. Sadly, it took his death for a larger audience to be aware of his work and who he was.
What I keenly understood as I walked though the exhibit was that Alexander McQueen was a true master of his craft. He was obviously never afraid to take creative risks and push the boundaries of his art whilst respecting the traditions of fine tailoring. Not only were the pieces on display amazing and theatrical, the presentation itself was spectacular. From dark and moody frames, a two-way mirror that repeatedly changed back into a normal window, to a 3D hologram, the exhibit itself was a feast for the senses. The textures, fabrics, colors, tones, shapes and the obvious influences from nature and history were used effortlessly. All of his clothes were themed in different ways and although there was an identifiable strand to each of his designs, his work was unpredictable but evolved with every new collection.
As I walked out of the exhibit I was literally speechless. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so artistically stimulated. I couldn’t help but wonder what mark I would make on the world of photography. How far would my influence reach and how would my work be remembered? How has and how will my photography affect my clients and their loved ones who have already been in front of my camera? If McQueen were content on being in a creative comfort zone then would his work stand the test of time? Since when is being in a comfort zone synonymous with artistic expression?
At times, any artist struggles to find their creative voice and vision. With so many obvious and subconscious influences around us it would be simple to take the easy route and copy exactly what we see in our work. You can choose to imitate, emulate or innovate. McQueen did mainly the latter. What is new in a world where everything has been done before? Then you see something different and ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Although McQueen paid homage and respected his obvious influences he made his work his own. His art was an extension of himself. His dark and moody collections that were a signature in his work unfortunately, and most likely, also led to his death. I have always said that your biggest genius can also be the death of you.
How do I relate this to photography and what can artists learn from Lee Alexander McQueen? He knew his craft. He never forwent it. Sometimes I see photographers try something just for the sake of trying it with no real artistic intention. No direction of light, no understanding of composition, posing and story telling. They then attempt to extract a story from elements within the image after the fact. Respect the craft. Learn the craft. Master the craft and then reshape it. Technology has given birth to a lazy generation of so-called photographers. Owning a camera and clicking the shutter does not make you a photographer. The same way that owning a microphone does not make you a singer. I’m all for trying something different but not at the expense of lazy capture and over-zealous retouching.
McQueen worked with many gifted artists that co-produced his collections including masks, hats, jewellery and accessories. His collaborations with fellow artists helped shape and complete his collections. Never believe that you can’t learn from other artists. Seeing the way others express themselves can help you find better ways to express yourself.
We have all heard the saying, “Presentation is everything.” Apart from the actual collections, McQueen’s exhibit was displayed immaculately. It was visually stimulating. I was paying as much attention to the theater created with stage and lighting as much as to the clothes. As photographers, never let us forget the power of the way we present our work. Would that fashion have made such an impact on me if I had seen them on a computer screen as opposed to seeing them in person? When we only present our photographs on a disc to a client, we are not doing justice to our art, our clients or their portraits.
I was very excited to visit the exhibit because I have been a fan of his work for years. I then left the exhibit so inspired that I felt compelled to share my thoughts. How many exhibits have I dismissed in the past that I could have learned from?
Most artists strive to have a recognizable style but I believe this can be a blessing and a curse. McQueen’s exhibit showcased his depth and versatility. Although there was a creative signature to his clothing, his art was constantly evolving. Ironically, it was this unpredictable point of difference from his previous collections that made you recognize his new work. That is what I strive to do with my own photography. Rather than always emulating a previously winning formula, I often try to fool my audience and produce something one wouldn’t expect from me. McQueen’s exhibit reminded me to keep doing just that. McQueen didn’t set out to create history, he just did! I don’t like to think too much when I want to be creative. The more I think, the less I feel. The more I feel, the more sincere my expression is.
Although McQueen has designed his last collection, his work is alive. It has a heartbeat. It has soul. His legacy and exhibit made me want to be a better artist. Long live McQueen!