A series devoted to photographers working within music.
Alexandra Gavillet understands the art of vibrancy. The LA/NYC-based photographer creates portraits that burst with neon blocks of color, but their bright pop is by no means a trick or crutch. The color acts more as a halo around its subject, often caught slightly off kilter in a way that feels buoyant. The color may grab you, but the image itself keeps you. It all feels like a clear thumbprint of Gavillet, who seems constantly brimming with excitement, has landed her work on the cover of FADER, and is now expanding itself into directing music videos and her subway series, #UNMUTED.
You're only 25 but already have an extensive portfolio, did you get into photography in college at NYU, or just hit the ground running after school?
When I was in school I really focused on ways of making my portfolio “me”, but also more commercial. The interesting thing about my program was they didn't want us to go commercial, they wanted us to be fine artists. I only had one teacher that kind of taught us about marketing ourselves. The reality is that everyone has personal projects, but also wants different things. It's about finding that balance. I worked my ass off, learning how to light the studio, and working with modeling agencies. I'll never forget this; the day Yeezus came out, I went to a modeling agency, and I thought, I'm not leaving until they give me a model to shoot with. I knew I'd need to work with models to build my books up. When I got out of school I was shooting nails and make-up to make my rent. The assignments were not something most people would find interesting, but I was still hyped to be working. I always knew I was going to do dope-ass stuff, but everyone has to pay their dues in some way. I got an opportunity to shoot at fashion week, and an editor from FADER saw my work, and that's how I started to shoot musicians.
A big part of your aesthetic is made up of bright neon tones, it makes me think of those aura photos... When choosing those colors, are you influenced by the subject, or by a preference you go into the shoot with beforehand?
It's a mix of both. I like to get on the phone or meet with artists beforehand. I like to ask them to describe their next project in three words, chat with them, and get a sense of their personality. For instance Lauv, this awesome pop artist, he knew his vibe was “blueberry lemonade”. It's fun when you're working with someone who knows what they want, but it's also chill when someone's like “do your thing.” Everyone has a different palette, everyone has different inspirations.
Does working with such bold colors mean that you mostly shoot artists who have a bold style of their own, or is it a way of pushing artists into moving out of their comfort zone?
That's interesting! I think bold colors make everyone pop in such an interesting way. You see their personality, because the color grabs your attention and just allows you to really see them and their facial expression. Think about Andy Warhol and all that bold pop art, those close-up portraits; you see people in a different way because you're taking out all the distractions. I didn't use to shoot this way, but then I became obsessed. Now I might be going through a different phase, I've started doing music videos. They're a bit darker, but still colorful.
That was actually my next question, I noticed you're starting to direct more music videos and that the color blocking is still there. How is the process different when you expand the story? When it’s not just a single image?
That is something I'm really trying to figure out myself. It's so different. With photography it's like, bam! That's all you do. With video it's like bam bam bam bam bam every second. Photography is one frame-per-second, film is twenty five frames-per-second. It's another ballgame, but that's why I'm excited. It's a new challenge, and I really want to find out how I can achieve the same effect in video. I think it has to do with following your inspiration, and not being afraid to be weird. I hear a lot of artists saying “I'm down to get weird,” and that's really cool. In this day and age of instagram, so many people want to be perfect, they want to have total control over their image, so when you work with an artist who's down to get in a weird pose it’s really fun.
I'd like to hear more about the series #UNMUTED. I can imagine it's no coincidence the idea came about in November 2016, but can you give more insight about how it started?
I'm super happy you're asking me about that! It happened the day after the election. My friend wanted to shoot some influential figures in a studio to talk about how they were feeling. I went and took the subway. New York is always lit, even if everyone is tired from work, people are always put together and feeling good because they're badass New Yorkers. But the vibe on the subway (that day) felt like everyone was gonna cry.
There was just this atmosphere of depression. Everyone was slumped down and silent, and New York is not silent on the subway. I realized the subway brings together all types of people in a “room” that they can't leave. It becomes a platform where people can talk. So I called my friend, and we brought Ebonee Davis, who's an amazing speaker, on the subway— she gave us all such a high! In the beginning she was shaking, then she began to talk and people started connecting with each other and feeling empowered. I think it's important to see people in raw environments and spontaneous moments like this because so many of the video messages we're seeing on instagram for instance are overly curated.