Steph Wilson is a regular contributor to our sister channel, Broadly, and recently photographed a playful series on potential masturbatory tools for our all-female photography issue. Her work seamlessly navigates the lines between still life, portraiture, and high fashion. She shared a new editorial just for us below, and I also got the chance to speak with her about how she pokes fun at a sometimes-tired fashion industry.
VICE: What was your inspiration for this shoot?
Steph Wilson: It had been a while since I'd picked up my camera and shot a series for the sake of it. As much as I love my editorial teams, it can get quite frantic when you've got seven other people on set. Hands are always in model's faces, tweaking them, and it's hard to really let loose. You also lose that connection with the subject when there's a trillion other people fussing over them... So I had no hair, no make-up, no styling. Just me and Lily [Newmark], the model.
Why did you cast her in specific?
Lily is a friend of mine. We're both rude and gross and love to get naked. We wanted to do a fun shoot together that was basically just us hanging out and having a laugh.
Where did you shoot?
Woodberry Wetlands in London is where the grassy images were taken. I loved how it looked like a post-Soviet setting with the brutalist buildings in the background and the "no man's land" feel of the dry grassy banks. We got really hot and sweaty and were covered in blackberries and pee from pissing in the bush, so Lily suggested Shadwell Basin. I'd never been before and it's fucking amazing. It's filtered Thames water, right in the center of the city, but it's totally quiet, with unapologetically attractive young people dismantling the chained fencing to dive in from the cement walls that, seemingly, keep it secret.
When shooting fashion do you think it's important to have a narrative ?
Yes, or it's just fashion. Pretty pictures aren't enough anymore, and so much imagery bores me shitless these days. Starting out as a painter, I feel I have to transfer the idea of permeating an image with at least something. I like to focus on sex, etiquette, bodily functions—generally all petty restrictions that deserve to have the piss taken out of them, yet, hopefully, remain aesthetically engaging as an image. I guess it's the age-old "turning the ugly into something beautiful or interesting," or shining a different light on things. Lily and I joked that we should name this series "Expensive Fashion Shoot," as it's kind of an anti-fashion shoot, a bit like a very failed attempt of a 90s Ukrainian fashion team trying to make something "avant-garde."
Your images always have a subtle humor behind them—do you intentionally inject his mood?
I like to take the piss out of topics that either take themselves too seriously, or are taboos that are so ridiculous or dated that they deserve to be laughed at. It's a balance between wit, aesthetics, and understanding. I wouldn't pair humor with a subject that humor has no right to be part of; domestic violence or FGM, for example. However, stigmas based around nudity, body hair, periods, sex, language, social media, etc. are all things that could benefit from being picked apart and seen for what they are: deeply rooted abasements created by a system that wants people to feel shamed into being "normal," and, following that, a regular consumer.
Steph Wilson is a photographer based in Hackney, London. You can follow her work here.