Identity

Photos of Female Models, Muses, and Strangers

In her new book, "Another Girl Another Planet," photographer Valerie Phillips looks over the last 15 years she spent photographing everyone from Instagram-famous stars to girls she met on airplanes and cafes.

by Zing Tsjeng
Nov 1 2016, 2:00pm

All photos (c) Valerie Phillips

Valerie Phillips doesn't do boys. For the last 15 years or so, the US-born, London-based photographer has been putting women in front of her camera—fashion models like Instagram star Elizabeth Jane Bishop, musicians including Florence Welch, Soko, PJ Harvey, and girls that Phillips met by chance on airplanes, in cafes and even at the New York Halloween parade.

"I don't think I'm good at shooting men," she admits. "I find it really tricky. I find I can shoot some men, but I don't really get that much out of it, personally. I think [it's] obviously because I grew up as female, as a girl, having that experience—it's something that is really, really familiar to me and I feel so much connected to it. When I'm photographing men, I just feel like there is this integral disconnect that is, at one level, too removed."

While she started out in photography doing "boy bands, record company jobs," Phillips soon realized that she could create the images she actually wanted to make with women. "I don't tend to do very much work anymore that is not on my terms because I don't think I'm very good at it and I don't have a lot of patience for it," she laughs. "So I have to really love what I'm doing or I don't necessarily see the point of doing it."

Her ninth book, Another Girl Another Planet, takes its name from a song by the Only Ones, the hellraiser 70s indie rock band from England. Most of the girls in the Rizzoli-published book weren't even born when the song originally came out, but they capture the spirit of the song and its bratty insouciance—there are girls doing headstands, guzzling pizza, clutching skateboards, and posing in front of their bedroom walls.

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Phillips is conscious that her work could be interpreted in less flattering ways—as a fashion photographer, the book draws heavily from her years of shooting the industry's not exactly diverse pool of models, though its pages also feature people like Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes fame and rapper Princess Nokia.

"I think [the people I shoot] are, most of them, facets of myself in some way," Phillips says. The photographer is careful not to give away too much of her personal history—despite her decades-long career, biographical details about her life are thin on the ground. "I like being more anonymous," she explains. "I like going to a shoot where people don't know that much about me." Instead, she prefers to channel her personality through the work, adding that she grew up skating, making zines, creating art, and seeing bands—all activities that you can imagine any of the women in the book taking part in.

All photos (c) Valerie Phillips

In the glossy world of entertainment and fashion photography, Phillips has ploughed ahead on her own terms. Now big brands are desperate to buy into the raw, unvarnished aesthetic that she has perfected, with the biggest co-sign yet coming from one of her muses—Tumblr-famous artist Arvid Bystrom—landing a spot in a recent H&M campaign.

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"The thing about this book and this edit," Phillips explains, "I would say that most if not all of the pictures in there—even if they were for something commissioned—they were things that were totally uncompromised. That was one of the criteria, that nothing was compromised. Nothing looked like it was an ad that was decisioned by committee or a fashion shoot for a magazine where I might not necessarily choose that model or those clothes. This was 100 percent my pictures, my way, you know—my taste, my choices."

Another Girl Another Planet by Valerie Phillips is out now on Rizzoli USA.