Ahead of Alistair Taylor-Young's Best Of show at The Little Black Gallery this October, sponsored by Domus Nova, we thought it apt to delve into the life of the man in question....
With a body of work that includes some of the world’s most-recognised fashion shoots and beauty adverts, featuring models who put the super into supermodels, it’s hard to believe that Alistair Taylor-Young is about to embark on his biggest career milestone to date with his upcoming Best Of show at The Little Black Gallery in London. The famed British photographer, still not 50, has influenced the industry beyond belief with his commercial work and, in later years, a more personal collection of photographs illustrating his travels. As a contributor to Condé Nast Traveller since its launch 15 years ago, he has used his camera to capture impressions that shy away from easy definition.
Without crediting a specific photographer, Taylor-Young says it was his sense of intrigue about the world and the images he witnessed from an early age that fuelled his love of photography. “I also have the world’s worst memory,” he adds. “Taking photos has helped me remember a lifetime!” Today, at 45, he is the exemplary English photographer, well-spoken and well-dressed with a slightly scruffy allure, complete with colourful horn-rimmed glasses, of course. The archetypical cultured Brit, some might say. Between commercials, shoots and clicks, his work takes him mostly to London, New York, Milan and Paris, and when he’s not working… well, that never happens given that he spends every spare second up in the air travelling between shoots, or in Paris and New York, where he has homes. Not surprisingly, his biggest challenge on shoots isn’t the weather, stroppy models or inflated egos but time zones and airport delays.
Taylor-Young’s career in fashion photography, which he describes as his ‘real job’, spans more than 20 years. It wasn’t until 15 years ago when Robin Harvey and Caroline Metcalfe, founders of Condé Nast Traveller, asked him to contribute that he discovered his love of capturing travel and the natural world. “Each year since I have looked forward to every trip, whether it’s a UK seaside resort or an exotic location on the other side of the world. It’s my busman’s holiday,” he says.
A recent visit to Argentina is the one that has stirred him the most, travelling from the foothills of the Andes to the city of Salta. “It is the most incredible landscape that seems to change every single second. I was blown away as a human being and belittled as a photographer. When the challenge is to capture what you see but also what you feel, it’s unbelievably hard to put all of that into one image. Working with Condé Nast always brings the most incredible opportunities.”
“Fashion, beauty and landscape all feed my mind – I can’t live without them,” he asserts. But of course, his work hasn’t revolved only around these subjects. In 2007, he published the aptly named The Phone Book, which saw him swap his beloved Hasselblad for a first-time iPhone without any apps or focus control. He says the collection was a reaction to the flawless realm of advertising that he had long inhabited, where everything is manipulated or airbrushed. It’s no surprise, then, to learn of his support for photography-led sites such as Instagram.
“I love it. Instagram is the new publisher, the new diary that’s evolving into something amazing and really shining the light on future talent. It’s allowing a brilliant freedom that everyone is taking advantage of.” He is excited about the future of photography. “It’s great how everyone is having so much fun with it. My advice is simply to be yourself and shoot for yourself. Someone out there will think you’re a genius.”
With Mario Testino, David Bailey and Rankin continually making headlines, what sets Taylor-Young apart from the rest? He himself attributes this first, to having an opinion and, second, the importance of honesty, elegance, timelessness and a sense of fantasy in his work. Ghislain Pascal, owner of The Little Black Gallery, is quick to support his client, who he has worked with since the gallery opened in 2008. “We are really excited to host another Alistair show as he is adored by our clients and his works now hang in some of the finest houses around the world.”
Of course, the ultimate question to ask any photographer is whether they think they have taken the perfect photograph. Taylor-Young is quick to reply that of course he hasn’t. “I’ve managed to take some nice pictures, but the perfect one? I hope I never will as I would probably stop.” Despite his upcoming exhibition, he still feels challenged by his career and hints that the best is yet to come. Unassuming and likeable, he replies in typically humble fashion when asked about his favourite piece. “I don’t have one. I’m just proud that any of my work has had the opportunity to be exhibited, appreciated and bought by people.”
Your past exhibitions, notably ‘Holiday’, have been inspired by your travels. What place has inspired you the most?
It’s not so much the place as the light and mood I find that inspires me to pick up a camera..I could be anywhere!
How did you get into photography?
I have such a bad memory, taking pictures helps me to remember!
Which photographer inspired you to start a career in this industry?
I was more intrigued and inspired by many images, rather than specific photographers. I still am.
What do you always try and capture in your work?
An honesty, an elegance, a fantasy, and timelessness.
What makes your photography different to others?
How often do you step out of your comfort zone to be creative?
I try to challenge myself, to push myself as far I can, however my comfort zone is knowing how far and when to push.
What photography trends can you foresee?
It’s evolved into something unimaginable from 10 years ago even! I cannot foresee but I see everyone having a lot of fun with taking pictures which is great!
What are you like the other side of the camera?
What tips can you the average Joe when taking photographs with their smartphones?
Keep your eyes open!
Who do you deem to be the rising stars in the photography world?
There are many great young photographers working today but I’m not a commissioning editor. These editors have their eyes in many more places than I do.
If your next exhibition is a ‘Best Of’, what does the future hold for Alistair Taylor-Young?
More of the same ....
View The Little Black Gallery on the Domus Nova's Art & Culture Guide
The Best of Alistair Taylor-Young, supported by Domus Nova, is at The Little Black Gallery, 13A Park Walk, SW10 from 29 October - 29 November 2014; thelittleblackgallery.com