The whole of London has gone McQueen mad this spring as the V&A’s Savage Beauty show coincided with this exhibition of Nick Waplington’s documentary style photographs of McQueen’s final fashion show. Candid’s issue ten, available here, even features a one on one interview with Nick Waplington himself. But in all the clamour to celebrate the clothes – the finished masterpieces and their maker, are we missing the real beauty? The man behind the legend and his passion? Here in this exhibition we have something unique and set apart from the tinsel of the catwalk; the quiet intimacy captured by Waplington as McQueen did what he loved most for the very last time (McQueen’s following S/S show was only 80% complete at the time of his death). Candid took a closer look at the photos and the story they tell as Waplington talked us through the exhibition at the press viewing.
The Working Process exhibition is more than just a showcase of images illustrating the coming together of an iconic collection or a sneak peak at the processes that go on behind the scenes. This show is the end result of an intimate collaboration between two friends, two artists. The level of trust McQueen had for Waplington was afforded to no other photographer, Waplington remembers how McQueen would ring him up if someone required portraits of him as he wasn’t comfortable with anyone else taking his photo. Waplington who is more at home taking photos in a war zone than a fashion studio told us how McQueen insisted he take the photographs of the process behind this collection The Horn of Plenty his retrospective show; an amalgamation of fractured pieces from 15 years of previous McQueen fashion shows. Waplington recalls that McQueen was insistent it needed to be this show, here and now and, not wanting to let him down, Waplington had agreed to move other commitments to collaborate on the project which resulted in a photobook that the two edited together – the large maquette of which is on display in the exhibition. The book was ready for publication when McQueen died but was put on hold until now.
With full access to everything that took place from initial sketch to runway and with the designer completely at ease around the photographer, Waplington was able to capture something real and unpolished as McQueen had hoped. We see snippets of action and moments in time; the look of deep concentration or spontaneous laughter amid images of mood boards, half finished garments and a multitude of materials, swatches and findings slowly being pieced together by McQueen and his staff (including Sarah Burton, current Creative Director of the McQueen brand). There is clearly a great deal of mutual love and respect between photographer and designer, Waplington is showing us his favourite portrait of a grinning McQueen, hands on hips, in front of a fabric sample board overflowing with red ruffles and swatches.
Juxtaposed against the images of developing and emerging fashion pieces of great beauty, images of rubbish mirror the set from the show with it’s rubbish heap and catwalk made from broken pieces of previous show sets, highlighting the great fall from catwalk to forgotten trend. Rather than rendering the art of couture null and void, this visual commentary elevates it’s magnificence (as is always the effect when the fleetingness of beauty is highlighted) further adding a melancholic edge to a show already flavoured by loss. It would not be incorrect to say that the overarching feel of this exhibition is bitter sweet.
As you enter the last room, a pitch black space lit by the lightbox images taken of the final show itself, a sense of hushed excitement can be felt. The mad scramble to create an illusion of effortlessness as clothes, hair and makeup are laboured over, McQueen himself in the thick of it.
The last thing we are shown as Waplington leaves the exhibition space is a small ghostly red portrait of McQueen, taken once they had escaped the crowds after The Horn of Plenty had finished. Finding themselves on a rooftop, Waplington had taken this portrait of McQueen on a small pocket camera in the moonlight. He felt it somehow fitting to end the show on this quiet, still moment of introspection.
Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process continues at Tate Britain until 17th May. For more information go to www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/nick-waplingtonalexander-mcqueen-working-process.
Maxine Kirsty Sapsford, Arts Editor