Alice Hawkins’ first book serves the up the ultimate holiday inspo.
A “high gloss adventurer” according to her former tutor turned collaborator, Frith Kerr, as well as a “walking diary of a global life, going to new places with her camera both figuratively and literally,” (John C. Jay’s words), Alice Hawkins’ lens applies the same unique attention to school girls in Essex as it does models in Jamaica. And now she’s tied the former, the latter – a bunch of other visually exquisite scenarios – and some notes on it all into a book: Alice’s Adventures.
Boasting full bleed images from personal and magazine work alongside birds eye view shots of her distinctive scrapbooks – artfully adorned nails tugging at the side of each page – Hawkins’ debut is the sum of 10 years in the industry; covering Nairobi to Russia with a healthy US stretch, it also doubles up as perhaps the best summer holiday inspo this side of Instagram.
Fresh from a Stateside visit, we asked Alice to explain how it all happened, and what, exactly, comprises the ideal road trip.
Alice’s Adventures is your first book. What led to its arrival?
I’ve been thinking about publishing a book for the last few years – meeting up with different publishers, obsessing over photography books, standing in book shops for hours – so when I got pregnant I decided it was the right time to stop shooting and finally make it happen. I started working on it when I got so big that I couldn’t get off the sofa and later, after my twins were born, in between feeds.
My work is somewhat autobiographical, so many trips, people and photographs have created many great memories and I wanted my first book to reflect that. Alice’s Adventures is a collection of extraordinary people from all over the world, taken over the first decade of my career as a photographer. I like that the book isn’t exclusive to one ‘type’ of person, they are all from very different countries with contrasting beliefs, religions and ways of life; I want a broad spectrum of people to be able to relate to my book, to enjoy it but also see other worlds.
And how easy – or difficult – was it to decide the final edit; were there images you instantly knew you wanted to include?
I re-edited all of my trip shoots, which I really enjoyed – looking at pictures I took 10 years ago was a delight like looking through old photographs always is. It was lovely to do an edit with just my judgement and taste driving the tag button. This made it harder for me as I then doubled my edit instead of cutting it down. I sent all of my images to my book designer, Frith Kerr, at Studio Frith and a few weeks later I walked into their studio and all of the photos were printed and stuck up on their walls; every inch of their studio was covered, downstairs and upstairs. It was quite a sight and I thought “Oh gosh how are we going to squeeze this into one book”. I begged for more pages from my publisher and they granted me some, I wanted people to be able to get lost in the book and to discover new images every time they look at it.
Yes, there were some images I have always loved that I felt had to go into the book but my USA chapter was getting too big, so I resigned myself to the idea that I could do a separate America book later on, that helped me in the process of letting go.
Sketches and Polaroids feature alongside the book’s core imagery. Why was it important for you to offer this further insight into your work?
A few years ago Nick Knight asked me if I could pack up all of my sketchbooks into a suitcase and send them to him at SHOWstudio; they scanned them and displayed them on their site. I was surprised at how much interest they got and I knew then it would work well to include them among the ‘final’ images. I wanted to get across the personal journey and excitement that my work gives me – I think the sketchbook diary pages support that.
Your work marries fashion photography with portraiture. Is blurring these lines something you’re particularly conscious of when you shoot?
I’m interested first and foremost by the people I photograph, who they are, where they live and their personal fantasies of how they want to present themselves to the world. I want my pictures to feel authentic so I think of my photographs as portraits; the clothes heighten who they are, who they want to be and how they want to be portrayed. Something magical happens when people prepare themselves for a photograph and get dressed into an outfit they really love, it makes them feel more special – which I already think they are. When they’re styled well they are even more extraordinary to me and probably to themselves – it becomes a heightened sense of reality.
Do you have a favourite image or story from the book?
I have a love affair with America and the people I have met and photographed there. I return often and stay with some of the people I’ve now become very close to. That particular chapter is bigger than the rest and I love it. One of my favourite images is a casting shot of two young cowboys, called Cash and Rodder who I found at a rodeo in Amarillo on my first ever adventure trip in Texas with the fashion stylist Sam Willoughby. It’s a photograph that I took that made me feel like I’d found home. Sam didn’t dress these boys in this photograph but when she did, she didn’t change them particularly because they already look so perfect. I like that it’s a shot that has never been published before, even though I took it over 10 years ago, it still feels like a leading image from this body of work.
And where’s the best place your career has taken you?
You can be taking photos in paradise but unless things are going your way it can be quite painful! Maybe I look back at my Texas trip with such whimsical fondness because it was so long that I’ve forgotten any struggles there: all I remember is stepping off the plane and feeling like I was on a film set and all the Texas themed characters I’d been dreaming of actually were real and existed. This was before the days of satnavs or internet everywhere and we felt so far away from home, which was an exhilarating feeling. When you’re away from your familiar environment your creative senses are heightened. You act on instinct and sometimes it can really pay off.
So talk us through your ideal road trip.
Burgers in a brothel. Ridiculous sunsets and sunrises. A slow pace of life against stunning unfamiliar landscape.
And your favourite on screen road trip?
Thelma and Louise.
I Am a Camera. I saw the exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in 2002 and it had a profound effect on me. I’d never spent so much money on a book before but I had to have it. I love the photographs, especially Richard Billingham, Nan Goldin, Tierney Gearon and Hannah Starkey’s work. Most importantly it highlights the importance of photography in contemporary art – I like the idea of creating an image with some kind of concept or a twist and it being presented and appreciated in a non-traditional environment. The same way that my pictures sit in some of the leading fashion magazines, it still feels like I’m getting away with something.
Finally, you’re just back from Las Vegas, is that right? How many times have you been exactly?
Yes, I got home yesterday. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been there… around 20. Gosh, I don’t even like Vegas that much I just love the people who work there or visit there. It’s actually the desert surrounding Vegas that pulls me back time and time again. This trip transpired after my friend and fellow new mum Paloma Faith messaged me asking if I wanted to go on holiday with her and our babies. Everyone there thought we were very brave/mad to be on ‘holiday’ with our babies but it was great, we made lots of pictures of each other, our babies and the people we met and stayed with. I really felt a sense of coming home after the first hard year with my baby twins, it was a relief to drive through the desert taking a million photographs with my babies in the back seat.
Alice’s Adventures is out now published by Thames & Hudson.