At the opening of Paris' Fall fashion week Gareth Pugh opted out of the usual runway display and showcased his designs instead with an eleven minute video done in collaboration with filmmaker Ruth Hogben. Hogben came to my attention through her earlier work for Celine and Pugh with her original use of lighting and texture, which emphasized the sensuality of both the fabric and the wearer.
Hogben had worked with Nick Knight on Alexander McQueen's last show, and also on videos for Lady Gaga's recent stage performances. I asked the young filmmaker about her inspirations and aspirations for carving out a new medium for herself.
KL: How did you first start assisting Nick Knight?
RH: I studied photography first; I wanted to be a photographer since I was twelve. I was very persistent and we went to the same secondary school and it was probably my winning letter that I wrote. I always wanted to learn from him. I had two or three years of assisting others and learning from my mistakes. And then I finally applied and worked for Nick - worked very, very hard for a few years. I was the motorized magazine rack - give me three seconds to reload the film ...
When Nick went to digital, I had to take a step back - you didn't need four people to change the lens on a Hasselblad and so I had to reinvent myself. [Later], I was at a Visionaire shoot, and kept looking through the view-finder and Lily (Cole) was playing with motion and light, and I said to Nick that I thought there was some really nice footage there, and could I edit it? I then spent half a day in the studio learning Final Cut. Nick and Charlotte (his partner) were very supportive and let me use the footage and the soundtrack; they gave me a lot of freedom - then, it was two years of editing, of trying and playing, and working hard.
KL: Are you inspired by the architectural forms in Gareth Pugh's designs?
RH: The third film (Joie de Vivre) was influenced by art deco architecture. That was how I approached the film, making her into a building, making her very tall. But then she moved so well - and gave me so many varying poses, it meant I could go wild when I had an amazing soundtrack. The audio is by Lukid. I talked with him about the film I wanted to make and he went away for a couple of weeks and came back with something that fit so perfectly that we decided to go with it instead of starting from scratch.
KL: What's the difference between this work and making a music video?
RH: Fashion drives my inspiration. I'd be quite scared to be led by music; it's not how I really work. I work with the beat but as a way of accentuating the work.
KL: Do you choreograph the movement?
RH: For Celine (Perfect) I was led by the lines of how the coat moved. But with the leather jacket, when she rolled her shoulders, the leather just moved in this sexual way...The movement is a fine line between the freedom of expression in the way the model feels as a woman inside the clothes, to how I think the movement should be communicated.
KL: The movement when it is slowed down is very erotic. You get to really see how the human body moves.
RH: I never really thought about how I slow things down. But sometimes I just feel the viewer needs to appreciate what I am showing them, and in real-time you don't get to appreciate a crease or a movement; it gets the audience time to breathe it in. But it does push it away from reality, which is sometimes right for certain films - or sometimes isn't. I also repeat, I accentuate... I am not a trained editor and don't follow conventions of the film genre.
KL: Maybe you are creating a new genre - it's more like a performance.
RH: Whatever edit rule I use, I just feel it. It's a visual language that pleases me. I just follow my instinct.
I am building on something already incredible, and I make it more graphic or sumptuous with backgrounds, makeup, movement and wind. I am communicating through a performance, a film. I adore working with Gareth; his work is so strong. In the initial stages he spends a long time speaking about how he feels about his work, then he lets me react to it...With Gaga it was more fashion oriented...there were art pieces embedded in the concerts - but she also gave me a lot of freedom.
KL: Do you think the artist in you takes over - or are you just showing the clothes to the best advantage?
RH: That's a bit tricky. I try to improve on my past work. I've been working with a great DOP, Simon Chaudoir and learning a lot, playing with lenses, feeling more confident...
But the communication between Gareth and I hasn't changed. I refine the communication, and with film it is a lot more direct than with a still photograph. I fine-tune the communication with the pace of the edit and movement. I don't think as an artist I overtake his work, but knowing the medium more, helps improve what and how I communicate his vision.
I spent 4 months working with Gaga, and when I finished I needed to do a film that was purely just for me. It was self-funded. It will go to some festivals, and I love how it is presented and shown at Showstudio; I love working with the team there, and I get a lot of control of how the film looks.
[In my videos] I try to show what type of a woman she is in a thick heavy wool coat; or a flowy see-through dress. It all means something and I try to understand what that means and communicate it on a whole new level.
KL: You communicate that without clothes too, through the movement of flesh. Showing women's bodies in a different way is challenging because it's one of the most exploited subjects in art.
RH: Those two burlesque dancers were so much fun to work with (See Buttocks above). I love fashion and I love women. I study skin moving - making it look like milk and being inspired by Man Ray's daylight nudes. I am lucky to live in this time with this new medium - this touchable way of using digital formats. [And also] having all these exquisite artists to be pulling on like Man Ray, Helmut Newton and Allen Jones - but putting my own spin on them. It's important that we question ourselves as women, about equality - I think a lot about whether a stripper is an object or is she something to be desired, and whether that's powerful enough. I'd like to do a lot more work in exploring women and their bodies, and whether they are just pieces of meat or whether they are something to enjoy in splendour and celebrate. There is a fine line between exploitation and celebration. I am lucky to be working in this time where fashion film has a platform.
Ruth Hogben video for Phillipe Starck
KL: Is your work just part of the fashion world - or do you consider yourself an artist.
RH: I don't know how to answer. I did a film for Phillipe Starck - a still-life of a chair- shot and lit in different ways with calligraphy writing; it abstracted the shapes...brought out the form of the chair and then faded away...I don't quite know what that is, or what I should call myself - I love it and feel it and put my heart and soul it.