The director and photographer opens up about capturing her friends in a series inspired by Picnic at Hanging Rock – with a little help from Rowan Blanchard
Suspense, mystery, and budding female sexuality lay the emotional groundwork for Peter Weir’s cult 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. Set against the buttoned-up background of an Australian girls school at the dawn of the 20th century, the plot twists around a trio of teens who vanish one sunny afternoon – their long white skirts disappearing, seemingly for good, behind the mysterious Hanging Rock.
It was this film that provided the key inspiration for director and photographer Gia Coppola’s latest creative project, an exhibition of images created in collaboration with Gucci. Put on show in Taipei, they form the final part of a triptych of exhibitions celebrating creative director Alessandro Michele’s edition of A Magazine Curated By, edited by Dan Thawley. The first was timed to Art Basel Hong Kong and featured Petra Collins’ family portraits, while the second saw Coco Capitan’s snapshots displayed in Beijing. Coppola’s project, titled A Dream Within A Dream, completes the trio.
In the series, Coppola’s family friends (models Lily Stewart and Laura Love, photographer – and sister to Lana – Chuck Grant, and family friend Augie Culligan) are captured against the almost otherworldly landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, California’s famed national beauty spot. All dressed in Gucci, the cast of characters were styled by her mother, Jacqui Getty.
Coppola – who made her directorial debut back in 2013 with high school drama Palo Alto – also tapped actor Rowan Blanchard, a trailblazing teen activist, for the project. Blanchard composed a series of poems to run alongside the images – in the gallery, her narration echoed through speakers, and her handwritten words were embroidered and hung throughout the space. The poems were the result of an afternoon spent hanging out listening to music at Coppola’s house, Blanchard shares. “I looked at those pictures as sort of a narrative piece – I see that a lot of it is about ghosts and projection and thinking and discovering yourself, and almost that voice inside your head. That’s sort of what my poems were born out of.”
Below, Coppola discusses the project.
You studied photography before going into film, but is this the first time you had an exhibition of you photography like this?
Gia Coppola: Yeah! I did something in college, but that was literally just me printing my own images and pinning them on the wall. So to see it on this scale in this production is really, really exciting.
And Stephen Shore was one of your professors?
Gia Coppola: Yeah, yeah. He was my advisor, my mentor, so he was a big influence in my work. The whole way he structured that programme in school was less about learning about all the technology and more about conceiving of an idea. He was very quiet and every once in awhile, when he would speak, it would be this profound, profound one-liner.
How did this project start?
Gia Coppola: Alessandro’s idea was like, let’s take all my friends and let them do whatever they want, in whatever medium, to express what ‘Blind for Love’ means to them. When I was thinking about the idea, I was watching a bunch of Peter Weir movies for inspiration for something else. And my friend was like, ‘Oh, but have you seen Picnic at Hanging Rock?’ I put that on and it kind of blew my mind. I got an email from Dan (Thawley) the next morning like, ‘Have you thought about what you want to do?’ I said, ‘Well you know I actually just saw this movie...’ It deals so much with female sexuality and figuring out who you are, dealing with this in sort of an invisible way.
Gia Coppola: Exactly. Obviously, we weren’t in Australia, so, the closest thing was Joshua Tree – I’m still really inspired by places like the Grand Canyon or Moab and like big giant rocks still buried spiritually in time. I had my mom and my friends model, so it was a fun kind of family affair.
Why did you choose the cast?
Gia Coppola: They’re all people I’ve known, Laura Love and Lily Stewart – Laura is my best friend’s little sister and Lily is one of my mom’s close friends’ daughters. And then Chuck Grant is a photographer and I thought it would be fun to have her on set and take some pictures as well, she’s a beautiful girl. And Augie is my friend’s son who likes to dress up, so I thought it would be good to have him in there too.
What was it like working with your mum on the styling? Have you worked with her before?
Gia Coppola: Yeah, she was a costume designer when I was a kid, so I feel like a lot of my childhood I’ve learned the importance of styling, of costumes – and she has some funny ideas that make it so fun to work with her, she also really knows my aesthetic and what I like. I’m very particular and it’s hard for me to find the right people but I’m very comfortable with my mum.
“Alessandro’s idea was like, let’s take all my friends and let them do whatever they want, in whatever medium, to express what ‘Blind for Love’ means to them” – Gia Coppola
How do you and Rowan know each other?
Gia Coppola: We met just randomly in LA. I feel like some of my relationships have this cosmic connection where I can’t really pinpoint how we meet but we just keep running into each other. It’s just such a special relationship for me. I’ve always wanted like a little sister and she’s at that age when everything is so interesting and exciting. I think for me, it really keeps me inspired.
Do you think you have some similarities in your personalities?
Gia Coppola: In a way, yeah, I mean she’s so much more evolved and wise and well behaved than I was at her age! I’m so intrigued by the next generation how influential they’ll be. She talks about emotions and feelings that I totally understood at her age that’s the kind of – to be that mentor for her I guess.
How did you work together on the poems?
Gia Coppola: She came over and I showed her the edit that I was working with and we talked about it. We talked about what we felt like each image represented and what the movie represented. She really knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like so I wanted to give her space.
How did you first meet Alessandro?
Gia Coppola: They invited me to his first show in New York and I met him at that and it was really sweet. I said come to LA let’s do something, come to the house and have dinner and get to see LA in a better light. I feel like as I’ve got to know him as a person it’s such a luxury because I feel like I’m in the presence of a real genius, an artist. His eyes are always open, he’s always interested… but he’s also very much sure of things whilst having this silly kind of childlike sense of humour and he’s very down to earth.
What do you think about the world that he’s created for Gucci?
Gia Coppola: I think it’s so ballsy and incredible. He just took something and ran with it. And he’s so thoughtful in all of his ideas and there’s such a narrative. It feels very cinematic with him – it’s very exciting to see where his head’s at, I feel very transcended into this other narrative and all these feelings. I feel like there are always stories behind all of his clothes.