Valerie Phillips has been snapping our focus onto the uninhibited realities of female youth that others are so quick to bypass or deny entirely: bare faces, messy hair, unshaven bodies, and the inimitable energy that belongs exclusively to youth. These are all feelings “Valerie seems unable to not find,” says creative collaborator and friend, Arvida Byström.
This month sees the release of Phillips’ ninth photo book, titled Another Girl Another Planet. It is a visual imprint and a compilation of Phillips’ most treasured photographs, which like those that went before, seem to challenge the preconceptions of true beauty, finding it instead without manipulation and through Phillips’ lens which is, above all else, unfiltered.
“Why are people so scared and repulsed by real life?” Phillips asked quizzically when we interviewed her and Arvida Byström last autumn. As we speak with Phillips a year on to mark the release of Another Girl Another Planet, it becomes clear – with refreshing immediacy – that this youth-obsessed photographer's approach is unmoving, and her sentiments are the same: "I just love real life. Not many people in this industry, actually not many people in this world, allow themselves or other to just be – and it breaks my heart. Personal essence inspires me, it's innate – let's leave it alone.”
As we preview a selection of images from the book, following Phillips’ book signing earlier this week at London’s Claire De Rouen Books, below we ask her about a growing fascination with youth and the importance of connecting with your subjects.
Another Girl Another Planet features work spanning over a decade, how difficult was it to compile a bank of your ‘favourite’ images?
Valerie Phillips: It was easy and difficult, both at the same time. Difficult in that I wanted this compilation to be the epitome of my work to date. Easy in that I worked very closely with my publishing house Rizzoli, who are more than familiar with my photos and were working towards the same aim.
I was happy to include some commercial and editorial fashion images so long as I felt they hadn’t been compromised. Images that seamlessly blended with my personal work. Any of those shots that would have been brought forward by the ‘decision of the committee’ in any other situation, were not here. I starting by printing out all of my images and covered my carpet, chairs, sofa etc. they were everywhere. Then I moved onto casting (for new shots) and editing older ones. Casting and editing are the two things I like most about doing what I do – it was great. Once I got my head around the images, I started to make the final cuts. The book is a tangible reflection of how I see the world, and how these girls just are in the world. The final edit is a selection of my favourite images, the photos that meant a lot to me with the girls who mean a lot to me.
The title of the book, Another Girl Another Planet, almost infers that the girls you photograph have otherworldly qualities. Was this chosen with intent?
Valerie Phillips: It all reverts back to that idea of personal essence, which yes, is otherworldly in that it is unique in its capacity. But, the title of the book was also borrowed from one of my all-time favourite post-punk British bands The Only Ones, so it felt naturally appropriate. I’m also really obsessed with the US/Russian space programmes of the 60/70s, space exploration, the space race – these interests also tied in really well.
“The book is a tangible reflection of how I see the world, and how these girls just are in the world” – Valerie Phillips
Is this ‘otherworldly’ quality something you feel instinctively? Or, is it something you try to bring out when shooting?
Valerie Phillips: You know I’ve met girls everywhere, on airplanes, on the street, in cafes, at model agencies – there is no criteria, it is instinctive. I usually see someone, so the visual pull is an instinctive one, but then I need to find out more about the girls. I like to hang out with them, get to know them, find out about their life, world, and interests and then make a piece of work with them.
A lot of the images are shot in the girls’ bedrooms. What do you like most about shooting intimate spaces?
Valerie Phillips: I’m intrigued by people and their spaces. Homes and bedrooms give me a shortcut, an inside track into their life. There’s something so unique about being invited into a personal space, it’s where that person lives most comfortably in a room they have curated. I also make up everything as I go along, my work is without structure – and I find shooting in personal spaces enhances this, I almost always see something I didn’t expect. It’s about me diving into the worlds of these girls, while bringing some of my world to theirs.
What do you think when people mark your work as making an overtly feminist comment?
Valerie Phillips: I think that people should just get on with their cool shit, with whatever it is that they want to do. That’s what I try to do, I try to block out the exterior negative voices that persist. It’s often a storm in a teacup. Who cares about what the next person is saying? We are all fucked up, it’s a big cyclic pattern that will keep moving. It would be nice if girls didn’t get clogged up with bullshit, but it’s never going to happen, it’s the nature of the capitalist society we live in – just don’t pay attention to it, I don’t.
Arvida Byström references your interest in youth culture in the book’s foreword: “Valerie seems unable to not find the youth in everything.” Where does your self-confessed fascination with youth stem from?
Valerie Phillips: Honestly, it isn’t something I think about much, it’s subconscious. I like the same stuff I loved when I was 12: bands, skateboarding, art, music and making sketchbooks. I don’t live a very ‘grown-up’ life, my interest are the same as they were when I was teenager. It’s like I forgot or didn’t ever learn how to see and live in the world as a ‘grown-up.’
This probably translates to my photography. The girls I shoot don’t all come in looking like adults, they usually look like kids. I don’t change that essence, I never change the essence of people – it’s the thing I love, I love it when people walk in and I think immediately ‘that’s what I want to focus on.’ I love real life. Not many people in this industry, actually – not many people in this world, allow themselves or others to just be – and it breaks my heart. Personal essence inspires me, it’s innate – let’s leave it alone.
Looking through the book, it doesn’t feel like your approach has changed all that much. Has your outlook changed?
Valerie Phillips: I’ve become a lot more certain, people may not always like it but I am much much more sure about what I am doing, and what I want to do. When I was younger I was taking on any and every job, getting bad advice from everyone. Now I have a different kind of confidence, sure I’m still a little insecure and fucked up (we all are), but I can’t be derailed by other people’s comments and persuasions.
Another Girl Another Planet is published by Rizzoli. Phillips will be signing books at Dashwood Books in New York on 26 October, from 6-8pm