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Photography Alasdair McLellan

This new book charts Alasdair McLellan’s optimistic portraits of youth

From the first portrait he shot aged 13 to the present day, the photographer’s latest publication Home And Away is his most personal and autobiographical to date, presenting over 500 images from his vast archive

If he could pass on one piece of wisdom he’s accrued over more than three decades of taking pictures, acclaimed photographer Alasdair McLellan would tell his teenage self: “Everyone is just as insecure as you.” Having first picked up a camera aged 13, the first intentional portrait he ever took could be a devastatingly tender embodiment of this sentiment. A teenage boy crouching in a field, half-hidden in the brilliantly green wheat, gazes back toward his friend behind the lens. His face is lit by sunlight and, in all likelihood, he’s touchingly oblivious to his own radiance.

This poignant portrait is the first picture in Home and Away [designed by M/M (Paris)], the new book encompassing work made by McLellan between 1987 and 2022. This debut photograph is the perfect way to begin, setting the scene for the trenchant beauty which unfolds over the pages of this two-volume anthology.

Since the shutter click of that first image many years ago, McLellan’s trajectory as a photographer has seen him shooting for the world’s most illustrious magazines and fashion houses and taking portraits of actual superstars. But his photographs always seem to retain the potency and optimism of those early pictures. “His pictures today have changed little; his way of looking at the world is almost exactly the same. The first picture he ever took looks like it could have been captured yesterday,” reads a statement about the book. “Today, the people might have grown up, but they are essentially the same kind of people in Alasdair’s pictures, no matter how famous they are, their age or status. Something of the subject’s 13-year-old self still shines through; there is something untouched and open about them and there is always springtime light…” 

While Home and Away may not be McLellan’s debut book [he’s already published a string of revered monographs including Ultimate Clothing Company (2013), Ceremony, (2016), The Palace (2017) and Blondey 15-21, (2019)], it is the most comprehensive and the most autobiographical. Raised in Tickhill, a market town near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, this latest title traces the deeply personal lineage of his distinct aesthetic. In a conversation over email, he tells Dazed: “The whole point of Home and Away was to show how much my time growing up had influenced my work; not just the images I took as a teenager, but also the music I was listening to or the films I was watching. The area itself. The light. The bright sunshine or the dark clouds. The pylons. The cooling towers. A haircut my friend might have had.”

The initial impression of these details of his adolescence remains legible throughout. McLellan recalls: “Most of my inspiration from that time came from record sleeves, the nightclubs, the bars, music videos, school trips, the town centre, the parks we used to spend time in, the constantly changing weather, the clothes, the trainers and the haircuts we all wore.” 

Lovingly chronicling and referencing youth culture throughout his career, the influence of the North is an unintentional yet abiding presence recurring in his work. “I initially cast people who looked like my friends at school, or from a film I liked, or a music video I liked,” he explains. “I never consciously thought the North influenced my work, the inspiration mostly came from my experiences growing up in the North. I never really set out to have a Northern aesthetic. It just so happens that I’m from there.” 

McLellan tells Dazed: “Mostly I try to re-create memories or happenings. There’s something very emotional about memories. So my work mostly comes from that.” In this sense, Home and Away is much more than the sum of its parts; it’s a collection of memories distilled on the pages; souvenirs of long-gone moments which, in the words of Jean Baudrillard simply reveal, “Here, at that time, at that place, in that light, there was someone…”.

Alasdair McLellan’s Home and Away is available for pre-order via M/M (Paris) now. The book will be launching on July 6 at Dover Street Market in London from 6-8pm. 

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