Fun-loving photographer Alice Hawkins is all about adventures. Having an intense love affair with America, all she needs on her road trips are a car stuffed with the most flamboyant styling, some equipment and the friendly faces of a small team. Along the way she makes the most stunning yet honest stories of the one-of-a-kind characters she meets, each of them equally glamorous and colourful. Her subjects are perfect just the way they are, king and queen of their own little kingdom. They deserve nothing less than being photographed in the absolute best version of themselves. Alice’s genuine interest in people makes that possible. It shatters barriers and opens people up to her. What truer beauty is there but the beauty of the empowered self? Realness is everything, or at least to a certain extent. Dolly Parton is the absolute summum of that, and it’s no surprise that precisely this woman is Alice’s all-time idol and source of inspiration. Her fascination with Dolly, with people, with reality and with fantasy is what sparks the adventures we marvel at. We at 5’ELEVEN Magazine were thrilled to be able to peek inside the mind of this photography-wunderkind. Her very own adventure began when she was first eyed by i-D magazine right after her graduation. Since then, she has photographed people of all walks of life, trusting her instincts and staying true to herself. Without further ado we introduce to you: Alice Hawkins.
Words by Simone Dolereijers. All images by Alice Hawkins.
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4.
Get your copy here
When did you first know you wanted to be a photographer? Was it a conscious decision or did it happen organically?
I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I started working as a photographer and it took me a long time to be able to say out-loud that I was one. I didn’t know much about i-D Magazine when they called to first commission me in 2001, a couple of days after I graduated from art school. I studied Graphic Design, which I understood as visual communication at Camberwell School of Art and Design. Someone from the magazine visited my end of course degree show and called me the next day. I do remember fearing they’d never call me again after I explained that I couldn’t muster the courage to actually enter the party they’d sent me to photograph. It was the White Cube opening night of Steven Meisel’s, Four Days in L.A.: The Versace Pictures exhibition. I felt too shy to go inside so instead I stood outside with the paparazzi and took photographs of Donatella Versace standing proudly with her security guards arriving and Liz Hurley’s bum getting into a cab leaving among others. To my surprise and delight i-D were happy with the pictures and ran all of them, they told me it was fine to do whatever I felt right. The penny dropped and it was probably this moment where I felt like I could be a photographer.
I continued to follow my gut and got quite busy. People responded well which encouraged me to do more, then a photography agent approached me and I joined her agency. I'm a people pleaser but luckily, the people who responded to my work, supported and commissioned me knew what they were talking about even if I didn’t. They didn’t try to control my art’s direction and always seemed to let me go off and get on with it. It felt like I was doing it my way and getting away with it.
How did you develop your signature in photography?
Being mostly naive to the fashion industry, its rules or trends is what helped me develop my signature. I wasn’t ever really interested in photographing models or fashionable people. I wanted to find my own unique subjects and photograph them along with my friends and that felt much more exciting and right. It gave me the chance to showcase ‘my type’ of people within the context of fashion editorials and beyond in terms of books and exhibitions. I just kept going with my own point of view.
You’re a big admirer of Dolly Parton. What do you think her magic is and how does she influence your work?
Dolly Parton is magic! Dazzling, clever, awe-inspiring magic. I've always loved her music, I’d play her albums on repeat in the shop while we worked and I jumped at the opportunity to go see her perform in London in 2002, which was then her first major tour for ten years. I felt like I had found my religion. She does that to you, her music and her lyrics emotionally take you to so many places. I laughed and I cried. I love everything about her. She is genuine, authentic and sincere but completely artificial looking at the same time. This contradiction grabs me, the façade she presents of the quintessential dumb blonde is flipped when you listen to her; she completely floors your pre-conceived idea of who she is. There is a huge power in that and a lesson to be learned.
She also looks incredible. She unapologetically embraces and exaggerates her femininity, and by doing so redefines what it is to be a woman and I find that so empowering. I admire her and pay homage to her in my self-portrait work, an idea that started after I had a dream that I went to Nashville and became Dolly, pretended to be her, look like her, walk in her footsteps. I suggested this dream as an idea to a magazine who agreed to support and pay for me, a hair stylist and fashion stylist to go and shoot in Nashville for a week. I titled this project ‘Dolly Parton is my religion.’
Bizarrely, a couple of years later, Paloma kindly invited me to join her at a Dolly Parton concert and said we could meet her backstage. I can’t begin to describe how happy and excited I was! Dolly was incredible, she was everything and more. Paloma took a great photo of Dolly and me together, and I naturally took one of Paloma and her too. I left some prints of my Nashville trip project with a note for her and a few days later her manager emailed me to say thanks and that Dolly thought I looked like a young hot Dolly! I’ve met her again a couple of times at concerts since and have continued to make projects in homage to her because Dolly embodies what I do.
Your work is filled with fun-loving and naturally playful subjects, how do you make people feel so free around you?
When someone allows me to photograph them they are trusting me by letting me into their homes and allowing me to capture them. They are normally non-professional models and it's a one off special occasion out of their everyday lives. I try to make sure they understand that I respect them and I intend my representation to be celebratory.
I always try to break down a few barriers to help them feel comfortable and enjoy the experience. I normally take a lot of photos which seems to relax people, them and me and after a while we kind of surrender into it together. However, they are fully aware there is a camera and a photographer with them which I like because it can create a more serious formal feeling of marking and celebrating their existence. Sometimes there's an awkwardness too, a distilled reality. Occasionally, I set up a tripod to make it more formal and calm but it depends on what I'm setting out to achieve, my approach is flexible and depends on the brief.
Which project are you most proud of?
Texas. I think it was in 2005 that Katie Grand asked me and stylist Sam Willoughby, who worked at her magazine POP, to go to Texas and photograph the locals. It was our first of many trips. I am so fond of those people we met in Texas, the experience we had and of the photographs I took. It was such early days for me as a photographer and the innocence and authenticity of that trip is something I continue to strive for.
This was before google maps and we just brought a road map from a gas station and went on the road for two weeks with a car crammed full of clothes and shoes and equipment. A rattle snake appeared when I was photographing a cowgirl on her ranch and she instantly ran to get her gun and shot it. Another young cowboy I was also photographing cut off its tail the rattle and gave it to me as a souvenir. I've still got it, I used to carry it around with me.
What constitutes a good photograph?
Authenticity, emotion and the unexpected. It needs to possess the ability to evoke a reaction.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Follow your instincts and be yourself.
Where do you see the future of fashion heading?
I'm in love with the new Versace campaign 'Baroness' by Sarah Baker and the Gucci campaigns are always very exciting. I think some fashion brands are more creative than ever in collaborating with artists for their marketing campaigns and are increasingly including real people which can be very interesting.
Do you have any advice for those who would love to start a career in fashion photography?
You must be disciplined and have a genuine enthusiasm for image-making. Listen to your gut, satisfy your own personal tastes and point of view, there’s no point in trying to be someone else but at the same time you will need to stand out of the crowd to be noticed.
You must be disciplined and have a genuine enthusiasm for image-making.
Read Alice's interview in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4. Get your copy here.