July 11, 2014

Spotlight: Francesca Allen

Portraits speak 10,000 words.

They always say to never judge something by its outward appearance, and generally that's a solid call. But what about when looking at a portrait? Sometimes that first look is all we have. We definitely aren't necessarily judging the subject depicted, but can safely say an initial impression based on the person's expression or appearance is made. Portraits reveal aspects of a person; social class and personalities, for instance, and that's only just scratching the surface. Whether or not these renderings speak any truths, however, is up to the artist.

In Francesca Allen’s portraits, the men and women often stare into her lens with eyes so wide, they look almost as if their thoughts and words are seeping out through the screen, right into your brain. Raw emotions and feelings run rampant across their faces, perhaps revealing more than any conversation might. If we’re making any snap judgments of the men and women depicted here, it’s that they’re beautiful. We spoke with Francesca about X and X and who she’d love to get in front of her camera.

THE LE SIGH: A vast majority of the photos on your site are portraits (if not all of them) – what do you think portraiture can reveal about the subject? What do you personally aim to reveal about the men and women you take photos of?

Francesca Allen: I think portraits rarely reveal anything that the subject does not want to reveal themselves. When you have your portrait taken you are presenting your own view of yourself and the way in which you would like to be portrayed. What a portrait can reveal is an intimate relationship between the photographer and subject. I'm not aiming to reveal anything, but to capture a moment shared between two people. The camera in between is merely incidental.

TLS: Building off that, a lot of your images are nudes – what's the reasoning behind that? As a complete outsider, I would imagine it might be uncomfortable (at least initially) for either your subject or you to discuss the option and/or shoot. How do you get the jitters out (if there are any) to make all parties involved as comfortable as possible?

FA: I don't think it's so much a fascination with the body as an objection to the connotations that certain clothes have. The nude body is timeless, and when you remove the clothes you take away the ability for the viewer to place the photo in a very specific time period. I think all of the people I have photographed nude have been fairly comfortable. A lot of my friends are very naked people. Whether this was a result of my projects with them or whether it was the other way around is debatable; the chicken or the egg. I recently took topless portraits of my fourteen-year-old sister. I think I was more nervous than her. The photos are a documentation of the teen body and aren't going to be released until we are both fifty and have forgotten about how embarrassing it is to be fourteen. We are also waiting to be old enough for our mum not to tell us off.

TLS: Your photos are incredibly intimate--are the people you photograph mostly your friends, or models? How do you find the people you take pictures of?

FA: I think all of my favourite photos I have taken are of friends or people I find a connection with. Some of these people are models and some of them have never been photographed before.

TLS: If you could take a portrait of anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

FA: My little sister, again and again. Also, Hannah Murray, the girl who plays Cassie in Skins. I think she has a great on-camera personality and I've wanted to take her photo since I saw the series. I'm forever trying to live out my teen fantasies. Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel at the time when The Dreamers was filmed.

TLS: You do portraits of both men and women. How do you think your portrayal of either gender varies? Or does it not? How are the two processes (if there are two) different from one another?

FA: I recently received an email telling me how much they loved my girls work and how fake they thought my work with boys was. I don't necessarily agree that my work with boys is fake but my approach definitely changes between the two genders. When I photograph girls, I am projecting myself upon them and a sense of self is behind the image. I don't identify with boys in the same way.

TLS: On your trip to Mexico and Los Angeles, you took a lot of video, and even expressed an interest in making a documentary out of it in a past interview. Is that something you're still planning/working on? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

FA: I have so many projects I'm supposedly working on right now but I'm so lazy sometimes. The footage from my time away has just sat on my computer waiting for me to do something with it and there's still 50 rolls of 35mm film I haven't developed. The video work I was making is a series of short clips that I interpret more as 'moving photos' rather than video. I am so used to taking photos and it is a totally different thing to think in video so as a result most of the footage could almost be a series of photo gifs instead. One day I will tick off my entire to do list.

TLS: You've been published pretty widely (congratulations!) in some really lovely magazines--what's it like seeing your images in print, knowing they're being widely circulated? Do you ever feel self-conscious, or do you ultimately recognize that by this point, it's far out of your hands?

FA: Thank you! I guess it depends on how happy I am with the images. If the shoot is exactly as I envisioned and I had a great time shooting it then seeing your work in print is the best feeling in the world. But inevitably there will always be questions about the audience your work attracts. My instagram account recently blew up and I now have over 37,000 followers which is insane and made me realize how many people enjoy my work not for what it is but for the models I use. People enjoy the sexual nature of my images more than I would have liked. But I suppose that's the problem with the Internet. As soon as an image is placed online then it's totally out of your hands how people might use your work beyond its intention.

TLS: What would you say the main themes of your photographs are? Do you have themes in mind when you begin planning a shoot, or is something that just comes naturally?

FA: Girls! Girls! Girls! I rarely have a solid plan before I do a shoot. It's quite nice to see something evolve organically depending on your mood and the location. If I'm testing with models we will walk around an area of London for a few hours and find cool places to shoot along the way.

TLS: Portraits are a funny thing in that they're usually hanging above a mantelpiece in your family's home or in an art gallery--there are, of course, many places in between, but these are, in my opinion, perhaps the most well-known locales. If you could have your photos hang anywhere in the entire universe, where would it be?

FA: This is a really difficult question to answer. I would love for an artist I really admire to have one of my photos in their house. But as to who, I'll have to get back to you on this one!

See more of Francesca's work here.

Written by Molly Morris