Photographer Linda Brownlee first met designer Simone Rocha in Ireland when the pair were in their early twenties. Both women were born in Dublin, but the two became close acquaintances after moving to London and embarking on their respective careers, beginning a fruitful collaborative relationship in 2013. “Simone was an emerging designer when we first worked together, when I photographed a very early collection of hers,” says Brownlee, whose documentary-style practice treads the line between fine art portraiture and fashion imagery. “I went to Palermo in Italy with stylist Aisling Farinella, and we traipsed around the streets casting locals to shoot in Simone’s clothes. Our work was just so well suited from the beginning,” she continues.
In 2015, Brownlee and Rocha went on to produce a film for NOWNESS, examining Rocha’s Chinese heritage through a sartorial exploration of the elderly population of Hong Kong. “It was about how the older generation of her family impacted Simone and looking at how her grandma used to dress in particular,” says Brownlee. Now, three years on, the friends and creative practitioners have joined forces once more, for a new photo-series titled Formations, published exclusively on anothermag.com.
“It was an idea I had in my head for a long time,” explains Brownlee. “I was thinking about how I use nature in my work, and thought about the way that Simone does too, putting beautiful dresses on models and juxtaposing them against raw, textural landscapes in her campaign imagery. I wanted to produce work that played with texture, and explored the interaction between clothing and nature.”
The result is a set of 27 photographs, shot on location on the west coast of Portugal, abstracting Rocha’s lush designs into new, sculptural forms. “I put together a whole moodboard of things I was drawn to,” the photographer says. “Simone then assembled clothes that would fit this mood. They are amalgamated from all different collections. I was looking for pieces that were lightweight and transparent; garments that had the potential to reveal the backdrop behind them.” In Formations, Brownlee has indeed highlighted the diaphanous quality of Rocha’s work: submerging tulle in the sea, draping netting over branches and only shooting at daybreak and early evening to capture the honeyed light of dawn and dusk seeping through sheer fabrications.
Brownlee also brought a photo assistant on location: her three-year-old daughter, who relished the unprecedented access to a high-fashion dressing up box. “She was a very good assistant,” laughs Brownlee. “It did slightly slow the process, but she absolutely loved the clothes.” Naturally, this was captured on camera, too, with the toddler swathed in embroidered pieces, playfully emphasising the girlish codes of the Simone Rocha brand.
The designer was thrilled when she saw the final result, Brownlee says. “Oh, Simone loved the photographs, she absolutely loved them. She told me: ‘I’ve never seen my clothes shot like this before’ and she particularly enjoyed the ones of my daughter ones as well.” Did she mind having her designs buried in sand and soaked in seawater, however? “Luckily she’s not too fussy about that,” chuckles the photographer. “I gave her the heads up. I said ‘listen, you need to give me pieces that you’re gonna be able to say goodbye to!’ At one point, I got so immersed in a shot that a wave came and knocked me over. I had to jump out of the boat, chase my camera, and I let go of a dress that was then nearly swept out to sea. I had to chase that too! I was a total wreck after that, but I suppose that’s the length you go to get a shot sometimes.”