“Beauty is something that stops you in your way, even for just a minute”: Photographer Chloé Le Drezen discusses her new zine XXI Girls, which breathes new life into the beauty shot
What springs to mind when you think of beauty photography? Perhaps it’s the pages of a traditional glossy magazine where you might find, in the middle-back section, a string of posed portraits, detailing with peppy instruction some short-lived beauty trend or another. Such associations are deftly brushed away with a glance at London-based photographer Chloé Le Drezen’s intimate new zine XXI Girls; “a collection of 21 portraits of girls who are, to me, modern beauties.”
Reimagining the often uninspiring and predominantly white, traditional beauty photography of eras gone by, the women of XXI Girls look out from its larger than life 30 x 40cm newspaper style pages in an array of heroic, strong and vulnerable images. Exploring not only the transformative power of make-up, but of light and composition too, the zine’s beautiful pages are bathed in hot sunshine hues and moody strobes of blue; hazy blurs of energetic neon, and the shadowy drama of black and white.
Born in Nantes, France, Le Drezen has been fascinated with photography since she was a child. “I picked up [my dad’s] camera one summer and loved it,” she says. “Shortly after that, my parents heard of an evening darkroom course near to where we lived and signed me up for it. I learnt how to shoot, print, and process black and white [photographs] from very old men when I was about 12. I feel so lucky I was introduced to photography in that way.”
“After that I never really wanted to do anything else,” continues Le Drezen, who now has a darkroom of her own situated in north London, a place she says has brought her joy over the strange and isolating past year. An exercise in joy itself, XXI Girls was also an opportunity for Le Drezen – who frequently shoots for magazines and brands like Alexander McQueen – to come together with creatives and friends she loves “without any pressure”, and to have a little fun.
Here, the photographer speaks on the making of XXI Girls, friendship and what beauty means to her:
“After a hell of a strange year, I just wanted to bring all the people I love working with together, have some fun and try some new things without any pressure. A fashion or beauty shoot can feel very orchestrated at times and I wanted to just let things come together spontaneously. I worked with hair stylist Kota Suizu, make-up artist Vassilis Theotokis, casting director Emilie Åström and my longtime assistant Philip White. All of them are now good friends and people I completely trust and enjoy working with – something that was always important to me, but is even more so now!
“I didn’t know any of the models personally, which is usually what I prefer as I find it difficult to photograph people I know well. I think Emilie knew exactly what I was looking for: girls who had character and strong features.
“I often find ‘beauty’ shoots quite boring, always very much alike. They also don’t always show much diversity either. I think as a photographer today, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty, it's our duty to be more inclusive, to showcase all types of beauty. Images have such a big influence on us, we see so many of them. Making people think beauty is only of a specific kind is so wrong!
“[For me] beauty is something that stops you in your tracks, even for just a second. We’re so flooded with images these days. If something, someone, can make you pause and make you feel something real, feel pleasure, then that’s beauty to me. It’s so precious.
“I think that’s one thing that really interests me about photography: being able to go so close, look at someone’s face in a way you would never do in real life. To me that’s what photography is about: showing you something in a way you wouldn’t have looked yourself. I’m also interested in the transformative and empowering power of make-up, and of light ... What was also fun was to print [the zine] big, making all the portraits larger than life, drawing you to look at the little details.
“I printed less than 100 copies of XXI Girls … It was important to me that it remained a bit exclusive, something to treasure. It’s not a book, it’s a newspaper-type print, but it means you can do whatever you want with it. You can treat it as a book, you can frame one of the pages, you can fold it, and if at the end of the day you don’t like the pictures there’s plenty of ways you can put a newspaper to good use! My hope though, is for it to be unique enough to be treated with care.”
To inquire about a copy of XXI Girls, email firstname.lastname@example.org.