How Jonathan Anderson is Discovering a New Generation of Photographers

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Sarah StedefordUnited Kingdom

The designer talks about Your picture / Our future, a competition to find an emerging photographer to shoot the next JW Anderson campaign

Jonathan Anderson isn’t averse to taking a risk when it comes to the advertising campaigns for his namesake label, JW Anderson – his S/S16 campaign was postage stamp-sized (later, it would be printed on a real stamp, with first class value); for A/W17, he did away with a photographer entirely, embroidering crotchet squares on to a vintage photograph (it depicted a semi-clad man, dressed in a cowboy hat) laid out in the manner of a smartphone home screen. The latter did not show a single one of Anderson’s designs.

This season, another risk – handing over his A/W18 campaign to a photographer unknown to the designer, chosen from entrants submitted via an open call competition. The project, entitled Your picture / Our future asked emerging imagemakers, published or otherwise (one photographer’s entry was submitted by his mother) to present up to six photographs with a simple brief: “images of the here and now, wherever you are”. “Do you want to be part of a new, new wave?” Anderson asked. 

The culmination of the project, which numbered over 2,000 entries spanning Nigeria and Australia, the Philippines and the United States, was the opening of an exhibition of the work of 50 finalists on Covent Garden’s Floral Street yesterday evening. Out of those, selected by a panel of Benjamin Bruno, Amanda Harlech, Jo-Ann Furniss and Tim Blanks, as well as Anderson and other frequent collaborators, a final shortlist of six were chosen to meet the designer. A winner would be picked the next afternoon. 

“I always see JW as like a cultural agitator,” Anderson said of how Your picture / Our future came about. “It’s never quite right, it’s not about being it right now, it’s continually irritating, somehow...” He sees the brand as a depository for his own restless energy, and the necessity, ten years on, to continue to seek out the new.

“Sometimes you realise that you can’t really build your own thing without your own generation,” Anderson says. “Six years ago maybe longer, I met Jamie [Hawkesworth] and I introduced him to Ben [Bruno]. They started working together and they started taking amazing pictures. I just thought, well there’s a moment where we can give someone else an opportunity, and instead of being insular about it, we look globally.”

Hawkesworth, the British photographer who has since become Anderson’s most prolific collaborator, is evidence that risk can pay off. Almost entirely unknown when he started working with Anderson – he trained as a a forensic scientist before assisting photographers in London – Hawkesworth now shoots for Vogue, and numerous brands, including Loewe (where Anderson is creative director), Hermès and Miu Miu.

“I love all the great photographers, but JW Anderson’s a young brand, so I think it’s important that we have a younger voice again. Jamie [Hawkesworth] brought that to the brand and now Jamie goes on to do what he does and then we find someone else,” Anderson says. “You can’t always be in awe of the past, you need to find out what the future is.”