Seaweed Swatches and Stalactite Stitches with Phoebe English

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FLOATING | FALLING | DROWNING | FLYINGPhotography by Polly Brown

A look inside Polly Brown's new photo book exploring the otherworldly beauty of Phoebe English's creative ephemera

Fashion designer Phoebe English and photographer Polly Brown first met back at art school but have only just realised their first project together: a photobook documenting English's recently-opened (and much-acclaimed) solo exhibition at London's Now Gallery. A catalogue of her notebooks, ephemera, sketches and materials captured in a series of still lifes where, as Brown explains "swatches became seaweed and stitches stalactites," the images explore the delicate intricacies of English's universe and turns them into a strange series of otherworldly beauty.

Last month, English explained the show, which excavated her archives for traditionally discarded material, as "the antithesis of a glossy fashion story. It's all about the scrappy bits of paper and drawings that go into a collection." Brown's new book of imagery becomes a meta-reflection on this narrative; it's a documentary of a documentary exhibition, adding a further layer to the relics and ephemera already on show. Here, we present an exclusive look at the new book alongside Brown's reflections on the collaboration.

On exploring the "living creatures" in Phoebe's world...
"Usually with books, I start with an initial concept or idea I am exploring – a theme or a place or a feeling (Plants, Little Deaths, Airports), but there is always an undercurrent driving and connecting the images. This book was slightly different in that at the beginning we had no parameters. As I explored Phoebe’s world it felt like the book's identity evolved naturally. The project began to centre around the idea of the object, there is something a little magical about the way that pieces, toiles, samples are treated inside Phoebe's studio. I found myself drawn to them as if they were living creatures, characters inside Phoebes world."

On documenting the tactile...
"The way that Phoebe works is incredibly tactile and trying to capture this tactility on film was an interesting challenge in itself. Objects, the physical feel and presence of things are important to her and this became a driving force in what I choose to photograph, scan and put into the book. My focus became about everything in the studio – from thimbles and flecks of glitter to ceiling tiles. As a result, nearly all of the images in the book are of objects: chalk, staples, stamps, twirls, netting, hangers..."

On designing the book...
"Designing the physical book with Phoebe and her team was super interesting – we worked in a way that prioritised feel, touch, texture and weight. The resulting book is very much an object in itself, its floppy, pale and drapey, chalky, textured, raw and polished... it has a personality of its own, like one of Phoebe’s reference objects."