Life Through A Lens: Photographer Alistair Guy on portraiture and acceptance of life’s journey

    The photographer and debonair man-about-town Alistair Guy has been at the centre of London’s fashion scene for nearly two decades, producing portraiture for the likes of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar while also carving a distinctive niche for himself in-front of the camera, working as an ambassador for various menswear brands and the likes of The British Fashion Council. He is therefore as well known for embodying the attributes of the modern British gentleman as he is for portraying them in his candid portraiture. Recently, he melded two bodies of work together in one exhibition entitled Strong Women & English Rogues at Bingham Riverside House in Richmond, marrying the likes of actor Nicolas Pinnock and model Richard Biedul with female icons such as Daphne Selfe and Melanie Griffith. Here, he tells Collective Culture how a chance meeting with royalty set him out on his career path, and explains why the most beautiful thing about physical appearance is the unique way in which we all age.

    What first inspired you to follow a career in photography?

    It was one specific moment as a child. My father was the head of the army-catering corps, and my family used to go to a regular social event for army families to interact. One particular Sunday, I was told that the Duchess of Kent was coming along. I was just a nine-year-old child and more than a little excited about it. I had a tiny compact camera, and when I saw her I went straight up to her and asked if I could take her picture. I took a photograph and she then started to ask me about my camera. That interaction was really the beginning of everything, and a professional photographer captured it. He then gave me his photograph of me talking to the Duchess, and showed me his camera, explaining how it worked. It inspired me. From that moment on, I went through my school days taking as many photographs as I could, and as soon as I realized I could do photography as a career, I knew the way I wanted to go.

    How difficult was it to get a foot-in-the door of the fashion industry after art school?

    My sister introduced me to a photographer who she knew in London who worked for People magazine, which was huge at the time. He was looking for a new assistant. He was half-American, half-English and he was in his 50s. He really influenced me massively as a mentor because he was a similar age to the age my father would have been. He was very influential on me. I travelled all over Europe with him shooting people. I distinctly remember us shooting Richard Branson in a Jacuzzi–you could ask people to do those kinds of things back then.

    How did being behind the camera dovetail into also being in front of it?

    My sister had been approached to be a model and she didn’t want to do it, but suggested maybe it was something I could do. I probably would never have done it were it not recommended me! I had, of course, seen supermodels on the catwalk, which was all very glamorous, but it didn’t seem like something I could ever do. I signed with one small men's alternative agency, and it was kind of a crazy period to be a model. It was around the time Zoolander came out and that was exactly what it was like actually–it perfectly encapsulated how it was to be a male model. The dark side, of course, was the exploitation. I had a few experiences where industry figures tried it on, as it were. I think now with social media models are much more empowered against that kind of thing.

    Your current exhibition is entitled Strong Women & English Rogues. What is your definition of a strong woman?

    I think anyone who is an inspiration to others is a tower of strength. My mother was a head teacher, and to me is my absolute definition of a strong woman. She’s always been very kind and supportive of me. I now go into schools myself and lead classes on photography with teenagers, and I love that. I think my friend Daphne Selfe, who is in my show, also encapsulates strength, and she has been a huge influence–I think I met her when she was approaching 80 and she is now 90. I think that generally understanding your own age and understanding your own boundaries is a real strength. Each of those pictures of strong women in my show were very reflective of all of those people in that particular moment in time–three of the women were eight months pregnant, which in itself is strong. Let’s face it, as men we can’t even imagine what that is like!

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    Cover image: Savannah Miller. This page (Top To Bottom): Self-Portrait, Daphne Selfe, Richard Biedul, Melanie Griffith. All images by Alistair Guy.

    Interview by John-Paul Pryor