Glass talks to photographers Kourtney Roy and Wing Shya about their Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye books

Louis Vuitton’s Fashionable Eye – Five cities, countries and states through the eyes of fashion’s most renowned photographers

LOUIS Vuitton’s kinship with travel has been ever-present, starting back in 1854 when the house was founded. Over the years the popularity of their classic LV trunk has skyrocketed and evolved with the current landscape to accommodate the needs and wants of the glamorous wanderlusters (cue its recent refurb thanks to Australian designer, Marc Newson).

 

Story picture - Issue 28 - Equality - Louis Vuitton fashionable eye photo by Guy BourdinA photograph by Guy Bourdin included in Miami by Guy Bourdin, part of the Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye collection

Reaffirming the relationship between style and travel, the maison have launched Fashion Eye, a collection of travel photography books that evoke the true essence of a city, region or country through a renowned fashion photographer’s lens. Curating a mix of both emerging photographers as well as the late and the great, Louis Vuitton’s continent hopping travel books include: California by Kourtney Roy, Shanghai by Wing Shya, Miami by Guy Bourdin, Paris by Jeanloup Sieff and India by Henry Clarke.

Glass meets with the only two living photographers from this quintet to discover what makes their chosen cities or states so special to them.

Story picture Issue 28 - Equality - Louis vuirron fashionable eye photo by Kourtney Royjpg From California by Kourtney Roy in the Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye collection

Kourtney Roy: Secrets Of The Unremarkable

A child of the 1980s, Canadian-born, Paris-based photographer Kourtney Roy likes to explore the underbelly of mundane society, throwing light onto its darkness.

Often putting herself in the frame, and alone, she highlights her topic of specialty: everyday life. Her aesthetic is a culmination of fantasy and the ordinary – her self-described, “finicky aesthetic” is something that she puts down to her studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver and later honing in on this style at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.

Set in vast, wide-open spaces, at the intersection of where “nature meets civilisation” is where Roy’s work is most at home. She purposely sets her dejected and emotionless characters within the suburban sprawl, at humble movie-like motels, gas stations, parking lots and factories, reinforcing their ordinary existence and her dark sense of humour to produce shots that are beautifully jarring.

With Roy’s backdrop there is a sense of familiarity; her scenes have a cinematic quality that conjures up the great Hitchcock and Lynch-esque iconic film stills. She commonly cites movies as a major influence, and her love-come-obsession for them saw her visit the Californian locations where Hitchcock shot The Birds and Vertigo. Roy’s list of favourite films and filmmakers gives an insight into her world and photographic style, from Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and beloved filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Melville, Douglas Sirk and Werner Herzog, who, according to her, is a “madman possessed” but all for the right reasons.

With all this in mind, Roy’s intention for her California book is to capture the shadows that hide beneath the garish and bright exteriors of the sunshine state, photographing the unremarkable to reveal their secrets.

What inspires you about and draws you to California?
I was drawn to California because there is a sort of frozen deterioration in the desert landscape, as though time moves much slower despite the concurrent and continuous development taking place. California was for me a metaphor for the cinematic screen onto which I could project my images. There is an openness of the sky and desert that lends itself to a certain form of ambiguous storytelling.

Since you’re Canadian, is California the complete opposite to where you grew up? Or what would you say are their similarities and differences?
It is obviously different than Canada but the two places share a similarity in that they are a part of the North American landscape. The architecture of the landscapes dates from the 20th century – the development of the highway systems and car culture. Many of the sites are developed around this mode of transport: hotels and motels, gas stations, giant shopping centres in the middle of nowhere, natural and contrived tourist sites, diners and trailer parks. At the same time, the freezing and dry winters of Canada share a pure and voided affinity with the scorching desert heat of southern California.

Generally your photographs are very vibrant and colourful, and so is California. Is this what drew you to the State, and what does colour mean to you?
The natural colours of California are definitely something that lends itself well to my images, the warm and golden tones of the earth, the boundless blue skies. These colours are so intense and dazzling, the light floods everywhere, leaving nothing in darkness. I wanted to capture this intensity in my work. Colour does not have a specific signification for me; it is more like the world is in colour so why would I not also work in the same spectrum as how I perceive?

How do you view and envisage the Californian lifestyle?
Hmm, I’m not sure if I have an opinion on that. There are very many different types of ways of living in California with such diversity of people and culture that it would be erroneous of me to try to define and evaluate it.

Your photographs are often very stylised. Why is that and what are you hoping to express?
I try to make pictures that reflect the different stories and images inside my head. If they are stylised it is because there I am often drawn to a certain way of photographing and a certain light. My intent was to create anecdotal and ambiguous “slivers”, small moments captured that are a part of a larger unknown story, a bit like a film still, except the larger film is a mystery.

What inspires your photography?
Very often cinema influences my work. For this series I was inspired by American films from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s… Paris Texas, Bad Day at Black Rock, Electra Glide in Blue, The Last Picture Show, Badlands, Blue Velvet….

I also read a fair bit. Southern Gothic literature is a genre of literature that I love – the works of Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Cormac McCarthy, as well as the works of Raymond Carver, Hilary Mantel, Marilynne Robinson.

Do you ever think about the “American Dream” when shooting in the US? If so, how do you interpret it in your work?
No, I don’t really think about a big concept like the American Dream, my world is much smaller, more intimate and personal in a way. I am relying more on my own memories of childhood, films and images glimpsed that haunt a person… it is an intuitive process when I work that does not consciously take into account large general encompassing ideas or myths. I am trying more to find hints of the marvellous and magical in the everyday. I am dealing with much more quotidian and domestic themes in my work; the commonplace and overlooked are what often inspire me.

What are your favourite things to do and see and eat in California?
I usually spent my evenings drinking in whatever dive bars I could find wherever I happened to be. I did spend a lot of time eating at Sherman’s Deli and Bakery in Palm Springs; it became my go to place while shooting around the Yuma desert.

Story picture - Issue 28 - Equality - Louis Vuitton fashionable eye ,photo 3 by Wing ShyaFrom Shanghai by Wing Shya in the Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye collection

Wing Shya: No Set Rules

Born in Hong Kong in 1964, Wing Shya is a true multidisciplinary artist, turning his hand not only to photography, which has seen him exhibit globally at The Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, ION Art Gallery, Singapore and Louise Alexander Gallery, New York, but in recent years, to film as well.

As one of the most prolific creatives in Asia, Shya has worked with an array of leading fashion houses and publications. Best known by many for his photography that merges all the best qualities of art, fashion and cinema, he produces photographs that are eloquently described as “fragments of history, hanging from a thread”. Undoubtedly his time with renowned Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (whose films have been described as some of the most beautiful ever made), for whom Shya often served as exclusive photographer, gave his work this signature cinematic feel. He also cites William Chang Suk-ping, the art director and editor for all of Wong Kar-wai’s films, as an influence, in which his flexible working reaped huge rewards by exceeding expectations and yielding work that was full of life; this led to Shya’s realization that there are no rules or formulae to succeed.

Like Kourtney Roy, Shya also studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, and from there went on to establish his studio, Shya-La-La Workshop, in the mid 90s. This opened up his artistic approach to other media, from graphic design to ad campaigns, installations as well as his feature-length films, Hot Summer Days and its sequel, Love in Space.

It is in Shya’s film work where the blurring of mediums is most predominant. Feeding into each other, photographic elements can be seen in his films, and vice versa with cinematic qualities apparent in his photography. This aesthetic, through, whether for photography or film, is all about emotion, experimentation and repackaging the traditional Chinese culture. It became his purpose and creative mission to influence others in challenging conventions and traditions.

It is clear that Shya has a fascination with Shanghai, and that Louis Vuitton could not have selected a better storyteller to represent the city. A place full of diversity, it is exactly this multiplicity that Shya believes gives a sense of togetherness in Shanghai. A complicated relationship, it is something that he explores, communicates and compounds.

What is your connection to Shanghai and why is it so special to you?
Shanghainese shares the same root with Cantonese, the major dialect used in Hong Kong. And Hong Kong has a deep influence of Shanghai. The relation between the two is intangible and insatiable. It is perhaps the reason why Shanghai becomes a far more fascinating subject than any other in this project.

How would you describe Shanghai and its lifestyle?
Shanghai is the capital of a favourable blend of East and West cultures. It has the best of both worlds, whether in summer or winter. The poignancy can be seen from the apparent changes of the dynamics, through time, through people, through the seasons. It’s like a living organism that bears a very deep root of history.

What inspires you about the city and what is different about it?
Shanghai is a very iconic place when one thinks of China. Unlike the capital Beijing, which has a profound history of imperial influence and also cultural substance from the North, Shanghai is central to the idea of Han China and has encapsulated the essence of such, while she’s able to manoeuvre at a point where East meets West. Therefore the stories and the people of this place are greatly fascinating.

Your photographs have a historical feeling about them. Are you inspired by history in your work? Is there a specific time that inspires you, and why? Does Shanghai capture that period for you?
Shanghai has a fascinating past. My generation grew up with immigrants from Shanghai or TV series set there. It has always painted a rosy picture of the classic women and buildings in my mind.

How do you feel about Shanghai compared to Hong Kong, where you’re from?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong and received my tertiary education in Canada. Hong Kong is a place founded mainly by immigrants and the colonial British, while Shanghai could still retain part of the classical history of China.

What is your perfect weekend in Shanghai?
I am a big foodie and the traditional Shanghai buns and dumplings are my favourite. Browsing around the city along the bund is also a good experience. Under the backdrop of the western architecture, one gets carried away down the memory lane of history.

by Felicity Williams

Each volume in the Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye collection retails at £42. A limited edition collection of all five books, retails at £290