As someone who has the desire to document, I become the stable factor in the chaos around me
Robyn Beeche .
Robyn Beeche moved from Sydney, Australia to London in the mid 1970’s. From catwalk shows to clubs, she captured the leading artists and designers of the time and works extensively with the artists and designers including Zandra Rhodes, Viviënne Westwood, Leigh Bowery and Mary Quant, collaborating with famous make-up artists Richard Sharah, Phyllis Cohen and Richard Sharples. Her Photographs explore a decade of the change in London in the 1980’s.
Since 1985, she has based herself in Northern India, documenting the festivals and culture of region known as Vraj.
make-up Phyllis Cohen, collar by Richard Sharples, courtesy of Vidal Sassoon . .
About the documentary
More than seven years ago Australian Filmmaker Lesley Branagan came across Robyn Beeche’s images in a magazine profile and was immediately struck by her work and her story.
And, although Beeche was spending most of her time in India, she happened to be visiting Australia at the time, and they met.
”I instantly knew I wanted to make a film about her,” Branagan says. ”It was the life story, that leap of giving up the commercial success for something deeper in India”, but it was also the power of the images themselves.
Leigh Bowery by Robyn Beeche
In London in the ’80s, Beeche was drawn to people who were part of the intersecting worlds of art, music and fashion, and who were fascinated by the possibilities of physical transformation. They included Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, singer and club figure Steve Strange and artist and provocateur Andrew Logan.
Some of her most striking photographs from this time are of the painted body, the self-transformed with elaborate, detailed tromp l’oeil inventiveness – the body becomes a canvas, a site of exploration, a work of art.
Beeche’s images are often creative collaborations, but they also have a recording imperative. For Branagan, Beeche’s impulse was to put others at the centre, and to build an archive, of their work, of the scene, of the times. ”It was a very useful tendency to have by the time she came to document the festivals in India.”
Zandra Rhodes by Robyn Beeche
Vivienne Lynn for Zandra Rhodes by Robyn Beeche .
It was a collaboration with Rhodes that first led Beeche to India, and to another life and sense of purpose – but always with a camera in her hand. For the past 25 years, she has lived in an ashram at Vrindavan, a pilgrimage city in Uttar Pradesh. And part of her spiritual practice is to document the religious life around her. This can vary from serenity to ecstasy, particularly when it comes to the ancient Hindu festival of Holi, and its kinetic, uninhibited rituals.
For this kind of work, Branagan says, ”You need tenacity, a sense of roundedness, a sense of egolessness, as well as the photographic skills. It’s not about you, you have to surrender to the chaos to get what you can get.”
Beeche is also uniquely placed to understand the religious dimensions of some of the most spectacular, chaotic aspects of what she’s portraying. ”And I think she is trying to capture the transcendence she has experienced herself.”
‘Body deformation’ photographs by Robyn Beeche
At the same time, she adds, Beeche’s endeavour is backed up by hours of hard work. ”It’s incredibly pragmatic, and she has to stay very focused to achieve what she has achieved. She has been there for 25 years and created this large archive as a legacy which scholars from around the world are now accessing.”
It took time, Branagan says, for Beeche to become accustomed to being the subject. Yet she feels that Beeche was ready to have a film made about her. ”She had a couple of approaches around that time, she was starting to have a few exhibitions and retrospectives. I think she felt she was coming to a certain point when somebody could document her life and pull it all together in that way.”
Vivienne Lynn by Robyn BeecheJapanese model Vivienne Lynn became the mannequin for Willy Brown’s Modern Classics collections, and a beautiful canvas for Richard Sharah’s make-up.
Interview with Robyn BeecheYou made your mark while living and working in 80s London, in the very thick of the fashion world. Tell us about that era?
Robyn Beeche: There is a saying, “being in the right place at the right time” and to be in London in the 80s was just that. Remembering that there were no computers nor Photoshop and our collaborative pursuit was not for financial gain, we set the parameters to explore each and everyone’s individual talents. I ran my studio as an open house to share and achieve the best possible image and to have a good time doing it. We were propelled on by the street scene and there were no boundaries which creative directors impose, it was freedom to create.
Of course this did not pay the rent so other work had to be found and gradually after the Observer magazine put Sonia Shadows on their front cover, it was the commercial seal of approval and we began to get some advertising work. Working with designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood and artists Andrew Logan and Carol McNicoll; it was really very exciting and fulfilling on so many levels. The androgynous Divine became my best friend and what with Andrew Logan’s ‘Alternative Miss World’ events, there was never a dull moment!
Divine by Robyn Beeche
Zandra Rhodes is my favourite designer as her talent is inexhaustible to this day. Her inspiration comes from her environment and her textile design comes from those impressions of landscape or whatever. I loved her 70s designs which carried no buttons or zips — free cloth, moving beautifully. Vivienne Westwood is also a great talent and I would also add Issey Miyake to that list. It is hard not to like Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. Nowadays I like Manish Arora in India.
As part of your exhibition Fade to Grey, your documentary A Life Exposed – Robyn Beeche: A Photographer’s Transformation will be playing. What can we expect from that?
It is quite daunting to be the subject of a documentary film and to be on the other side of the camera, but Lesley Branagan has done a very good job of weaving all the strands of my life together and after my initial nerves I realise it has had such a good response from the general public and many have written to say how they have been inspired. So that makes me believe that the importance and purpose of sharing my work is for others to perhaps try a different approach to their own photographic talents.
Faces by Robyn Beeche
It is fair to say that my work is often described as treading a line between fashion and art photography. The collection of 80s photographs initially came into the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra via the fashion curator, Robyn Healy. After 30 years some of them are hanging alongside Bill Henson’s work so they have taken on a new meaning, I think, due to the fact that they have a timeless quality and are viewed in a different way. That was always uppermost in my mind when I did the shot; that it had universal appeal and remained timeless.
Learning about myself has been the biggest learning experience in my career. I mean by that, there is so much learning to do with regards to relationships with others and in order to practice my craft this became paramount. India has taught me selfless behaviour and service and they remain the anchors in my life.
Fashion means many things to me — a sculptor can fashion a stone into an exquisite piece, a face can be adorned by a ‘fashionable’ look, it does not mean that I should change my wardrobe every season! I believe that everybody possesses ‘creativity’ whether it be a highly priced artist or it can be a craftsman in India designing and creating the most beautiful textile. It is the anonymity which is the key — some have the opportunity of making money from it and some don’t even get exhibited, but the fashion and the creativity which lasts is that which remains so inspirational and if we seek to find it, it is all there.
Faces by Robyn Beeche
A life exposed
To watch the whole documentary go to:
To buy the dvd go to: http://alifeexposed.com/
BookAustralian photographer Robyn Beeche discovered a new world when she went to London in the late 1970s. From catwalk shows to clubs, Beeche captured the leading designers and artists of the time, becoming an important photographer of the fashion world and working extensively with designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood, Bill Gibb and Mary Quant. Working with legendary make-up artists such as Richard Sharah and Phyllis Cohen, Beeche took fashion photography to a new level, creating surrealistic masterpieces. While the Blitz club was the place to be at the start of the 1980s, a few years later Beeche discovered the beauty of India, particularly the region of Vraj, which she visited on many occasions to document local festivals and culture. She moved to Vrindavan permanently in 1992. Through Beeche’s superb photography, this book conveys the vibrancy of London and the richness of India, beautifully capturing the tapestry of life in both countries. .
.information Robyn Beeche: The Sydney Morning Herald (Philippa Hawker) Oyster magazine (Introduction: Jerico Mandybur interview: Melissa Kenny)