Holly Hay & Shonagh Marshall
Holly Hay and Shonagh Marshall are leading photographic editors and fashion curators in their own rights, and have recently joined forces as Ground Floor Project – a project that reconsiders fashion in the physical space, via curation, content and publishing projects.
On the eve of ‘Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion’ – their exhibition dedicated to the examination and exploration of the role of the female body in contemporary fashion photography – we met with Holly and Shonagh to talk working with friends, contemporary fashion photography and striking a pose.
How did you start working together, and when did you decide to found Ground Floor Project?
Holly: Shonagh and I have been great friends for a long time and of course always talked about work but Shonagh began talking to me about feeling like there was a space missing for exhibiting fashion. There are the institutions and commerce but not a lot in-between. We decided there could be real value in working with brands on curatorial fashion projects that were dynamic and contemporary.
Shonagh: Holly and I have such different skills that we thought it would be so amazing to experiment in the physical space. When we initially spoke about it, we felt it would be really exciting for our first project to focus on photography. I mentioned that I had noticed a shift in the way the body was positioned in the fashion image and Holly was really excited about exploring this. We went to The Outnet and asked if they might be open to partnering with us and they were really excited about the idea of Posturing which has led to our collaboration on the three elements; the exhibiton in London, the commissioned film to be screened at Miami Art Basel and the book which we will launch in Art Basel Hong Kong.
Could you elaborate on the plan for Ground Floor Project? How does your experience as a curator and editor respectively inform the project?
Holly: We bring together two very different working practices, Shonagh's curatorial experience with mine of contemporary fashion imagery and magazines. It felt like the people we work with would get a really unique offering, unlike any other agency set up.
Shonagh: For Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion for example we would only have been able to do the exhibition as a duo. Holly has the most amazing knowledge of contemporary fashion photography and the group of photographers featured is testament to this. I then stitched them together curatorially so that we had a coherent narrative, splitting the images up into themes around the different sections of a shoot.
Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion opens TOMORROW, what’s your thinking behind the exhibition?
Holly: To celebrate a movement in contemporary fashion photography that shows a really new approach to the body. Showing models posed in some really extraordinary positions and scenarios.
Shonagh: The exhibition is an exploration of the way pose effects the way we view a garment within a fashion image. By bringing together a group of twenty contemporary fashion photographers, we look at the way they position the body in their images. It feels really exciting to do a thematic group fashion photography exhibition as so often the focus is on one artist.
When considering gesture and pose in relation to both the body and clothes, to what extent would you say each informs the other?
Holly: We really want to show how these poses make you consider the garment in a totally new way. Often something isn't even worn the way it should be which feels very interesting considering these images have been made to sell fashion. It feels like a very different approach and we wanted to start a conversation around that.
Shonagh: It has been a really interesting exploration into the way in which the body’s position informs our reading of a garment. There is a great history in the way pose has changed throughout fashion photography responding to fashionable clothing. It is difficult to pin point what comes first and we are really looking forward to opening up the discussion around the way in which the body is posed and how this chimes with the clothing featured.
The exhibition of fashion – whether that’s a particular designer’s work, a collector, a moment or period – is gaining increasing traction on the *main stage* of exhibitions, such as MoMA’s Items: Is Fashion Modern? Why do you think that is?
Holly: Everyone has an opinion on fashion I think, it's very satisfying to see a show that you can learn from and relate to.
Shonagh: As Holly said fashion is something people find accessible, for the very basic reason that we all wear clothes. Exhibitions of dress have always been popular, and I think they are possibly gaining more attention with increased production values seen in shows such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty they become such an emotional experience and spectacle that people physically become a part of.
Could you tell me about the Art Club programme at Chess Club? What’s the thinking behind it, and what have you got coming up?
Holly: Our aim was to have an editorial approach to programming so devise series' of content as you would for a magazine but make them happen in real life. We do an Art Club every month where a gallery, artist or curator lends the club some work and we have a discussion around it. You learn so much from sitting with the people that know the work the best. In November we have Dominic Bell from Webber Gallery Space with their photographer Mel Bles. We also have Sam Bompas from Bompas and Parr coming to talk through his inspirations with a bag of tricks and Dr Vincent Giampietro from the Department of Neuroimaging at King’s College London doing lessons in the brain.
Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion will run 2 November - 12 November at 10 Thurloe Place. Join Marguerite for a private tour of the show with Holly and Shonagh on the morning of Friday 10 November!
Words by Billie Muraben. Photography by Holly Whittaker.