THE NEW ZEALAND-born, London-based photo-artist, Jamie Mcleod has produced a new book entitled I Created Me featuring largely unseen photos from McLeod’s 20-year-old archive of his work with the singer and performer Marc Almond who he describes as “his muse, patron and friend”. Published by the French publishers Timeless, the book contains mostly unseen images completely reworked to create a whole new dream-sequence of imagery. McLeod spent more than a year working on the imagery to create stills with a cinematic feel, spiced up and sliced up for the imagination to go wild with.
The other aspect of the book is what McLeod calls his “B-sides” – these are the less commercial images, that perhaps are the most revealing and intimate, showing off Marc’s persona in the realm of physical theatre and as the eternal exhibitionist.
Performing in what McLeod calls “imaginary operettas”, creating a space where Marc can role-play and invent various personas both in the studio setting and on the street. There’s a large section of new portraits of Almond, inspired by the ‘Marc and the Mambas’ reformation for the Meltdown show in 2012 with various images McLeod made as stage projections for the show. A series of exotic mug shots with masks, tainted, tinted and distressed portraits using shadow-play and poetry, drenched in voodoo and varieté, evocative, tantalising imagery of both glamour and sin, using the street as the gutter, to marvel at the stars. The book is equally tailored for the hardcore Marc Almond fan as it is for the aficionados of innovative, modern portraiture. Interspersed with the magnificently reproduced photos are short stories and texts by Marc’s most important collaborators.
A stellar cast from his extensive 40-year career by the likes of Dave Ball, Anohni from Antony and the Johnson’s, Matt Johnson of The The, Jim Thirlwell from Foetus, Lindsay Kemp, Othon, Anni Hogan, Val Denham, Siouxsie Sioux to name but a few.
Image of Marc Almond by Jamie Mcleod from I Created Me
What is I Created Me about?
It’s a big fat hardback, full coloured book with 200 pages of sumptuous graphic portraits on the singer-songwriter Marc Almond exploring our over 20-year creative collaboration.
How did you meet Marc Almond?
We started making images after I showed Marc my black and white portraits of various people I had collected from my vagabond journeys around the globe. From street scenes in Cairo, soldiers in back street cafes smoking with kohl around the eyes, rubbish men with prison tattoos in Prague, transsexual streetwalkers in Barcelona and Istanbul, to the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The work had a retro exotic feel, as if from another era with a hard charcoal contrast and resonance as if my subjects had been incinerated in a fire. My images were from forbidden places, reeking with lust and mayhem, in danger zones prohibited to most. A bit like an updated take on Brassai’s 1930’s body of work called Paris After Dark. In those days I worked the doors of after hour nightclubs in Soho and on some nights Marc would pass by and say hello until I puckered up the courage to show him some of my work.
I always kept postcard copies of my work in my bomber jacket so I never forgot the journey of where I had came from and where I was going. They were dog-eared mementos, ratty and stained copies of very bleak subjects, but somehow in those “noir” ideas was a form of glamour and I guess, a thing called horror. It all started by me simply asking Marc to be my sitter with no real target other than making art and being inventive. Little did we know it would take on a life of it’s own and be this 20-year photographic journey creating the most powerful black and white brutal portraits as if they were made out of another era, out of time, out of current fashion and out of all current trends.
Strange imagery, like criminal mug shots made with low-fi antique equipment, shot on film and processed analogue style by myself on vintage cameras and then printed by myself in the darkroom in my kitchen with absolutely no Photoshop at the beginning of our collaboration which started in and around 1998. Photoshop and digital cameras came much later, and I then learnt to use that new tech to our full advantage to make our ideas and dreams to become real.
How did the work evolve, and what was your working process with Marc to create this massive body of work?
The images were all shot very quickly, capturing the metamorphosis of Marc transforming from the man to the myth. I wanted to somehow witness the magic at play in this process of him being a regular geezer to the one people adore and idolise on stage. I wanted to somehow capture through my images a glimmer of how he evokes the power to walk on stage and have hundreds of adoring fans applaud and how he lives up to this mythic and almighty character in doing so.
With people he knows and trusts, he’s incredibly spontaneous and willing to try new ideas and nothing seemed out of bounds when we worked together. So we started this way, by making portraits of him backstage before the show, in the mirror while applying making up and chatting, and before my eyes he would transform.
We then proceeded to do street shoots in places he was synonymous with, like Soho and in other old London Dickensian type of places like under an abandoned wharf alongside the Thames in Bermondsey, he would pose for me sometimes in these amazing leather and horse hair outfits by the designer Todd Lynn. Later on we would trawl around other evocative and historic places like Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End, to as far away as places like Istanbul, then to Barcelona to one of Jean Genet’s old haunts, the infamous absinthe bar called the Marsella Bar. I then got interested in bombing him with slide projections of cut ups. Words from his own songs and reconfiguring narratives with random words to create a new lyric, Burroughs style. To regurgitate and to spew up words and ideas and to add some of my own into this hieroglyphic mix. Words and phrases such as “Santo Marco, Diva, Slut, Addicted, L’Esqualita, Crime Sublime, Pig Boy, Mi Divino dancing with100 Chihuahuas”.
Funnily enough after making this body of work I collaborated on a London exhibition in 2001 on Marc called Adored & Explored and the poet and brilliant cult writer Jeremy Reed was so inspired by these photos of cut-up lyrics on Marc’s face and body he asked me to make a book with him named after the show. So out of every creative endeavour, energy creates more energy and that’s how things flow and morph and carry on to create a river of work like what we created in this new book.
What difference or changes do you think you bring to Marc’s image that other photographers couldn’t or hadn’t?
You need to understand when I first proposed my ideas to Marc he was more accustomed to a more “high end glamour” with big expensive shoots in hi-tech scenarios that cost a lot of money paid for by a record company’s with excessive budgets before all their budgets got slashed and the record industry as we once knew it basically died. Marc’s image was synonymous with the fantastic and seamless, airbrushed styled imagery from the likes of major camp, great pop styled artists like Pierre y Gilles. He saw something different worth pursuing and he took a big risk working with a completely unknown, unproven artist like me. He believed in my rough and ready approach. I guess because at the heart of Marc is an adventurer and an iconoclast in his outlook to his art and to life itself he has this irreverence and northern humour to want to break the rules.
He’s also a thrill seeker and he has the unbridled outlook of a hyperactive child to just create off the cuff, and to not care what anyone thinks. I guess our approach was the same when him and Dave Ball created their epic electro-pop group Soft Cell which was created from nothing, but from their art school bonding to in an impoverished bed-sit in Leeds with absolutely no money to world wide glory.
When we worked on ideas it really was a form of alchemy and magic and at the start there was no agenda and there was no commerce involved, which made us completely free to do anything, so in this way our intentions were really quite pure and we pandered to no one other than ourselves and to the image at hand. Marc was simply generous enough to perform for my camera and allowing me in to his space and imagination.
I think the idea of walking around London with a few garments in his bag and a broken pocket mirror to apply bit of slap and eyeliner and an ancient metal box of a camera that I lugged around and taking photos in situ, sometimes in fraught and dangerous locations appealed to him as it did to me. We never really sat down and planned images out, one of us just suggested an idea with a certain mood and reference. Later on, when I had shown Marc that I could also create commercial styled images did we work in a different style to make more pop styled imagery for posters, albums, magazines and promotion etc. And that’s when digital cameras came in and Photoshopped imagery which did make photography inexpensive and with another more commercial type of sheen to it.
Is there anything about Marc that people don’t actually know from his public to private persona?
Actually yes, there are many things, but only one that I’m willing to disclose. Marc is actually quite butch and masculine as a person and not camp at all and he can look after himself if push comes to shove. Camp and playing with gender and over emotional performance is one thing used to full effect in songs but as a man he’s incredibly strong and inspiring with his work ethic and invention. Like a boxer he gets up again and again to fight another day and try something new.
When was the book launch and exhibition you made in London and how did that go?
The book launch and exhibition was at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury last year. It was a brilliant night with the musician Martin McCarrick reading a piece he wrote for the book about his memories of an amusing incident from his years working with Marc. There was some poetry by Jeremy Reed and a film of my images projected on a screen by the artist called 3P, aka Gerry McNee. The book publishers came with a stack of books for sale from France and I sold my one off T-shirts and it was a real treat for me to actually fill the room with so many extraordinary people who come together over the love of my work and to pay homage to Marc’s brilliance.
What are your future plans?
I’m always doing the nuts and bolts work to a new image or adding to an existing body of work for future exhibitions or being commissioned to create work for others. There hopefully is a group show I’m curating for next year with my work and a few other artists I admire but right now I can’t give details on that.
Who is the French publishing house Timeless and what style of artists have they published and represent?
Timeless are a unique French publishing house who specialise in esoteric and occult artists with highly collectable, rare and limited edition works. Books and artwork by the likes of Aleksandra Waliszewska, artwork of the deceased Peter Christopherson and John Balance from Coil, Annie Bandez, Pascal Doury, Lou Lou Picasso and many more. Artwork from underground musicians to Manga styled erotic comic art. There really are not very many independent publishing houses like them, who work outside of all corporate entertainment control. They are a law unto themselves. Thanks god for the rare people like ‘Timeless’ and the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury London.
by Caroline Simpson