At Arles, Ann Ray plunges us into the intimate world of Alexander McQueen
At this year’s Rencontres d'Arles, French photographer Ann Ray takes us on an intimate journey into the world of one of fashion’s most iconic designers. A humble and touching exhibition shows Alexander McQueen in a new light.
Par Léa Zetlaoui
Installed in the blacksmith neighbourhood of the city of Arles, just a few minutes from the Luma Foundation, Ann Ray is showing her exhibition “The Unfinished McQueen”. The respected - revered even - designer Lee McQueen, better known as Alexander, remains one of fashion's most influential people. In 2011 the exhibition Savage Beauty held at the New York Met celebrated the most iconic creations of the English designer, who’d committed suicide a few months earlier at home in London. Over the last two years Alexander McQueen has also been the subject of a documentary and a photography book. In 2018, French photographer Ann Ray, who accompanied him for 13 years, from the end of 1997 to 2010, pays tribute to the man behind the creator, showing a more intimate side to the man the fashion world still calls “l’enfant terrible”.
2 people, 13 years and 35,000 silver halide photographs. While these three numbers don’t exactly summarise the special link between photographer Ann Ray and designer Lee Alexander McQueen, they offer a glimpse into its strength. A sensitive and discreet character, Alexander McQueen expressed himself best through his dramatic and powerful collections and his spectacular runway shows. Yet Ann Ray, who’s worked notably with the Opera de Paris, managed to penetrate the intimate world of the English designer, from his studio and backstage to his own home. These fly on the wall images – he would say to her, “catch me if you can” – reveal a brighter side to the designer’s nature. The prowess of a man who tended to let the darker parts of his character speak through his collections. By choosing Lee, the designer’s real name, as the title of her show, the photographer subtly shows that she alone penetrated the inner sanctum of the designer.
Out of the 35,000 archive photos, Ann Ray has chosen to show 200. A colossal selection process. Divided into themes, the images explore the different facets of Lee McQueen: his relationship with women and his muses, his proximity to nature, his immense respect for craftmanship, his death, his inspirations… Ann Ray succeeds in reviving, with both emotion and humility, the poetic aura of an extraordinary character. Through the chosen photos, but also thanks to the size of the prints and the manner in which they're hung, this exhibition provides a genuine connection with one of the greatest fashion designers ever.
"The Unfinished Lee McQueen” by Ann Ray