The Belgian fashion designer turned artist and A Magazine N°1 curator posits the discipline of self-portraiture to be as open-ended as the man, the myth and the legend himself, in the series Self-Portraits on display at Eenwerk Gallery, Amsterdam.
A/18 Simone Rocha
Self, Son and Simone
By Kerry J Dean
A Magazine Curated By presents ‘Self, Son and Simone’, a new zine by British photographer Kerry J Dean made in collaboration with A N°18 curator Simone Rocha for Autumn Winter 2020. Photographed during lockdown in the striking natural landscapes of Sussex, England, the images gently evoke themes of motherhood, joy, calm, loss and sadness in an intimate portrait of Dean and her young son.
Rocha first discovered Dean’s work through the 2015 series Pom Pom Girls, images that document the quotidian outfits of Mongolian school girls topped with exuberant hair scrunchies in contrast with the vast and sandy landscapes of their desert homes. Dean and her husband moved from London to the English countryside before lockdown this February, settling in an old flower nursery filled with outbuildings, greenhouses, fields and woodlands. Though initially a daunting task, their crumbling archipelago would soon provide the perfect backdrop for Dean’s creative projects.
On reaching out to the Irish designer, Dean admits, ‘Somehow, I just knew it had to be Simone’. Their conversations saw Dean reveal her newfound home to Rocha along with sweeping views and seascapes. Rocha was on board in an instant, and sent pieces from the Autumn Winter 2020 collection. ‘There was something very freeing in having time to discover and re-discover Simone’s pieces,’ she told A Magazine. ‘It wasn’t, “we’ve shot that outfit, onto the next;” it was a very different process for me, as there was no time restriction and there was no brief. It was me doing the things I wanted to do.’
Originally Dean planned to comment on the Spring lockdown through her images. ‘I wanted to record it in some way but didn’t want it to be pure documentation. It was about the transformation and really focusing on myself and my family.’ After a personal loss in recent months, Dean was grieving, too. ‘When I talk about heartbreak and heart joy in the zine, it’s sort of the absolute extremes of a change of life, family, loss of family, being isolated, feeling immensely grateful and lucky whilst also grieving and feeling heartbroken.’ Admitting some friends and family members have met the zine with floods of tears, Dean explores the beauty in sadness as a running chord that builds to a crescendo across the zine. ‘When I had my son, I was nervous about being a mum in a creative industry, I won’t lie,’ she continued ‘And I felt concerned about people knowing that I was a mum and this idea that you’re not as available or your input is somehow less. I took my son to Mongolia when I was pregnant and that created quite a stir.’ Often, she explained, people want to hide the fact they are mothers in the fashion industry. ‘I can respect that, because I understand where it comes from,’ she reflected.
When Dean received Rocha’s designs at home, the photographer spent considerable time with the pieces, keen to understand and become familiar with the multi-layered garments both physically and emotionally. One theatrical silhouette included three separate layers of fabric with two cross-over bags, a head-band, long beautiful earrings, shoes and long stockings. ‘It’s a laborious way of dressing,’ said Dean. Dressing in this way not only empowered Dean, but allowed her to discover feelings of comfort and laisser-aller when it comes to dressing up, especially when in isolation. ‘There’s no ceremony to my daily choice of clothing’, said Dean. And whilst Rocha’s ceremonial and extravagant clothing often features tulle, silks, embroidery, puffed sleeves and empowering shapes, it also conveys important messages – and for this collection explores the cycle of birth, life and (like Dean) loss. Underneath layer upon layer of Rocha’s creations is a nude body, a mother; a photographer using a timer – or at times, her husband – to capture a glimpse of this lingering emotion after months in isolation.
The process itself was laborious, despite its effortless appearance. ‘It was chaos’, admitted Dean. ‘If someone was watching it would be like a comedy sketch’, she admitted, between self-timers and the help of her husband whilst masterfully orchestrating hair, makeup, the clothing, lighting, her young child and holding her own pose whilst arranging the camera. One series in the zine captures the look of innocence and love between Dean and her son as they sit on a sofa, he engulfed in one of the dresses as his mother stares from above in pure stillness. ‘You have a feeling when it works, and the calmer images are really beautiful. It was a kind of beautiful process – stressful with him but fun to look back on. I think I’m still processing what it was,’ said Dean.
Inside the self-published, unbound zine, Dean’s imagery is left to speak for itself, other than a single 19th century poem by William Butler Yeats. ‘I had searched for a poem for weeks and couldn’t find anything fitting,’ said Dean, ‘Until my husband presented Yeats. I read it and wept. The idea of offering up ones dreams.. It’s a brave thing to do and the only thing to do.’
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,
William Butler Yeats
‘Self, Son and Simone’ is distributed free in Simone Rocha’s stores in London, New York and Hong Kong, as well as limited copies at Dover Street Market London and Dover Street Market Ginza.
A Magazine Curated By is offering our readers the chance to order back issues of A Magazine N°18 Curated By Simone Rocha (2018) here with a complimentary copy of ‘Self, Son, and Simone’ included with purchase.
Limited copies are also for sale at Ofr Paris, with proceeds donated to Trussell Trust, a UK-based food bank charity.
Words by Alexandra Castle
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