Ram Shergill was already a successful fashion photographer when he decided to go back to University, and started on the London College of Fashion MA in Fashion Photography. He has recently had five photos of Amy Winehouse accepted into the National Portrait Gallery’s archive, as well as releasing a book about the series, 'Amy by Ram'. We chatted to Ram about his return to education, and what it was like taking photos of Amy.
Why did you choose to do your MA in Fashion Photography at LCF?
I chose to do my MA in Fashion Photography at LCF as it ticked all the boxes of being a contemporary Master’s course, where you could develop your practice and knowledge even if your level was intermediate or professional. Added to this there were a lot of unique selling points for me, for example, being mentored by world-class practitioners who are at the top of their field, gallery visits, field trips, amazing lectures and lecturers- the list is endless. LCF/ UAL is also situated in the hub of what is happening around the world in terms of Fashion and Art. Taking into consideration all the colleges it has under its umbrella. Personally, I thought LCF would be a brilliant base to begin to collaborate with people and practitioners from other courses to improve my practice and knowledge.
You’re an established photographer, why did you choose to go back into Higher Education?
I feel that in everyone’s life it is good to stop and reflect on one’s practice at some point. Prior to the course, I had been working for international editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ and many more. This was an excellent time in my life, in which I would be travelling non- stop and photographing the most glamorous models in far- off exotic locations. However, I came to the conclusion that I needed ‘more’. I wanted to delve into philosophy and find a more meaningful approach in what I was doing. This would be to primarily improve what I could do in the future, by using a new skillset and knowledge to feed my practice.
Congratulations on having 5 pieces accepted into the National Portrait Gallery’s archive! How did this come about?
Paul Bevan my tutor from the MA Fashion Photography took us to see various galleries and exhibitions during the course, this would help the group in creating a vision. The galleries were not just limited to Photography but also a Fine Art perspective was explored. One of the many gallery visits was an appointment with the NPG archive.
Clare Freestone from the NPG showed us an incredible selection of photographs and artworks by Madame Yevonde, Cecil Beaton and many more. After the talk I mentioned to Clare that I had a body of work which had never been seen before, and would she be interested to see the images at all. She gave me her card and the conversation started, this involved many meetings I attended with my colleague and Editor, Daen Palma Huse over a period of a year, to choose which images that would work for the NPG, and which ones they would like to acquire.
How did the photos of Amy Winehouse come about?
The photos of Amy came about originally from a commission from The Guardian. There was no hair or make- up involved, Amy would do it herself.
At this time I was photographing regularly for The Guardian in my studio at East India Dock. I had many artists and talent come through my doors including Eddie Redmayne, Robert Pattinson, Rufus Wainwright, Paloma Faith and many more. What was relevant for me was that they were all in the beginning stages of their careers. I would mentor them in terms of how they would perform in front of my lens and often we would have discussions on how they would get to where they wanted in terms of career goals. Many of these discussions were had in the back garden of my studio which overlooked the River Lea.
This was a very exciting period in my career development and also theirs. The whole story of the Amy shoot can be seen in my new limited first edition book, Amy by Ram.
How would you describe the images you take? Who are your influences?
The images I take are a ‘subconscious exploration into human aspiration’, meaning I like to explore how you can be the best version of yourself.
For example, when you look at yourself in the mirror you always try to look in a certain way in order to get that split second glimpse of when you look ‘good’, once you get that glimpse you can then look away not to look at yourself until the next time to look is needed. I feel that I am capturing that dialogue through my lens.
This can however sometimes lead to capturing more of a dark persona of a reflection. I was mentored by Alexander McQueen at the beginning of my photographic journey, he told me he was into the ‘macabre’. This has been my key source of inspiration over the many years of my practice. His mentoring would make me look at the darker aspect too of the human psyche, which would be taken through in more of my personal work. Isabella Blow also mentored me and helped me find my ‘style’ and she helped in directing my vision as an artist.
What piece of work are you most proud of, and why?
I am proud of all the work I have created, and have different relationships with each piece.
The ones that do stand out for me are the images that I have created with Philip Treacy, which appear in his book ‘Philip Treacy’, published by Rizzoli. The images are significant for me in that they represent where I came from, my beginnings as a photographer.
In the images the model, Flo Dron is wearing Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen and for me Flo symbolises the personality of Isabella Blow in her performance for the camera.
What is next for you?
I will be continuing my practice as a photographer and exploring different mediums of expression through Fine Art in various galleries globally, also through undertaking a PhD program.
Top image: Amy Winehouse by Ram Shergill, 2014 on the National Portrait Gallery website in 2019