Issue 48
Alex Cayley
British photographer Alex Cayley came into prominence in the
‘90s and has been shaping the industry with his solid yet ever-evolving style.
At age 13 Alex Cayley took a car cleaning job so he could pay for Italian Vogue. “The guy in the store would have to specially order it for me. I guess it was a bit unusual for a kid from East London,” he recalled. The self-starter taught himself photography while working at ‘Click Studios’, where he was exposed to the best photographers from both the U.K. and the U.S. For the celebrated photographer, striking the right balance is at the core of his aesthetics. “Beauty lies in confidence. But not too much,” explained Mr. Cayley, “having a style is important (but) the images you shoot should be very dependent on the publication”. Perhaps this ground rule is the secret which has kept his images robust with new ideas while maintaining his signature romanticism. A truly original identity in fashion photography, Mr. Cayley has made the biggest strides with his striking images that ran in the biggest titles in the world. His impressive portfolio includes campaigns with revered fashion houses from Kenneth Cole to Yves Saint Laurent. Also celebrities like Ben Affleck, Naomi Watts and Harrison Ford are just a few of the names he lensed.

As the fashion maven looks back his past decade in the creative world, Mr. Cayley shares memories from the thrills of getting his first job at a photo studio to his idea of beauty and aspirations.

MY DAD WAS INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY. He would turn the bathroom into a darkroom when I was a kid so (I) was aware of photography at a young age. Having said that, no-one in my family came from any art or artistic type of background. In terms of fashion photography, I have no idea where that comes from! I got my first job at the age of 18 in a rental photo studio called Click Studios. It was one of the best (there weren't many!) so I got to see a lot of different photographers from both London and the US who would shoot there. It was a great education.

WORKING IN NEW YORK. I assisted in New York in 93+94 and always wanted to move back. I moved back to London to develop my portfolio. Eventually moved back to New York in '99. Someone once said living in New York doesn’t make you a better photographer which I have to agree with but if you work in fashion and want to work it’s not a bad place to be.

THE EARLY ‘90S WAS AN EXCITING TIME. Maybe it was the age I was at but it did feel a bit more adventurous than the present climate. You only have to look at the amount of people in the fashion industry who came out of London during that time to realize the amount of creativity was around - from magazines to photographers to hair and make-up.
TRY NOT TO ANALYZE MY STYLE TOO MUCH. I like photographing things and people that interest me. I like photographing beautiful things and feel that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes. I do a lot of research before a shoot but then usually let the day of the shoot happen as organically as possible. There are always lots of variables involved so it's best to be relaxed and trust your instincts. It took me a while to have the ability and the confidence to act spontaneously!

THERE IS A BALANCE between aesthetic vision and a client’s request and I’m sure it’s one most photographers struggle with most of the time. When working with big houses, you hope to attain a level where your client comes to you for your specific point of view. Having said that, if you're a photographer working in a commercial arena (like fashion) then you always have to adhere to the clients requests - otherwise don't take the job - go take pictures and hang them on a wall and call yourself an art photographer.

I LIKE PHOTOGRAPHERS WHO HAVE A POINT OF VIEW. I think there's room for all types. I think there are some pretty bad photographers working a lot who are good at branding themselves and I think there's a lot of pretty good photographers not working.

I COME ACROSS A LOT OF ASSISTANTS who are trying to break into being photographers yet when I look at their work I wonder what they're trying to say. A lot of them haven't developed any kind of style or any point of view. Having said that, I think the quantity of images we see make it all the more difficult to stand out and actually have a cohesive point of view!

MAKE SURE YOU DO YOUR JOB if you want to be asked back! That job changes from magazine to magazine. I'd love to say I always shoot 'my' picture which is true to some extent but if you're working for Japanese Vogue you take a very different approach to the shoot than if you're shooting some independent magazine. The magazine has needs and certain parameters as to what is acceptable - so to not be aware of all that would mean a very short career.

Photography by Alex Cayley.
Opening Image: Anja Rubik
Words by Sunny Park