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The images that made me

How much does imagery help shape the person we become? Which photographs are the ones we remember as changing us in some way––creatively, personally, professionally––or simply as marking the passage of time?

We ask industry leaders, artists and experts in visual culture to talk us through the five photographs that have brought them to where they are now. Think Desert Island Discs, but make it art.

Over the past 15 years India May has been recognised for her colour work, collaborating with some of the industry’s leading photographers and creatives through her post-production and print house Hempstead May, and East London gallery and concept space Have a Butchers. India has has worked on imagery for Helmut Newton Archive, the late Elliott Erwitt, Juergen Teller, Anton Corbijn and Venetia Scott.

Based across London and New York, India has grown the female-led businesses, pushing boundaries and supporting women to access more opportunities within the male dominated industry of photography – something we find mega inspiring.

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Pirelli Calendar, Brian Duffy [1973]

This shot from the 1973 Pirelli Calendar shoot, which brought together two creative titans, Brian Duffy and Allen Jones, is one of my all time favourites. The colour and excitement is a sensory overload, fabulously deranged. The image, including a breast shot, was banned from the calendar, both considered too risque and perverse at the time.

The shoot opened my eyes, not just stylistically and for colour, but also the teaming together of different mediums with photography. The art work by genius Philip Castle is a constant reference for my work and a reminder to always step outside the box.

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After-Dinner Games, Irving Penn [1947]

I am a big fan of still life, which is handy because I have to work on still life photography a lot. This Penn image feeds all my senses; you can imagine how it smells, I can taste the coffee and hear the disdain in the loser’s breath … yet it is so simple. When working, this is what I am trying to achieve through colour, and I often come back to this image for guidance.

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Mum & Dad [1973]

My family is a big inspiration to me, particularly my parents. They are both style icons. Island hoppers who took me around the world with them whilst my dad performed. Most of the campaigns I create for Have A Butchers feature my family.

I am a nostalgic person, and have a huge archive of family photos that I’ve re-scanned and colour-worked over the years. This archive often forms the basis of my personal work.

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Four Days in LA: The Versace Pictures, Steven Meisel [2000] 

I love the larger than life women depicted in the Steven Meisel series, Four Days in LA. I am attracted to the colour and excess, the juxtaposition of glamour and tragedy, and again, always, the aesthetic that draws from nostalgia. This is an example of escapism through imagery for me, which, particularly in my younger years, was pivotal in shaping my view on photography and my own self-expression.

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Vivienne Westwood, Juergen Teller [2010]

Vivienne gave me my start when I arrived in London in 2002.

I had been working as a fashion illustrator in Sydney before I came to England. Marketing myself as a tall, Polynesian Princess I got a shop girl position in her flagship store on Conduit Street. She spotted me, made me a muse and catapulted me into the industry where I then spent the next five years, modelling and generally having an outrageously fabulous time. Fast forward another five years, I was scanning and colouring for Juergen Teller which included working on this arresting image. I love everything about it, but more than anything the audacity of it.

To me, at the time it felt like one of life’s full circle moments.

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The Goddess Who Bewitches The Three Worlds, Linder Sterling [1973]

Colour, humour and sexuality are at the forefront of what magnetises an image to me, and this picture by Linder Sterling has it all in bucket loads.

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Chris Brooks [2010]

I think it is important after talking about the images that made me, that I include an image that encompasses everything I have mentioned and love. This is how I present myself and my craft: strong and unapologetic.



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