With Alex Sainsbury‘s photography gracing our latest print cover once again, we thought it fitting to revisit our feature with Alex from the Volume VII vault.
Hailing from London, Alex Sain is well known within the British fashion sphere for his intimate portrait work, regularly featured on the pages of Dazed and Confused, i-D, Vogue or Interview magazine, to name a few. With a unique eye for composition and lighting, Alex doesn’t only excel at shooting people on fashion sets; his personal work holds a certain mystique we’ve been fascinated by for a while.
One might say that the beauty of photography comes from the implicit message an image carries: from the choice of the subject matter, which angle the image has been taken from, to the lighting, framing, the intensity or lack of blur… A subtle combination of parameters that often says a lot about the situation at hand and the person behind the lens, turning a slide of celluloid into an opinion piece.
Alex’s work shines in that exact regard. More than being aesthetically striking, his photographs—whether they are portraits of his close friends, internationally known artists, or snapshots of his daily life—raise questions about our surrounding world, leading us into a dream-like state, wondering if what’s in front of us is real or not.
We’ll leave you with a selection of his professional and personal work, along with a few anecdotes from the man himself.
This image is part of a project I was working on called Homogenitus. Homogenitus was the name given to manmade clouds in 2017 by the World Meteorological Organization. The project came about as I was documenting landscapes and started to notice recurring cloud formations in the images. So I set about putting together an exhibition of photographs and collected information. Aiming to form a dialectic link between chemtrails and contrails, in order to create an awareness of Homogenitus, along with the possible impact that the subject matter may have on humanity and our planet. I’ve always been drawn to conspiracy theories—I think it has something to do with the fact they’re kind of like modern-day myths, floating on the internet somewhere between fact and fiction.
Jack Whitefield, 2018
Montol, Penzance, 2018
Untitled, London, 2016
I recently put this image that I shot years ago into a charity auction for the David Lynch Foundation that I organised at the gallery I was running. The David Lynch Foundation is a charity for consciousness-based education and world peace. This fundraiser was set up to teach transcendental meditation to kids in schools. I’ve been interested in meditation since I was a kid after reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. When I first heard about Transcendental Meditation® I went and bought a CD that David Lynch released a few years back in 2006 called Catching the Big Fish. I thought the CD would be him telling me how to do Transcendental Meditation®. Turns out it was just him telling me how good it is, and that you should sign up for the course, and then you had to pay to learn. So instead of paying, I decided to trawl the internet for any information on how to do it. It turns out it’s copyright protected and almost impossible to find. But like everything, if you persevere you will get what you’re looking for in the end. Someone actually told me the other day, that one of the reasons you have to pay is a way of making you commit and show a willingness to focus your energy on meditation and the course. Maybe instead of paying in cash, I paid my dues with trying to find another way in. Anyway, I thought it was kind of fitting to use this image in the exhibition as a subliminal message back to him.
Courtney Love, 2014
I shot this for Vanity Fair while on another job in Venice Italy. To me, Courtney was the wife of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, and one of my favourite bands as a teenager. In my mind, I almost blamed her in some way for his death. I suppose its easy to blame someone but at the end of the day we’re all responsible for our own actions. It’s funny when you meet a person that you feel like you have known for so long and know so much about, but in reality, you don’t, because all your preconceptions just seem to go out the window and dissolve as soon as you meet them. She was, as you can imagine, larger than life. When I met her she was busy chanting Buddhist chants in her hotel room. She told me she had to do it twice a day. I read somewhere she credited Buddhist meditation chants with “saving” her life after using the mantras to completely overcome her drug troubles. Apparently she found inner peace when she turned to Buddhism and claims twice-daily chants have transformed her life and aided her sobriety.
She told the U.S. talk show host David Letterman, “What really saved me was, obviously, going to meetings and stuff like that, but I’m a Buddhist. I chant and I’m really serious about it. I chant twice a day.”
She says she relies on one particular devotional mantra to keep her mind clear and focused: “I’m Nichiren Buddhist so it’s Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. So I sit there in the morning, ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo,’ and it changed my life. Absolutely. It turned everything around.”
Anti-Trump protest, 2018
Danny Fox, London, 2015
Danny’s a good friend of mine. I used to help him photograph his paintings back in the early days. We used to un-stretch his paintings, roll them up to get them out of his studio and then we used to take them to my studio and stretch them back out again to photograph them. A lot of memories at this studio. It saw a lot of people come through the doors. If only walls could talk.
Lindsay Lohan, London, 2014
I shot this around the time Lindsay Lohan moved to London in 2014. Lohan made her stage debut in October 2014, starring in the London West End production of David Mamet’s « Speed-the-Plow », a satire about the movie business. She portrayed Karen, the secretary of a Hollywood executive, in a role originally played by Madonna. In my eyes, I’ve always seen Lindsay more like my generation’s Marilyn Monroe. She was an interesting character though. She chain-smoked and drank enough red bull to warrant a sponsor. Looking back on it now I suppose she was getting into character. I suppose some actors eventually end up in some way living the role they take on for a while. When we finished the shoot, she took both me and my ex-girlfriend (who was doing her hair)’s phone numbers. She never called me but hung out with my ex a couple of times. Apparently they fell out with each other, and Lindsay never called her back. The last thing I heard, was that Lindsay is said to be converting to Islam.
Untitled, San Sebastian, 2016
Sue Webster, Porthmeor Studios, 2018
Sue’s become a good friend of mine over the last few years. We got to know each other whilst she was doing an artist residency down at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, Cornwall, and I was the appointed groundskeeper over at Danny Fox’s hideaway. Sue was working on her book I was a teenage Banshee. I think her book started out as what she calls her crime scene, which is a massive collage on her studio wall back in London, made out of a bunch of her possessions she had kept in three boxes since she was a teenager, with a spider web linking all of the items back to a photo of her. She came to the conclusion from doing this that almost everything of what she knew in adult life could be traced back to four albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The book, akin to a phonebook-thick self-portrait, links the four Siouxsie Sioux albums with a lineage of cultural and personal history: Sue shows that everything is somehow connected to one of these four releases, from Edvard Munch, The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, artist Richard Hamilton, and Patti Smith to Laurie Lee, band t-shirts, childhood photographs. And at the centre, Sue’s incredibly personal diary.
Extinction Rebellion, London, 2019
This was amazing to witness. People from all walks of life coming together to protest for climate justice. They managed to partially close London down for a week. It completely changed the energy of the city at the time. They managed to slow things down and made people think. I remember some groups of people were praising them and others were hating them. It seems funny to think about it now, but nothing could have prepared the world for what’s happening at the moment. It’s almost like Mother Nature had her own protest planned.