At first glance, Charlie Engman wouldn’t seem like the one of the new go-to young photographers in high fashion. He has a degree in Japanese from Oxford University, and has spent some time in Japan. He started out taking photos using his iPhone not too long ago. Initially, these don’t sound like the makings of a future LaChapelle or a future Avedon. But in the end all those are just peripheral things. What matters is vision, which Engman has tonnes and tonnes of.
Now 26, he has done works for Urban Outfitters, Hermes, Lacoste, The New York Times, and Vogue. A big leap from his indie circuit beginnings. Of course, to him it doesn’t really make a difference. To him, there’s more to life that pretty girls posing for photos, and fashion isn’t limited to that. Anything could be photographed, and anything could be artistic, as long as it’s captured with a certain light, a certain angle.
Partly as a rebellion to the strict rules of fashion, and partly because it simply inspired him, Engman made a series featuring his mother. It made waves in the industry, and is perhaps a factor that helped catapult Engman’s career. The series featured his mother in various states of undress, in different backgrounds and locations. Some found it exploitative, though most found it admirable. For Engman, he was simply fascinated by how people transform on camera, sometimes to the point of being unrecognisable, as in the case of his mother. This transformation inspired him to capture it, and to keep capturing it.
The series, called “Mom”, was initially commissioned by Hungarian magazine, The Room, but eventually took a life of its own. It’s now visible online and is perhaps Engman’s most famous work to date.
Engman certainly has a distinct aesthetic and approach when it comes to his photography. Initially shirking the technical know-how and craftsmanship, Engman had a preference for the raw, the rough, the unmarred by perfection. Eventually though he saw the value of knowing how to take photos and saw how it correlated with what photos to take. With his newfound skill, and a vision he has always carried, Engman started brewing the unique flavours of his photos.
Polished and glossy as they are, there is always something raw, almost unfinished, about them. And that’s just how he likes it. And the way Engman creates his photos, the raw elements blend perfectly with the polished feel, creating a seemingly purposeful deviation from the perfection average fashion images portray. There’s something almost haphazard and random about Engman’s photos, yet they just look so right. He has reached this perfect balance and therein lies his distinct approach.
When it comes to the look of his photos, Engman’s detachedness from the industry in general is reflected by their relaxed, almost cheeky feel. They are playful and fun, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. At the same time though, the juxtaposition of shapes, lines, and textures are proof that they have been conceptualised, and not randomly thrown together. Engman’s photos make the marrying of different elements look to easy. Not to mention, his bright vivid pops of colour add a certain life and freshness to the photos. His photos are very geometric and structural, yet they don’t feel stiff at all. As a matter of fact, it may even be their geometry that makes them feel so fluid.
From his beginnings, Engman seems to be a bunch of contradictions playing out against each other. From his raw approach to the high-gloss world of fashion, to his expression of rebellion and inspiration, up until his geometric and dynamic photos, Engman has found the perfect balance of aesthetics and approaches to make his work stand out from all the rest.
Photographer: Charlie Engman: charlieengman.com
Julia Escano – Shoot The Frame