Skaters do it betterAn interview with
Glen Lunchford

photography by Glen Luchford
interview by Christopher Michael



While the photographic rat race continues and its participant population grows, a few still hold the now seemingly ancient belief of simply creating the work you love and letting all of the contemporary concerns about branding fall off to the wayside. Glen Luchford, a name that ripples through fashion with a clearly defined aesthetic association and sound of mythic accomplishment, is one of the said few.

CM What do the beginnings of Glen Luchford, the photographer look like?
GL Umm! The Life Aquatic on the Sussex coast? Quite drab, actually. I had no idea that the Penn’s and Avedon’s existed until I made it to London in the 80s. Amateur photography was popular amongst dads; a monthly magazine would come out and one would buy it then pass it on, and it circulated around. I read my dad’s copy from time to time as it had a glamour model section, using different filters, and I thought the articles on telephoto lenses seemed interesting, but the subjects were dreadful. Most dads would go to an air show and photograph a dot in the sky, or a school fair and it was totally banal.




When my sister started dating a punk called Carl (he’s in my book), he brought new magazines into the house that had terrific pictures from bands and clothes and that got my attention. A few years later when I was around 15, skateboarding surfaced in a new way in the 70s. It was kind of cheesy, but in the 80’s it re-emerged as underground and punk-related, lots of west coast bands like The Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, DOA, etc., surfaced with it and that led me to taking pictures.

A kid in torn clothes, skating 10 feet out of a ramp and doing flips to thrash music seemed like something worth snapping, so I got a small camera, only to find I wasn’t invited onto the ramp. A kind of tight hierarchy existed and I wasn’t welcome. So I stole packets of cigarettes as bribes and slowly bided my time until I met this wonderful black slalom skater from London called Dobey; he had all the kit and connections and he got me on the ramp, then it got very interesting. The pictures were instantly visual and exciting and I really became hooked. Thirty years later it’s exactly the same — still searching for anything to fill the frame that doesn’t look like a dot in the sky.

CM How long were you exploring the skater ramp before venturing off into other subject matter?
GL I guess I was involved for three years. The club scene in Brighton in the mid 80s was kind of fragmented, pre-acid house. You had the fashion students, which is hard to describe, lots of Westwood, Johnny Moore, Chris Nemeth, John Flett. Then you had your football hooligan casuals, the post-punk skater thing, Rockabillies, quietly on the periphery looking cooler than anyone was Bobby Gillespie, and the Primal Scream boys, which was a kind of Jesus and Mary Chain look, skinny black jeans and leather jackets. It all merged together and somehow it worked. Anyway, this ridiculously cool fashion student decided that dating a skater might be fun, so I was selected for the experiment, and that’s kind of how it started. In the back streets of Brighton was a porn/glamour studio, which cost 10 pounds a day. It had a lot of funny set ups like a 60s living room and a kitchen, whatever they had used for a porn set that week, so we used that a few times, shot some white background pictures and took them to the three magazines that existed at the time: Blitz, The Face and ID. One gave me a job, it was that simple actually.

CM You poor thing… being used by a beautiful fashion student. Were you immediately a fan of the new subject?
GL I said cool, you said beautiful, although she was attractive. It must have been a funny scene — skaters on one side, hip fashion students on the other, and no one ever spoke. She just kind of wandered across the dance floor and was like, “You’re buying me a drink.” The suggestion being “Don’t argue, this is the most interesting thing that will happen to you all month.”

These kids were so smart and sophisticated. On our first date she took me to see Betty Blue, which has this opening ten minute fucking scene, beautifully lit and done in one take; very intriguing. I sat there with my mouth open thinking “God, is this what fashion students do every day?” and then she explained the significance of it and how it related to the 70s cinema from France, etc. I had no idea what she was banging on about, but it sounded great, so I just swallowed it up.

Shall we divert this quickly to anything other than fashion? Ask me about reggae or something.
CM Anna Wintour dated Bob Marley and to this day most people don’t know of that time period in her life or dream of it as even being possible. Were you ever gay or perhaps a part of some subversive subculture that you’ve never told your wife about?

GL I wish, sounds exotic. I’m now wondering why I never started a subversive subculture? When I was 15 I got a job in a hairdressing salon in London with mostly gay men, many died of AIDS later. Fascinating characters one and all. One of them told me I was gay, and when I asked him why he responded “You just are, it’s obvious.” So I sat around waiting to become my new self, where girls became uninteresting and vice versa, but it never happened. So I’m a gay man that’s really into girls.




CM Fair enough. What was your big break?
GL I think I had three breaks; a girl called Kelly Worts who ran the front desk at The Face magazine and she made a concerted effort to make Neville Brody and Phil Bicker see us, mainly as she was frustrated by me sitting in the reception area for so long, like an itch you can’t scratch. So she insisted they see me. Neville was uninterested but Phil very casually said he’d give me a job in the future, which I thought was a smoke screen to remove me from the building, but later they called and told me to be on set the next day and that was that. Then Mario sent me to Bazaar and they gave me a story which had relevance as it was the leading magazine at that time. They fired me right away, as the editor didn’t like the pictures, but it got the ball rolling. Muccia putting me on contract at Prada was a significant leap as I wasn’t shooting a whole lot of fashion advertising. My pictures were very reportage and it was a leap for big brands to engage in that, but the P’s didn’t seem in any way flustered, so it was a nice collaboration. I had to quit in the end though as it became very consuming.

CM I suppose that’s a luxury of longevity when it goes right, you’re able to really dip your hands and feet into some of the most pivotal pools along the way. Not to mention, you got to work in fashion during the 90s! Can I selfishly ask you for a moment how you would describe that time in the business?
GL I can honestly say with hand on heart, scout’s honor, that I’ve never once had the thought “God, I wish it was like the 90s.” It’s only people who weren’t working then that think like that. The 90s was a small evolution in fashion history that looks terrific from a distance, as did the 80s and the 70s, etc. All people talked about in the 90s was that we’re now in recession, and in the 70s David Bailey went on trips for two weeks to some desert island and couldn’t be bothered to shoot a picture — you know, those kind of ultra decadent “how crazy it was back then” -type stories. Or that Bill King had a black box in tape drawn out around him in the studio and no one could ever go inside it, specifically clients. The only thing that was better then was that very few people wanted to be fashion photographers, and I mean VERY few. Maybe twenty or thirty people I met then that were in and around magazines trying to get on the ladder. So from that perspective it was easy, but life favors the brave, so if you do something that isn’t normal or safe, then it tends to work out. When I told my folks I was going to try to be a fashion photographer they looked at me like I’d said astronaut. “A what, dear?” I then saw that same look 25 years later when I said “I’m opening a hotel.”



CM Let’s just spend a minute here about the hotel. How did the idea of purchasing a hotel come about? I mean, we know you do love to shoot in that gorgeous Los Angeles light but… a hotel?
GL Yeah, it’s an odd one isn’t it? Kind of a joke that went right. A journalist asked me yesterday what the philosophy of the hotel is, and my response was, “Tart the building up a bit, throw in some beds, open the door, and see what happens.” This is what we did and we were quite shocked at the response. Didier Malige popped in yesterday to say hi, then the electrician called Cowboy Jim, followed by a gang-banger cove- red in jail house tats, who was looking for his brother who used to stay at the old hotel, followed by an art director dressed head to foot in Celine. That’s how it is every day. Very colorful! A little unexpected, eclectic.

CM Life today seems to require a lot more of a balancing act than ever before. Personal life, career, maintaining social media outlets, and the list goes on. You now own a hotel, have a family, and of course continue to create incredible work as a photographer. How’s that working out for you? GL That part is true, the demands are so high now. The fashion seasons don’t end they just mutate, and I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to my iPhone — it totally owns me. Also unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I like to talk to clients and be involved. I don’t put up middlemen, so that drains an enormous amount of time that could be dealt with by others. My memory of my father is sitting in an armchair reading the Sunday newspaper with horse racing on the TV. My son’s memory of me I hope will not be me staring at this stupid flat hand device, rapidly clicking fingers, but it probably will. It’s all very obsessional and unhealthy. But all in all, I think I’m coping okay.

CM Has your reason for taking pictures changed at all from when you started?
GL Not really. I’m still searching for that thrill you get occasionally when you hit the magic note, everything comes together and you have the thought that you did something new to you, or took a good picture. It’s surprisingly rare actually. But it is worth the wait. You can’t do something that you don’t love and think it will further your career. So sitting at home plotting a brand seems like a fool’s errand to me.
CM Who has been your muse over the years? Or have they changed along the way?
GL I never had any I don’t think.
CM I really wanted to ask you the obvious questions like which editor have you never worked with that you would love to… What was it like having your photographs become prints for Giles Deacon’s collection… Being such a huge fan of politics, I’d be curious to know what sort of changes or new ways and rules you would make in the industry if you were to reign over it with absolute power?
GL Grace (Coddington), I suppose, although I don’t often have the thoughts of “I wish” as the industry doesn’t allow it; it moves forward too quickly.

The Giles project was a very nice surprise, it’s like music sampling, digging out things that are done and reusing them in new ways, I love that. Also the V&A put it in the permanent collection, which was nice.
I was in London in August with the family and my son wanted to visit the History Museum to see the dinosaurs, but the line was around the block so we gave up and went to the V&A. He was running up and down the long corridors having a ball, and then he came to a small interactive screen that you can hit the buttons and I came up on it; it was very strange. I think it’s the first time I felt a sense of permanence.

I love this question regarding power! I’d have “Truth-Telling Wednesdays” where no matter whom you were with or what you were doing, you had to be honest. I hate this fear of retribution that overshadows everything, no one ever tells it like it is anymore. I envisage an important editor walking down the corridor and an intern saying “Good morning! Not sure about those shoes with that outfit!” Also I’d implement a system like the British football premiership where each year three photographers who didn’t perform get relegated and three from the lower tiers get promoted, that would keep everyone on their toes. I like the idea that a big brand would have to fire their photographer and replace them with a new kid from ID magazine because of the promotion system.