Harley Weir

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

As the cre­ator of beau­ti­ful and visu­ally seduc­tive pho­tographs, Harley Weir has become one of the biggest fash­ion image makers of recent years; she’s cap­tured the industry’s con­scious­ness through her sin­gu­lar vision of the sen­su­al­ity and ten­der­ness of the human body. Her work fre­quently explores nudity with­out making sex its focus.

Looking at Harley’s images is like peer­ing through a key­hole into a dif­fer­ent world, one that’s col­ored sepia, umber, and ochre, full of roman­tic and regal sub­jects. It’s simply not enough to look at Harley’s images — you want to touch them, be in them.

Born in 1988, 27-year-old Harley was brought up in London’s leafy sub­urbs and earned her B.A. in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, approach­ing her pho­tographs much like the greats she stud­ied. Her work bridges a gen­er­a­tional gap between the gritty ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phers of the 90s and the inter­net native kids who spin out her work across Tumblr and Instagram in a series of end­less reblogs and reposts. Yet her up-close and per­sonal lens exists in a world and time of its own.

It should be no sur­prise then, that fashion’s biggest brands are clam­or­ing to work with her. In just a few short years, Harley has reimag­ined the worlds of Gucci, Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney, and McQ. She’s brought Chloë Sevigny, Liv Tyler and Binx together for Proenza Schouler. Her images are rou­tinely fea­tured in the pages of Vogue, Pop and, of course, i-D. For our Female Gaze Issue, Harley got back to nature for an inti­mate study of our cover star, Adwoa Aboah, in California’s Franklin Canyon Park. Meet the woman behind the camera with the world at her fin­ger­tips.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois
Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

What is your ear­li­est memory?
I used to declare I could remem­ber the day I was born… being held up to the window and seeing for the first time. A bright, blurry light, the feel­ing is noth­ing I can describe, some­thing like excite­ment and being blinded. But that can’t be true!

When did you start taking pho­tographs?
I was handed a dis­pos­able camera on my first school trip to a farm, the ani­mals were much more excit­ing through this plas­tic box. I imme­di­ately got intrigued and would carry a dis­pos­able on me for all spe­cial occa­sions to come.

Your pho­tographs have been deemed highly sexual. Is that some­thing you are con­scious of?
As a girl you grow up being highly sex­u­al­ized; it’s some­thing you have to work through on your way to becom­ing a woman. So it has def­i­nitely bled into my work, con­sciously and uncon­sciously.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

Your images always feel very per­sonal and inti­mate, how do you con­nect with your sub­ject?
Photographing people is a col­lab­o­ra­tion, a three­some even, the camera being the third party. Whether you get on well or not out­side the photograph’s frame­work, the camera can change a rela­tion­ship. There can be sheer unex­pected magic, guarded per­for­mance, and totally uncom­fort­able and awk­ward sit­u­a­tions. It’s hard to pre­dict.

What is your favorite part of the female form to pho­to­graph?
I like it all, eye­lashes to toe­nails!

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois
Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

Your up-skirt” shot of Klara Kristin for Calvin Klein stirred a lot of con­tro­versy. Why do you think images that hint at sex­u­al­ity make a cer­tain part of soci­ety uncom­fort­able?
I actu­ally think the image caused con­tro­versy because it wasn’t sexy enough! We are inun­dated with images of oil-sodden women clutch­ing their naked breasts, and if it’s shot straight on, then she’s in con­trol.” We need to give people some­thing that’s real, some­thing that reignites the con­ver­sa­tion about female rep­re­sen­ta­tion. We are all too used to seeing furi­ously objec­ti­fy­ing images as stan­dard these days. It high­lights the warped per­cep­tion of what is per­verted and what is inno­cently inti­mate.

Where do you get your inspi­ra­tion from?
Seeing, touch­ing, smelling, hear­ing, read­ing, writ­ing, abstract moments of intrigue… all of the stuff life throws at you.

Why do you think there is a surge of female pho­tog­ra­phers at the moment?
Photography is a pro­fes­sion that I feel very much suits fem­i­nine” traits; it is also a very priv­i­leged prac­tice. I cer­tainly would not be where I am today if I hadn’t lived at my par­ents’ house until only a year ago! It takes huge ded­i­ca­tion, and it’s not some­thing women have had the sup­port to pursue until recently.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

Why do you think female pho­tog­ra­phers are impor­tant now?
A female point of view should be seen and classed in the uni­ver­sal sense, the same way a man’s view is. A women’s take on images should be everyone’s busi­ness.

Do you behave dif­fer­ently if you are pho­tograph­ing a man rather than a woman?
How I respond is more depen­dent on the person. I couldn’t say women are always like this or men are like that, there is too much vari­a­tion.

Do you feel any duty or respon­si­bil­ity as a pho­tog­ra­pher?
There’s a lot of respon­si­bil­ity being a pho­tog­ra­pher. One form it takes is when han­dling some­one else’s image; I often feel it my duty to make some­one feel good about them­selves. Even though I show some­thing of real­ity, I always like to project people at their best. My eyes prefer to see what an audi­ence might per­ceive as a person’s worst, but I haven’t been brave enough to show that.

What makes you to want to con­tinue to take pho­tographs?
Knowledge. It might sound cheesy but I learn so much through my work. I would be very stupid with­out it. The only way I learn is with my whole body; if I’m not seeing it, touch­ing it, doing it, or talk­ing to it, I find it hard to take in.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

Who have been some the most instru­men­tal female fig­ures in your life?
My mother and my friends.

You travel exten­sively for work. Where do you find the most beau­ti­ful female sub­jects to shoot?
There’s beauty every­where, I could never con­fine it.

How do you think the depic­tion of models in fash­ion helps (or hin­ders) the modern female image?
Fashion images are a reflec­tion of what is hap­pen­ing to cul­ture at a par­tic­u­lar time, it marks a gen­er­a­tion. There is a seri­ous lack of diver­sity over­all, but I think fash­ion and the rest of world has made hints that it’s ready to change and I see that in what’s coming out today — I’m proud to be a part of it.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois

Has there been an instance where you felt under­es­ti­mated because of being female?
All the time, but I make the most out of it. All dis­ad­van­tages have their advan­tages.

In your own words, how would you describe your work?
It’s me, slowly fig­ur­ing out the world bit by bit.

What legacy would you like to leave?
I’d like to be a part of a time when women are free from sup­press­ing laws and ridicu­lous tra­di­tions.

Photography by Harley Weir, Styling by Julia Sarr-Jamois