Harriet MacSween Q&A
She recently met Rihanna while shooting her collection for Puma in Paris, and cites periods assisting renowned photographers Tim Walker and Jacob Sutton as influences on her work, but today we’re putting the spotlight on Harriet MacSween, the incredibly talented and insightful photographer behind our powerful new product images.
Stunned by her ability to capture the simple elegance that typifies Coops, we asked Harriet to tell us more about her photography career and creative influences.
First things first, how did you come to work with Coops?
My introduction to Coops was through director/filmmaker Shimmy Ahmed. Thanks to Shimmy I met Emma and her brand Coops and fell in love with it immediately. Funnily enough, it turned out that it wasn’t the first time Emma and I had met, I nearly bought a house from her two years ago!
When asked to photograph Coops jewellery, what about the pieces inspired the images?
I absolutely love the flow and simplicity of Coops designs. The very simple graphic yet smooth shapes really appeal to my aesthetic. I tried to reflect the mirrored design of Coops in the images. The design itself is super intelligent and the fact that they can be worn without a piercing appeals to my tom-boyish nature!
How did you get into photography, and specifically fashion and beauty?
I first got into fashion photography while studying for a foundation degree in Menswear Design at London College of Fashion. I was terrible at it. However, once my final pieces were made I photographed them on my boyfriend at the time and that’s where it all started! After University I started working at Spring Studios in Kentish Town, which turned out to be the ultimate platform into the fashion industry. My first internship out of Spring Studios was with Solve Sundsbo, where I built a solid foundation to understanding how photo shoots work and on being on set. Sometimes that meant how to hide behind polyboards! After that I found myself working with many of the top photographers in the industry including David Bailey, Mert + Marcus, Annie Leibovitz, and eventually Tim Walker and Jacob Sutton. Both of whom I totally admire and went on to assist very regularly for over five years.
What are your career highlights so far?
My career highlights so far are still dominated by my assisting career. One was working on Tim Walker’s Hieronymus Bosch shoot for Love Magazine. We spent an entire week living in a totally fantasy world. The layers of production behind that shoot were incredible and to see it all brought together through Tim’s lens was awe-inspiring. Another would be assisting Jacob Sutton on his Chanel Allure campaigns in Cape Town. Watching horses galloping along beaches whilst helicopters with enormous cameras on fly in low capturing the moment. My personal career highlight was meeting Rihanna in Paris recently when shooting her new Puma X Fenty products.
Fashion and beauty photography often seduces the viewer with a cliché form of vulnerability, yet your images exude strength and empowerment that really engages us. Why, and how do you achieved this?
I think I have personally always struggled with images of women looking vulnerable. From my personal experience I am lucky enough to know many incredibly strong women and so I couldn’t relate to the extremely soft, feminine, overtly “sensual” women that are so often portrayed. It’s really important to me to show my reality. I want to show women looking as strong as I know they are. If there are times when the models could look more vulnerable I make sure they feel confident in themselves and show they are at ease. I try not to overly sexualise an image; it should be an image that empowers women. I advocate intelligent women doing “it” for themselves.
Who and what are your major influences? How have they shaped your work?
My mother, Sharon Drew, is an abstract fine art painter and her work is a definite influence, as well as growing up in an artistic East London household. Solve Sundsbo remains an influence in how I work. And of course my time with Tim Walker and Jacob Sutton has no doubt shaped my ideas and execution.
Your work, particularly for Coops and 1883 magazine, focuses on unexpected injections of colour, and subsequently bold contrast. What role does this play in your images?
My work with bold contrast and colour appeals to my graphic side. I like clean lines and things to be purposeful. I like how bold colours can make you feel decisive, brave and also a little playful.
Looking at your portfolio, it appears that you’ve predominantly photographed women. What is it that you like to capture in the women in your shots?
I do mostly photograph women. I like the challenge of making them interesting and more graphic than normal. Tougher but with a softness. I am a tom-boy at heart and like the idea of making all women a little easier on themselves.
Christmas is coming up, what Coops piece would you like to see in your stocking?
Ah Christmas... Well I wouldn’t say no to a very festive looking Rose Gold Star! But honestly I’d be happy with a Coops tote bag, they are gorgeous!