Rendez-Vous | Ann Ray x Alexander McQueen

by Morgan Vickery

Ann Ray,  Home,  2000

Ann Ray, Home, 2000

Lee Alexander McQueen was a force to be reckoned with— a beacon of creative aptitude, unlike any artist past or present. His career, full of craft and beauty, were made possible through his interconnections, and the relationships he cherished. Ann Ray, the esteemed French photographer, was one of those people. On display at projects+exhibitions, a new exhibition space opened by Barrett Barrera Projects in St. Louis, Ann shares images of his design process and the experiences backstage of McQueen’s fashion weeks, alongside garments he gifted to her over the years. This exhibition is a dedication to Lee, but also to friendship in its purest form, reflecting on their unique relationship between 1997 and 2010. Flaunt spoke with Ann Ray upon the opening of the exhibition, “Rendez-Vous” to discuss his divine creations, their accord, and her view of Lee through the lens.

Ann Ray,  Featherweight,  2008

Ann Ray, Featherweight, 2008

When did your relationship with Lee Alexander McQueen begin?

I met Lee McQueen at the end of 1996 in Paris at Givenchy. I was asked to photograph him for two weeks during the creation of his first Couture collection. We were both very reserved, so it was a kind of mutual observation— what shy people do. We didn’t talk much, but the connection was intense. Then I moved to London during summer 1997, and the first people I met on my arrival was the McQueen team, in the Rivington street studio at this time. Lee had no money, so the deal was settled in a very simple way: “I love your photos. Give me photos, and I will give you clothes.” It never changed afterward. It was all about freedom and trust.

Ann Ray, "Art and Craft"

Ann Ray, "Art and Craft"

What was it like to work alongside him and document his craft for thirteen years?

I never thought of « documenting » Lee’s life. I was in the presence of something raw, sincere, overwhelming— his creations; and as an artist myself, my photographs were my answers to what was delivered by Lee, in front of my eyes. Like a silent conversation. I want to believe he liked what he found in my images, like an echo maybe, otherwise I don’t think it would have lasted so long. It just happened, it started, and never stopped. I loved him and felt the necessity to put into images, as symbolic as possible, what was happening in front of me. Many people were talking about fashion, whereas for me, it was something else. Far beyond. I was in search of the naked truth, his truth, and mine probably, through interstitial moments, which may reflect the ephemeral beauty of what was visible for a few moments. Of what it inspired me. It had nothing to do with fashion. It was more like putting silent screams, hopes, dreams, nightmares into photographs that would last. Analog photography is very tangible, and it’s a craft in itself. So it was an obvious choice, natural in the late 90s, more special in the XXIst century. I still use analog photography for something rare and special. Eternity deserves silver prints. And art is only conceivable as a necessity. I had no choice but to do my duty.

Ann Ray, "Golden Years"

Ann Ray, "Golden Years"

How did the title, “Rendez-Vous,” develop for this project?

The title came very naturally. I had “rendez-vous” with Lee, on a very regular basis, for 13 years. I was looking forward to it, each and every time. It was raw joy and a privilege, certainly, but at the time, it just seemed like being natural and fantastic. Like illuminations. Like a rhythm. Lee was, and will always be in my DNA and in my life. On a wider scale, we all have “rendez-vous” with many people. Let’s hope we will not miss the major ones.

Ann Ray, "Illumination I"

Ann Ray, "Illumination I"

How did you decide to debut this exhibition in St. Louis, and where will it travel next?

Susan Barrett was the first one to exhibit my McQueen photographs in 2013 in Saint-Louis. It felt like a necessity to work again with her, especially as this project is all about friendships and interactions between people who create things together. We wanted to make something happen together again! We agreed very quickly with Susan and Jessica (the curator) on the main theme and the title “Rendez-Vous.” Then it seemed interesting to exhibit as well some garments form BB Projects private collection. Susan devotes so much of her time and energy in gathering this collection, and it is meaningful to share it with the audience. I’d like as many people as possible to see the exhibition. I hope it travels in the States and maybe beyond…

Ann Ray,  Insensé III,  1998

Ann Ray, Insensé III, 1998

Tell us about your fondest memory with Lee.

There have been many happy and even funny moments with Lee, and he was always bright. If I had to choose one specific moment, it would probably be “N°13” end of the show, a true art performance as early as in 1999 (when two robots painted the white dress), or the last performance, “Atlantis,” in 2009. These two moments were divine, the reflections of a brilliant mind and his visions. The proof, if needed, that Lee McQueen was a fantastic visionary artist. Lee was very lucid and knew when what he had created was revolutionary. He knew it before it happened. Overall, he was happy with his close friends, or when his creations matched his visions perfectly.

Ann Ray, "Air II"

Ann Ray, "Air II"

How do you hope to visualize his memory with this exhibition?

“Rendez-vous” deals with friendship and artistic adventures, the main thread in the exhibition is to explore my link with Lee, and also links between people who make things together. In the McQueen context, and generally, in a lifetime. As I said, Susan Barrett was the first one to exhibit my McQueen photographs in 2013 in Saint-Louis, I am very faithful and grateful for this. Myriam Blundell, my manager, has been by my side in Arles and elsewhere, in all my projects, for years. Annabelle Neilson was Lee’s soul mate and a very dear friend, and she passed away last year. I dedicated the exhibition to Lee – a man who loved a woman – and to these three exceptional women. So, in this new approach, full of depth and lightness, I wish to transmit again the truth of the legend about Lee McQueen, his life and his creations. I do hope the audience will feel both, the beauty of a human life & the beauty of creation, in this exhibition. I hope too that the audience may think about what matters, in their own lives, as far as friendship is concerned.

What’s your favorite garment that he gifted you over the years?

A patchwork leather coat from the “Eshu” performance. It is an extraordinary piece, and Lee gave it to me when I left London. That was a wonderful gift, it meant a lot, especially as we were both sad to be separated by some distance (I was moving to Paris).

Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous will be on view from Oct. 5 to Feb. 15 at Barrett Barrera Projects