The High-Gloss Adventures of Alice Hawkins
As a young girl, I loved to decorate my school books with patterned papers and an assortment of stickers. The sparklier the better was my motto. I looked forward to creating new themes and designs each school year. English and History, Math and Science, all were reimagined by my scrap booking. It was, I suppose, my way of maintaining my inner world– personalizing and transforming the otherwise drab necessities of school.
This whimsy and imagination often takes a backseat as we get older and the practicalities of everyday life take center stage. Thankfully there are people such as photographer and filmmaker Alice Hawkins. She is one of the lucky few who never truly lost the playfulness and wide-eyed wonder of childhood– when the world seems so big, colorful, and full of adventure. Her new book, Alice’s Adventures is a visual testament to her intrepid spirit– a glossy, curated travel diary of sorts from her time spent sojourning across the globe.
From the front cover to the Dolly-esque cartoon illustrations of Hawkins (her self-proclaimed idol) lining the inside of the book, Alice’s Adventures is a work of art from beginning to end. Not only does Hawkins capture the distinctive spirit of each location through her vibrant photography but, quite literally, embellishes the experience for the reader. Presenting her own journals, with her handwriting scribbled across the pages and behind-the-scenes polaroids framed with stickers, Hawkins adds a personal, more tactile, dimension to her travels.
Alice may not be in one place for too long, but she clearly leaves a mark on those she crosses paths with. Her mentors and contributors, such as the visionary photographer Nick Knight and top fashion editor Katie Grand, wax poetic about Hawkins’ free and lively spirit.
Of course, a particular interest to Us are the American sections in the book. It’s always refreshing and enlightening to see your country through an outsider’s eyes (Hawkins is a Brit), especially when that perspective is as rosy-colored and whimsical as Hawkins’.
From a ranch in Texas to LA’s Hollywood Hills, Alice’s Adventures is, quite literally, a world of its own.
Us of America: When did you begin to take an interest in photography?
Alice Hawkins: My Dad inspired me, he liked to take lots of photos when I was growing up. He's in a wheelchair and would make my mum stop the car so he could lean out the window to photograph something that caught his eye. When there was a good sunset I'd wheel him outside our home into the street where he'd take photos of it. He looked at the world and appreciated it; that inspired me. My first SLR camera was one found by my mum at an airport parking lot when I was about 13. She'd heard that when you find something at an airport they destroy it, so she brought it home and gave it to me.
What draws you to fashion photography?
I started working at Agent Provocateur when I left school. I was in the creative heart of London, in Soho surrounded by interesting fashionable people. It felt natural to photograph my fellow shop girls wearing the latest collections. It felt exciting to photograph and model the new stock. It kind of gave me even more reason to photograph the girls. What they wore was always exciting and they were all way more interesting looking than me or anyone I'd ever met before. Fashion has continued to be part of the motivation for me to make pictures. There is a marriage between character and what they wear that can make them look even more extraordinary. Even more like mine and my subjects’ fantasy or aspirations. Fashion also enhances the experience of making pictures, it even feels like a special occasion. Something worth photographing.
What inspired you to create Alice’s Adventures?
I’d been thinking about making a book for a few years and when I fell pregnant in 2015 I thought it would be a good time to do it. I needed time to stop and concentrate, to look back through all the work I'd made over 10 years, so it was perfect timing. I made the links I could see between projects, created groups where I could and left certain projects to stand alone. My travel fashion portrait project images grew into the longest PDF ever and it felt complete enough to become a whole body of work, a book which represented many wonderful adventures. Although the people and the places vary hugely in contrast, in terms of nationality, wealth, or status, they fit together because I approached the projects and the people in the same way. These trips never felt like work, they're autobiographical and when I make them I feel most alive. I wanted Alice's Adventures to represent the diversity of the people I'd met and photographed, their environments and the excitement I felt making the projects and my own personal journey.
What three words would you use to describe Alice’s Adventures?
Brave. Authentic. Alice.
How long were you on the road?
On average 2 weeks per trip, sometimes longer when going straight from one place to another. I always want to go away for as long as possible as I want to have enough time somewhere to forget about everything else and fully immerse myself in a place. These projects are created in a very non-professional way, I mostly make it up as I go along, I personally cast and find the people, so you need time to do that properly.
Did you have a vision of what you wanted Alice’s Adventures to look like before you set out to travel the globe? I.e. Did you always intend to include your personal journals?
No. Most of these images are for fashion magazines, mostly commissioned by Katie Grand, editor (at the time) of Pop and now of LOVE magazine - and at the time of making them I didn't realize that they would become a book but I probably hoped so, one day. I've made quite a few projects for SHOWstudio over the years, a few years back Nick Knight asked to scan the pages of my sketchbooks and put them on SHOWstudio. I've always had sketchbooks on the go, a visual diary and organizer. I thought that maybe my future grand children would enjoy looking at them! When the theme of Alice's Adventures was decided it made complete sense to include them, I wanted the book to feel personal and give an insight into the planning and my memories.
Did you find the experience liberating, lonely or both?
Mostly liberating. I loved the experience in every way possible. I feel most alive when I'm making these projects. I've cried tears of happiness and sadness on these trips but loved it all really.
Did you have a favorite place?
They all stand out for different reasons but America is a favorite that I'm drawn back to time and time again. The place and culture inspired me greatly when I was growing up. It's like a movie there, a film set with real life characters, and I love characters, people that surpass stereotypes. America is full of them set against a stunning scene that I love the look of. The sky as well. The people are so open and friendly. Many are dear friends who I love to visit again and again.
Sisters Angela Francisco and Barbi Mapes. “Life in Death Valley,” Pop magazine. Death Vally, USA 2006. © 2017 Alice Hawkins.
A rattlesnake appeared when I was photographing some cowgirls on a ranch. The girl ran to get her gun and shot it. A young boy I was also photographing there cut off its tail, its rattle, and gave it to me as a souvenir! I've still got it and show it to everyone. Actually I used to carry it around with me.
A couple of weeks ago I was shooting in Big Sur and it was sunrise, 5.30am, a moony blue cloudy tone surrounded us, like we hadn't all woken up yet, I was photographing a nude grandmother, and her daughter holding her baby grandson, as I took photos there were dolphins feeding and swimming around us below the coastal rocks where we were. It was just breathtaking and surreal. Great things can happen when you’re the only people awake for a sunrise picture.
Did you have a favorite shoot?
Texas. I think it was 2005. Katie asked me and a stylist Sam Willoughby, who worked at her magazine Pop, to go to Texas and photograph locals. I am so fond of those people and the experience and the photographs. It was such early days for me as a photographer and the innocence and authenticity of that trip is something I always strive for.
You met James Goldstein in LA. We profiled him in our debut issue of Us of America, specifically his iconic Hollywood home. How did you meet and what did you wish to capture when you photographed him?
I'd met James at a Gucci show in Milan, I took some pics of him with a gorgeous lady he was hanging out with. He stood out more than most and when I went to California to make my project, Alice's American Safari, I contacted him and asked if he'd like to be part of it. He agreed but sadly his dog had passed away so I took a friend's little pooch along to be photographed with him. I kind of wanted to get a crocodile for him to be photographed with but as most of his suits are made from exotic reptiles that box was ticked. It's hard to shoot at his home as everywhere you look is incredible. I decided to shoot him in the jungle garden area of his home where he has glass balcony pieces jutting out. He reminds me of Crocodile Dundee.
Alice’s Adventures is beautifully curated. What was the thought process behind including your personal journals, decorated with stickers and mementos?
I wanted my book to feel very me, like my sketchbooks, which I've always worked on alongside all of my projects. They're all decorated with stickers, memory trinkets, and crystals etc so I wanted the book to echo this. I wanted the book to feel tactile. We also cut out some of the characters I've photographed and placed them onto the cover, they're glazed with a shiny surface which makes them feel more like stickers. The first 20 copies I sold at my London launch I had decorated the covers further with more stickers. This made them even more personal.
What does your playlist look like when traveling? Did you curate separate playlists for each destination?
No, I just always listen to country music. When in America I tune into Chris Country or Willies Road House on SiriusXM.
Song of choice for your American road trip?
She was an American girl, It's another tequila sunrise, Taking it easy, On the road again, How bout those cowgirls. I could go on...
Where do you want to travel to next?
Alice's Adventures is available for purchase via Thames & Hudson.