Clifford Jago’s lockdown project is a playful reimagining of the iconic Helmut Newton book, Sumo

The anonymous creator is back, this time armed with food waste, Wotsits, tortillas and random house utensils.

1 February 2021

You’ve no doubt heard the name Clifford Jago floating about by now, so you might be surprised to hear that this person isn’t real – it’s a pseudonym that’s used by two anonymous photographers, who continue to amaze us with outlandishly strange publications and stories. There are now three books in three European countries under Clifford’s belt. First, it was Clifford Jago & The Ice Queens, a publication documenting a trip to Iceland, meeting its high-fashioned Ice Queens. Then it was a trip to Ukraine that lensed its people and landscapes.

In pre-Covid times, Clifford travelled to Delhi, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Mexico and Europe. “I have woken up to a new world where travelling and human interaction has been flipped on its head, which means Jago has to,” Clifford tells It’s Nice That.

But that doesn’t mean Clifford hasn’t been keeping busy; he launched a Jago challenge with Dazed and Selfridges, where he invited industry friends and admirers to construct their own “Jago” at home – “Jago couldn’t leave the house but he could still catch the mouse,” he says. Meanwhile, Buffalo Zine reached out about shooting and styling a story for Bimba Y Lola in its latest issue Buffalo Does It. A highlight of which involved walking through east London’s Kingsland shopping centre with a Ghillie Suit and two chihuahuas, a pink flamingo and holiday issue of Buffalo for post-lockdown tips. Clearly, nothing can deter Clifford from making exceptional work, even in the midst of a pandemic.

With lots of interesting opportunities thrown at him, last year was the moment that he decided “enough is enough” and that it was finally time to “reach out” to Helmut Newton. The renowned German-Australian photographer is known for his fashion works and provocative black and white photos, all of which succumb to a radical, at times racy subject matter. He’s one of the most influential photographers of a generation, and after his passing in 2004 Clifford wanted to work with the master. “The very thought of the idea is unattainable but he was staring at me from a coffee table, so I thought it was worth a shot.”

GalleryClifford Jago: Helmut Newton (Copyright © Clifford Jago, 2021)

Newton’s most expansive book Sumo has graced many a table since its release in 1999 by Taschen. Named for its size, the large-scale publication features over 400 images of portraits including Catherine Deneuve, Nicolas Cage and Mickey Rourke. Landing on the idea to “finesse the book”, Clifford spouts that if Newton were a “gun for hire”, then he would be a banana – a metaphor in reference to the influential work of the photographer. “The most inspiring work of Newton is his colour work, which was abstractly styled. The mood he would capture with the supermodels would be elevated into something otherworldly; it seems wild and unattainable yet the process was very simple, always having an element of realism amongst the elite.”

Proceeding to build on the project at hand, Clifford decided to celebrate Newton’s models with a “new cheeky friend which has come to say hi and overstayed his welcome.” In this sense, Sumo – which comes with its own book stand – became the base and Clifford would help the models get dressed. It’s a suitable idea, for the restrictions have made it difficult to meet up with models as freely as you were once allowed. Clifford proceeded to stand over the book and apply his own “products” to the imagery of the bodies. “The blend of black and white imagery with the colourful food and objects on top makes everything really pop, and serves as a very interesting juxtaposition – almost like I planned for it to happen,” says Clifford.

Things like a goalie glove or flour tortillas are placed on the models, as well as rubbish, food waste, utensils, plants and various bits and bobs found around the house. Not to mention pieces referred to as the “drill piece plant warrior princess”, “garlic Michelin Man trousers”, Wotsits hair adorned with a foam body made from a spray can, and a Surf detergent pink ball gown paired with a duck egg blue toothpick headpiece. There’s even Zaha Hadid styled as an “instant noodle futuristic queen”.

Yet another joyful contribution from the ever-entertaining anonymous creator, we’re excited to see what will come next – especially after the lockdown starts to ease and Clifford can resume his travels once again. “Hopefully Pot Noodle will get in touch and offer me a campaign,” he concludes. “I would sort them out and it’s about time it should happen. It’s what the people want.”

GalleryClifford Jago: Helmut Newton (Copyright © Clifford Jago, 2021)

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Clifford Jago: Helmut Newton (Copyright © Clifford Jago, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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