Photographer and lecturer Dean Davies collaborates with fashion’s next big thing: his students
The Star Potential series champions creativity over commerce, and hopes to foster more alignment between lecturers and students.
- Olivia Hingley
- 15 August 2023
The relationship between lecturer and student may not instantly conjure up a sense of close ‘collaboration’, but this is something that photographer Dean Davies is trying to upend. Since 2017 Dean has lectured at University of West England (the university he graduated from in 2013). Star Potential, is a styling and photoshoot partnership with 19 students from the fashion communication course he teaches on. “Ultimately, the project’s focus is creative collaboration between lecturer and student,” says Dean, “establishing new methods of teaching and learning that are less passive and more aligned with what students will be doing once they graduate.”
Conducted over four years from conception to completion, the project was delivered in four stages, with the Dean working with four or five students at any one moment. In terms of process, Dean would brief each student, after which they would pitch their styling and casting with the overall look being developed over a series of meetings. The project was one that proved mutually beneficial. “As a lecturer, I wanted to create further learning opportunities for students on the programme. As an image-maker I recognise each student’s talent and unique perspective and wanted to cultivate that within a project that positioned us as equal collaborators,” says Dean. “I was excited by the possibilities of bringing the students into my visual world and them bringing me into theirs.”
When location scouting for the shoots, Dean looked to the environments of his childhood for inspiration; the feeling evolved by his growing up in the working-class town of Birkenhead in Merseyside. “When selecting locations to backdrop my images I look for somewhere familiar and most often residential, inspired by memories of adolescence, and to evoke a sense of nostalgia and familiarity,” Dean says. “I don’t feel as interested or as inspired when shooting anywhere else.” In terms of style, the only variable from shoot to shoot was the styling casting, allowing Dean to focus primarily on the work of the students. Some of the student’s work related directly back to projects they were working on at university, while others were completely unique. Subject matters and themes throughout range from heritage, queerness and gender nonconformity, as well as contemporary and nostalgic references to style trends including kitsch, punks, cowboys, cricket players and early 2000s pop stars.
One shoot inspired by the student’s Northern Irish homeland is that of James Robinson’s, which delves into symbols and icons from leprechauns to shamrocks. In one image, the model stands in the gateway to a house adorned in a shamrock headpiece, with a jumper tied to give the “illusion” of a stem. The model also dons a pair of O’Neils shorts – a nod to actor Paul Mescal’s popularising of the Galic football sportswear. “There’s a comedic aspect to James’ work which aligns with his own humour,” says Dean. “Integral to the programme’s teaching is how we can embed our identity and experiences into our work, and in this project James brought these aspects together perfectly.”
Another project that resonated with Dean was Chloe Marshall’s shoot, with her references being most aligned to Dean’s appreciation of early 2000s pop culture. Chloe worked from Dami Lovato’s quote “who said I can’t wear my Converse with my dress”, looking to figures like Avril Levinge and Lily Allen, and paying homage to institutions like Claire’s Accessories. For Dean, “the models captured the spirit of a bygone era and this image puts me back there whenever I look at it”.
Being such a joy to create, Dean hopes that Star Potential ignites similar feelings in the audience. Moreover, he hopes that the overall approach pushes people to encourage “creative thinking” in the fashion world. “All too often when less conventional fashion is presented the dialogue shifts to how it could be worn in an everyday setting, or sold. This project’s styling is not about commerce but rather creativity.” Last but not least, Dean wants to inspire new methods of teaching that are less “passive”, fostering greater alignment between lecturer and student.
GalleryDean Davies & UWE Fashion Communication: Star Potential (Copyright © Dean Davies, 2023)
Dean Davies & UWE Fashion Communication: Star Potential (Copyright © Dean Davies, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.