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Work / Photography

Addressing anxiety, Laura McCluskey’s new book captures the freedom of improvised dance

The city can be somewhat of a mind-boggling place at times. With its ever-hustling, ever-competitive creative industry brimming with those trying to make something of themselves, there usually comes a crucial point where you just need to escape it all – even if it’s just for a short while.

As was the case for Laura McCluskey, a photographer based in London, who simply needed to “get away” and have a break. “I’d been feeling overwhelmed and I wanted some time to rest and think about making some personal work,” she tells It’s Nice That. Originally from Kent, Laura has lived and worked in London for the past ten years creating exceptional portrait, fashion and documentary projects. Her client base includes a vast roster of brands, such as adidas, ASOS, BBC, Converse, Google Pixel, Guardian Labs, and she has graced the pages and screens of publications such as Crack magazine, ES magazine, Clash, magazine, and even our very own Printed Pages. An impressive portfolio with personal projects that echo skill and an eye for storytelling to say the least, Laura still simply needed a short pause to recenter herself and her practice.

Thus, Laura found herself in Los Angeles during the spring of 2018. “I’d had a difficult start to the year for personal reasons – such as difficult relationships – and these thoughts and feelings had been a distraction for a while,” she says. “I’d been feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and so I decided to go away by myself for a month to LA.” Usually swaying towards more documentary-based style work and portraiture, her subjects tend to be those closest around her – as seen in one of her previous projects Lexy and Pinky, where she captures two of her friends getting ready for one of their drag night events. While in LA, however, Laura was in a completely new and unknown territory. “I didn’t have that familiarity,” she continues, “so I began to think about how I could interpret these feelings into imagery.”

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Titled Blue Above, Laura’s new series circles around the notion of movement and its ability to enable us to express ourselves in full capacity. “It can be very freeing,” she says. “I felt vulnerable working in a new way like this, and also reaching out to people I didn’t know to work with me.” As a collection of stills, film, field recordings and a new hardback printed monograph – published by Guest Editions and officially launching on 14 November – it could be marked as Laura’s most personal project to date. “I guess this is my most personal project yet because it was the only way that I could deal with difficult feelings – by expressing them in this way,” she explains.

In terms of sourcing her subjects, Laura had met a casting director, named Samantha Blake Goodman, and sent her a project proposal. On the search for six local LA-based contemporary dancers, whom of which would be cast on their improvisational work, Laura found her subjects based on their “fluidity in performance,” she says, and “those that felt most expressive in relation to the concept.” Following the casting, she then sent a project description to the performers, joined forces with local assistant Dwayne Le Blanc – who helped source a multifarious ‘blank canvas’ location for the shoot – and collaborated with stylist Autumn Randolph. “I wanted the styling to feel anonymous and unbranded, making it more about movement through texture and form,” she says.

As the elements of the shoot came together, as did the nature of the collaborative project – Laura asked each performer to bring their own music to dance to, aiding a personal interpretation to the brief and a free-flowing disposition of the dance choreography. “The improvised movement was based around the feeling of anxiety, expressing it as if being swept in a tornado or swimming against a current,” she says. “I have often felt this way myself, and the piece itself was a way of being able to let go and move on. I wanted each performance to reflect this idea, moving through these thoughts and feelings and ending with a sense of calm and resolve.”

All performances were shot on film, marking a spontaneous, unknown process and one that captures the “moments of stillness in movement” in all its raw glory. And, overall, despite these feelings of anxiety and a negative headspace, Laura hopes that her audience can pick up on the joyful tones, and that they can find refuge in the the work by perceiving it as something they can relate to.

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above

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Laura McCluskey: Blue Above