We have been following Louie Banks for some time now; partly because of his impossibly cute snaps of pets Babs and Pig but, more so, because of his endless turnover of honest, perceptive and arresting portraits. Louie has worked with the likes of iD, Vogue Italia and Love magazine and photographed legendary club icons like Amanda Lepore, fashion it-girls like Aweng Chuol, not to mention half of London’s underground scene.
Louie’s portfolio is a breath of fresh air in a fashion industry that struggles with diversity and equal representation; when looking through his portfolio it becomes clear that he is interested in capturing unique characters rather than re-enforcing traditional conceptions of beauty. The photographer’s strength lies in his ability to reveal an individual’s personality, their quirks and characteristics in his upscale fashion portraits. His refreshing and atypical aesthetic eye is what sets him apart from the ever-growing pool of young, creative talent.
Louie’s childhood was mainly spent in Brighton. He had his first encounter with photography when he received a disposable camera for his eighth birthday and impressed his relatives with the quality of his snapshots. Despite not picking up a camera again until college, the idea of becoming a professional photographer firmly sealed itself in the little boy’s mind.
His fascination with the craft only intensified in his teens when Louie was taught how to use a darkroom. His darkroom discovery caused Louie to drop out of every other subject he was studying in order to spend his time processing black and white images of his “best girlfriends naked in fur coats”. This, he says, was only the beginning. After photographing a number of famous musicians, Louie proceeded to move to London and “survived on the odd job, noodles and cheap drugs for a few years until it all got a little busier and more interesting too”.
You have accumulated a large body of impressive work that feels very cohesive. How would you describe your aesthetic style?
Thank you! It’s funny, people often say it’s cohesive but I don’t feel that way personally. My taste is eclectic and I bore easily so it seems to me as though it’s always changing. I worry it’s neither here nor there so I’m happy to hear people say that they can identify one of my shoots.
It’s always hard to describe your own work; I’m so analytical and negative about it. I aim to inject my work with a sense of empowerment… a strong subject who is feeling their oats. I want women to be portrayed as powerful and in control and I like to give my drag queen, gay, trans friends a platform to show their best selves. My favourite types of projects take someone from the club or underground scene — where you can usually find me — and placing them in a different scenario.
Tell me about your recent shoot with Aweng Chuol. What were you looking to capture?
I met her at my friend Dilara Findikoglu’s show and immediately felt that I had to get my hands on her. She has the most mesmerising eyes but I couldn’t tell you what colour they are; they are both all of the colours and none of the colours at the same time.
She is totally bonkers and fearless. I like people who are a little bizarre. So we pitched her to Vogue Italia and went from there. I got a great team together and worked with the amazing wig guru Pablo Kuemin to plan some beautiful hairstyles. It was all very organic — there was no real plan, we just played around on the day. I was meant to go and shoot her for a cover in New York this month but we couldn’t make it work. I am dying to shoot with her again.
What was it like photographing Amanda Lepore? Did you face any challenges?
I’m glad you asked. Amanda has been a goal since I was a baby teenager when I found an image of her and became totally obsessed. I’ve seen her perform in New York, Los Angeles and London numerous times. When she was coming over to perform at a London Pride event I was DJ’ing at, I orchestrated a shoot with her for iD, which also featured a huge bunch of queer friends of mine.
It was very exciting as she embodies what it’s all about for me: she is glamorous, peculiar and totally eye-catching. She came to the flat I was living in at the time and it was such a wonderful and funny sight seeing the Über driver get out to open the door and take Amanda’s hand as she stepped out of the car. It was like one of those glamorous movie scenes only that it was outside some council estates in Bethnal Green.
Challenges, yes. We only had an hour or two to shoot and it was one of the hottest days of the year. But she was a pro and very humble so we cracked on with it. It was very intimate. I’ll always think fondly of that shoot.
Why do you think photography is a powerful medium?
I think anything that can stop you in your tracks and make you stare at it is pretty amazing — even if it’s just for a few seconds — as it may stay with you for years and years later. I remember seeing that famous Opium perfume campaign with the pale, naked woman on the blue silk. I was a child and I had no idea it was an iconic image but it stuck in my head. My favourite photograph of all time is a beautiful picture by Malcolm Browne of a woman who had jumped off the Empire State Building in the 1940s and fallen onto a car, totally crushing it. It’s a tragic photograph of a body post-suicide but it is so beautiful and moving.
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