“In that short space of time, you change a lot.” Alasdair McLellan’s BLONDEY 15-21
Alasdair McLellan’s fifth book, released this summer, chronicles a six-year working relationship between the British photographer and Blondey McCoy: the Southbank skater, model, and muse who McLellan has been photographing since 2013, when McCoy was 15. As a result, Blondey 15–21 is also a document of moving from adolescence to adulthood – and of doing so, like most do in this social-mediatized age, in front of the camera.
Featuring 150 photographs of the young Londoner, who has appeared in campaigns for Burberry, adidas, and Valentino, the book takes the format of a 10″ vinyl record, perhaps in homage to McLellan and McCoy’s shared music tastes. (As they continued to shoot together a friendship emerged, according to the photographer, thanks to a mutual love of Morrissey and The Smiths.) Scroll on for selections from the limited edition – only 2000 copies were made – alongside McLellan’s thoughts on youth, change, and hometown photo shoots.
What was it about Blondey that drew you to him as a subject for your photography at the time? What was it that kept you compelled for so many years?
I met Blondey through my assistants Lex and Finn. They were both skaters and always did skate photos. Finn had taken a photograph of Blondey that was really great. I was casting for a story for Arena Homme+ at the time and I thought he looked brilliant. He had a strange likeness to a young Shaun Ryder from The Happy Mondays. We were shooting in my home town. So we spoke to Blondey’s mum and asked if he would be ok to come up to Yorkshire and do the shoot.
He’s extremely photogenic, and it just happened really. It wasn’t planned. I was working closely with Lev [Tanju] who’d not long started his skate company, Palace Skateboards, and he was looking for new skaters to shoot as some of his friends like Lucien [Clarke] who we’d photographed quite a bit were now skating for Supreme or other brands. So we ended up photographing Blondey a lot. He just seemed perfect for them. Then I did a cover of him for i-D as they were doing a Young London street issue. Which, again, he seemed perfect for also.
Have you had other subjects in the past that compare in terms of an ongoing relationship? What makes this one distinct?
What makes this particular relationship special is that when I started to photograph Blondey he was only 15, and I’ve photographed him every year since then. In that short space of time you change a lot. Not only physically, but also as a person. When I first thought about the project as a book, I wondered whether he’d changed enough for it to work. But I think you can really see the time passing and the changes in him.
You’ve said you are interested in photographing formative times in life – in the coming of age. Are you relating this to or processing part of your own past, your own youth and entrance into adulthood, through these images? Is Blondey’s experience something you relate to?
I started to take photographs when I was 13, just of my school mates. I thought I was ok at it. So I have lots of photos of my friends also growing up. They’re mostly snapshots. So it kind of reminded me of when I first started taking photos. But again, like the Blondey book, it wasn’t planned – I never planned on being a photographer. I just thought I was alright at it and I pursued it. I think coming of age is always a brilliant subject. But it also reminds me of how I grew as a teenager into an adult and as a photographer also, I suppose.
Do you feel like Blondey’s experience was specific to our times, or more universal than that? Is the idea that others will be able to relate to the experience, too?
Well, it’s universal because everyone goes through it. But I think it’s specific to our times in a way – partly because of the clothes he’s wearing in some of the pictures. I’d hope people can relate to the photos. But it’s really just a documentary of Blondey aged from 15 – 21.
Are you specifically interested in the idea of innocence? Of its loss?
I think both are interesting subjects: innocence and the loss of innocence. So yes sometimes I look for that in people. I suppose some people are more innocent than others. Or perhaps that’s just their appearance.
How interesting is age, really? Are we too fixated on youth?
I think all ages are brilliant to photograph. So for a photographer, age is always compelling.
Do you view this work as a collaboration with Blondey? In general, do you view your subjects as collaborators?
I think it is a collaboration of sorts. When I photograph people I’m genuinely interested in, I really love to take them back to their hometown or somewhere like that. I always feel it puts their guard down and you can see their enthusiasm for the photographs more. It becomes much more personal and the photos have more of a heart, I think. When Blondey and I knew it was going to be a book, which was about January this year, we came up with ideas of where to shoot him for the final bit of the “aged 21” section. So we took photos of him with his Grandma. We did photos in some of his favorite skate spots from Rome to New Malden – where Blondey grew up and first learned to skate – to Los Angeles. Places he’d been on many skate trips over the years. He also loves Disney, so we did photos of him in Disneyland too.