From documenting McQueen’s creative process to behind-the-scenes footage of the runway, “Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous” is an exhibition exploring 13 years of friendship and collaboration between the late British designer and French photographer. Featuring a series of Ray’s photographs reflecting on her inimitable relationship with the designer alongside garments from Barrett Barrera Projects’ private McQueen collection, ‘Rendez-Vous’ is on view until February 15 at Barrett Barrera Projects’ new gallery space, projects+exhibitions, in St. Louis, Missouri. To celebrate the exhibition, Schön! caught up with Ray (formerly also known as Anne Deniau) to break down her long-standing relationship with the designer and the pair’s kindred spirits; as well as Barrett Barrera Projects‘ President Susan Barrett.
“I met Lee McQueen at the end of 1996 in Paris at Givenchy. I was asked to photograph him for two weeks during the creation of his first Couture collection. We were both very reserved, so it was a kind of mutual observation – what shy people do. We didn’t talk much, but the connection was intense,” Ray recalls from her earliest encounter with McQueen.
The genesis of the pair’s relationship might have been fortuitous, but its continuation was serendipitous. “I moved to London during summer 1997, and the first people I met on my arrival was the McQueen team, in the Rivington street studio at this time. Lee had no money, so the deal was settled in a very simple way: ‘I love your photos. Give me photos, and I will give you clothes.’ It never changed afterwards. It was all about freedom, and trust.”
A self-taught photographer and former Central Saint Martins graduate — much like McQueen himself — Ray considers her approach to photography as “intimate” but not “romantic.” “[My work] deals with fragility and humanity, with life and death, observations and vanishing moments,” the photographer recounts. “Time, interstitial moments, and processes are essential in all my works.”
With a preference for analogue photography, Ray has captured some of the most iconic and artistic moments during McQueen’s cherished career while keeping fragility and intimacy in mind. Before “Rendez-Vous,” Ray showcased “Les Inachevés,” otherwise known as “The Unfinished” in 2018, an exhibition in Arles presenting “the result of years of thoughts, feelings and observations.”
Endless thoughts and emotions come to mind when discussing Mcqueen but “incredibly talented, visionary, hard-working, funny and big-hearted” are only some of the few words Ann could use to describe fashion’s enfant terrible. While McQueen’s passing remains an “everlasting shock” to loved ones, Ray admits “Les Inachevés” was a form of closure for her.”It was a deeply honest tribute to a great artist and a lovely man, a dear friend,” Ray admits of the exhibition. “It was a closure too, after 20 years ‘with’ Lee, in a way or another.”
Almost a decade has passed since McQueen’s death, and “Rendez-Vous” takes a completely different approach from “Les Inachevés.” Per Ray herself, this new exhibition deals with “friendship, artistic adventures, exploring my link with Lee.” “The title came very naturally. I had ‘rendez-vous’ with Lee, on a very regular basis, for 13 years. I was looking forward to it, each and every time. It was raw joy and a privilege, certainly, but at the time it just seemed like being natural and fantastic,” the photographer explains. “Like illuminations. Like a rhythm. Lee was, and will always be in my DNA and in my life.”
In 2013, Susan Barrett — one of the masterminds behind the cross-disciplinary art organisation Barrett Barrera Projects — was the first to ever exhibit Ray’s work in St. Louis — Ray recalls, admitting she’s “very faithful and grateful for this.” Six years later, Barrett has entrusted Ray once again with the same honour. That’s why the photographer has decided to dedicate this new offering to Barrett precisely, but also her manager Myriam Blundell, Annabelle Neilson, and McQueen himself.
“Myriam has been by my side in Arles and elsewhere, in all my projects, for years. Annabelle Neilson was Lee’s soul mate and a very dear friend, she passed away last year. I dedicated the exhibition to Lee – a man who loved women – and to these three exceptional women,” she says. “In this new approach, full of depth and lightness, I wish to transmit again the truth of the legend about Lee McQueen, his life and his creations.”
Throughout both Ann Ray and Barrett Barrera Projects‘ growing success, Susan Barrett tells Schön! that the photographer became “a special kindred spirit, and that it only seemed natural to celebrate a new chapter with her. The growth and joy we are experiencing as a company can also be seen in Ann’s life. I never had the privilege to meet [Lee], but he seems to be a guardian angel to me by bringing his inner circle together with mine. It’s beyond amazing.”
Perhaps that’s exactly why “Rendez-Vous” serves as Barrett Barrera Projects’ new gallery space, projects+exhibitions, inaugural exhibition. Susan explains that the driving force behind this organisation is to “recreate the interaction between business and creative aspects.” “My goal is to destroy barriers that prevent conceptual understandings of artistic applications and creativity to non-artistic venues, including businesses. The company motto: Art is a Verb.”
“Flesh and Blood,” 2008
40 x 30 cm.
Images courtesy of Ann Ray and Barrett Barrera Projects
“Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous” might be projects+exhibitions’ first feat but it’s certainly not a small one. With thousands of images, her experience and knowledge of her beloved friend, in preparing this exhibition, Ray admits that she feels like “a musician playing different versions of a concerto.”
“I can do it, in my own way. It’s a responsibility and a duty to do so. I have been an observer for 13 years, and a guardian for nine years – since Lee’s death in 2010 — so I do know what I am talking about. What I am showing. What I am sharing,” Ray says. Ray believes that it is her duty and honour to share her archive and valuable time spent with Lee to the public, the photographer capturing the savage beauty of Lee Alexander McQueen hopes that the audience will feel “joy, admiration and hope” when visiting “Rendez-Vous.” “I hope the audience will feel both, the beauty of human life and the beauty of creation in this exhibition. I hope that the audience reflects on what matters, in their own lives, as far as friendship is concerned.”
With a creative documentary, feature film, a new publication, and her first novel in the pipeline, Ann Ray honours her everlasting relationship with Lee and hopes to carry on the McQueen legacy through her work. “For Lee McQueen has to be remembered as the great artist he was, as the great friend he was. The younger generations must also have access to him, which is another key-point in everything I do about Lee,” she says. “He already belongs to another era, and actually, I hardly need to talk about him. The images say it all.”
“Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous” is on at Barrett Barrera Projects’ new gallery space projects+exhibitions in St. Louis until February 15, 2020.
words. Amanda Breeze