Harley Weir has been snapping photographs, practically forever. For a start, she’d use a disposable camera given by her mom during each school trip.
“I always really enjoyed that part of things,” said Weir, adding she’d make albums and upload photos to Flickr. “Then someone just approached me from images of my friends and family that I had on there to do a fashion shoot.”
That was Vice magazine, while Weir was studying fine art at Central Saint Martins in London.
“It bubbled on from there and continued — and ended up taking over my whole life,” she said with a laugh.
Weir’s unforgettable shots are impossible to tuck neatly into any defined genre. Highly textured and color-rich, they are mysterious — and sometimes unsettling.
Luxury brands, including Chanel, Dior, Alexander McQueen, Versace, Supreme, Calvin Klein and Givenchy, have taken note, and signed her on for commercial projects. Weir’s list of editorial work runs long, plus she’s co-published five books, had solo exhibitions and shot films. Her “Legs are not Doors” won the Milano Fashion Film Awards in 2015.
Everything and everyone inspires Weir.
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“Everyone around me. Everyone I love. Everything I touch or like. The life that passes through me,” she said. “Everything that goes around me.”
Weir has always found beauty in all people.
“I love extremes, and I love curves and slenderness, too, and every different type of person,” she said. “I have always had a variety of people in my work, which I think is important, so that the people that look at [it] can see themselves.
“It’s really important to represent as many different beauties as possible, and that’s something I’m always working on,” Weir said. “I’d love to expand that even more, honestly.
“One of the reasons I wanted to take pictures of people is I was really interested in people’s faces,” she continued. “I don’t know if you can tell now, but I usually always like to zoom in.”
Weir uses beauty not as a façade for a deeper message, but as something that pulls people in, to take a closer look.
Some might consider her images are raw, but Weir disagrees.
“They are very, very, very fantastical,” she said. “I would love to be maybe slightly more ruthless with my subjects and show them even more brutally. I guess I would love to…not worry about hurting someone’s feelings if I portray them in a way that might not be how they’d like to be seen — but it’s the truth.
“I am very sensitive to how [people] would want to be portrayed,” Weir said. “And how people want to be portrayed is often not how they are at all.”
Although best known for her fashion photography, she works for beauty brands, as well. A recent memorable shoot was for a Versace fragrance campaign, set in Corsica.
“It was a really good energy,” she said. “Everyone was in a happy place.”
A dream commission is something from which Weir can learn.
“Anything that brings me some kind of new knowledge is really exiting to me,” she said. “Photographing a botanical garden and all their different new discoveries would be really exciting.”
Her personal lens is unique.
“I am really drawn to colors and textures wherever I am,” Weir said. “One of the most memorable jobs I ever did was for Chanel. It was basically preparing colors and textures for inspiration for makeup.”
Weir is a multimedia artist who — besides photography — uses ceramic, video, paint and prints in her creative work. When approaching a project, she mostly works on intuition.
“I like the idea that you have an idea, and it’s a question rather than a statement,” she said. “So I’m trying to find an answer rather than going in with the answer and being like: ‘This is what it is and that’s how it’s going to be.’ I like to be open-minded.”
For photos, she uses about 10 cameras — both digital and film.
“I’m actually surprised that my work doesn’t look more all over the place, because I use so many different cameras,” she said.
Today, personal projects include the ceramics (think little quirky creatures, such as the pink Bad to a Good Day Elephant Pot and the Union Jack Mask With Troubled Insides face), and she has been developing her own light-painting technique. With a friend, Weir has been collaborating on an art-therapy project documenting informal art sessions.
“We’ve been preparing a book and a kind of campaign to create more spaces for underprivileged people to have access to art on a therapy basis,” Weir said. “That’s something really important to me.”
Inside the Mind
What are your favorite colors?
Orangey red and kind of minty green.
What’s the last audio book you heard?
“Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides. I really enjoyed it. I love that when you get into a book and you just can’t stop.
What kind of music do you like?
I have extremely eclectic taste. I love every genre.
Who is your favorite artist?
Alina Szapocznikow. She makes these amazing sculptures. They feel so feminine, so visceral and human, and are really beautiful but ugly at the same time. There’s an amazing balance of beauty in her work. It’s raw but also not. There’s a lot of juxtapositions — really nice balances going on.
Do you have any mentors?
My parents. Both were really artistic when I was younger. My mom is now an art teacher, but they both used to work in the toy industry, and they gave me such freedom. So I’m very grateful to them for allowing me to have freedom — the best mentoring [possible].
What positive might come from the coronavirus pandemic?
This has been a great time for change.