Models and Their Mothers
Model-turned-photographer Morwenna Lytton Cobbold’s first solo exhibit features images of models at home with their mothers. She talks to Erin Cunningham.
Morwenna Lytton Cobbold, 24, has built a name for herself modeling for the likes of Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, and Vivienne Westwood. But now, the British model has finally turned her longtime hobby of photography into a reality. Her first solo exhibit, entitled Models and Mothers, features top models -- including Natalia Vodianova, Portia Freeman, and Amber Atherton -- in their seemingly “natural” habitats: at home with their mothers. In the series of stunning and intimate portraits, Cobbold shows that the apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Cobbold received her first camera from her mother at an early age, but went on to model for a slew of legendary photographers -- including Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, and Ellen Von Unwerth -- before becoming a photographer in her own right.
Now, Cobbold -- who served as an ambassador for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign (and whose grandmother is a breast cancer survivor) -- is utitlizing her exhibit to bring awareness to the disease. "I hope that these images, this celebration of family and life, can make a positive difference to those affected by breast cancer everywhere," she says. Cobbold talks to The Daily Beast about Models and Mothers, on display through October 31 at The Gilbert Scott in London.
Where did the idea to shoot models with their moms come from?
The series began as a personal project, consisting of portraits of fashion models and actors with their mothers. I travelled to their homes, removing the model from the conventional big fashion shoot set-up. Having worked and travelled around the world as a model myself since I was 16 years old, the importance of time at home with family has become increasingly apparent.
So is that why you photographed them at home?
Coming from a world of high-production, large-scale fashion shoots for my personal work, I wanted to strip back all the artificiality and styling and make my images more about the people in them. I wanted to go back to basics and photograph something a bit more “real.” I asked the models to wear their own clothes, do their own hair and make-up, and arrive alone at their homes to create an intimate and personal portrait -- a side of the models rarely seen.
Were there any funny or stand-out moments from the shoots?
I found it fascinating to capture the models in a family environment, especially seeing otherwise very composed and self-sufficient professionals revert back to teenagers -- arguing with their mum about what they’re wearing! I love recording family dynamics through portraiture, as well as looking into themes of identity, place, the ageing process, relationships, family dynamics, and photographic documentation.
Is there a particular model/mom combo that stands out as your favorite?
My favorite one is Heidi Rock and her mum Philomena. Heidi has such an enigmatic expression! I also love the photo of Olivia and Rosie Inge. They were so funny to be around, so close with each other. And of course, the image of Natalia and Larisa. They were so welcoming to me and the food was delicious when we ate it afterwards! I felt honored to be invited into people’s homes and to share these rare, personal moments.
When did your love for photography develop?
I’ve always loved taking photographs -- I had just started my photography AS level when I was scouted as a model. My mum gave me her 1980s Nikon FE2 camera, which I learned all of the basics on. It began with my love of shooting film -- I built a darkroom in our old bike shed at home. I progressed onto medium format film when I studied for a BA in Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion.
I think photography's changed so much with digital cameras and iPhones and Instagram that it's become much more accessible, which is brilliant but also means you really have to prove yourself to stand above everyone's phone photos! I really love shooting on film because I think it stops you from being “snap happy” -- it makes you take a moment to consider the composition and expression, much more when there are only ten photos on a roll! All of my portraits are shot on medium format film. I still get excited seeing a picture appear in the developing tray.
So with all of this photography buzz, are you still modeling?
Yes, I am (Cobbold is signed with Unsigned Group). I'm the face of Vivienne Westwood gold label Fall/Winter 2013 and have a campaign coming out for the World Gold Council. As a photographer, it's such a privilege to be able to watch more established photographers at work. I've picked up a few tricks!
What’s been your favorite modeling experience thus far?
Getting whisked away from New York Fashion Week to shoot with Steven Meisel in LA for Italian Vogue was pretty amazing! (And the catering was delicious) Beautiful couture dresses and sunshine is a winning combination.
So what’s next?
Photography-wise, I’m constantly maxing out my cabin baggage weight allowance, lugging my Mamiya RZ Pro II around everywhere that I get to travel through modeling, and documenting people and places. It’s such a fantastic way to see the world.