Photographing Savile Row

Imogen Wall is approaching the end of her photography degree. Originally from Surrey, she chose Savile Row and its people as her final project and in doing so opened the door to a fascinating world which has seen her visiting numerous houses around Savile Row and photographing its people, tools and spaces.

We caught up with her recently between getting final pieces of work handed in and arranging for an upcoming show and asked how she found the whole experience.

Photographer: Imogen Wall

How did you get into photography?

I have always loved photographs, my dad used to take photographs of everything when I was younger, even when he changed from film cameras to digital cameras he would still print every picture; we had a cupboard that was just filled with photographs, and I loved going through them.

Where did you study?

I have been studying at Coventry University which has been great; I also had the opportunity to study abroad for a year in Madrid.
What area of photography are you interested in?

I love portraiture. People are so interesting. When you photograph people you make a connection and talk, I learn so many things about people or in this case tailoring. I am now a fountain of knowledge on techniques of tailoring trousers!

Imogen captures the tools of the trade

Have you relied on film or digital for this project and reasons why?

For this project, I photographed only on film, as the project was on a traditional craft it seemed hypocritical of me to photograph then on digital. I have used both 35mm and medium format. My Mamiya RB67 (a medium format single-lens reflex) unfortunately broke half way through the project. It is, however, so nice to photograph on; it sounds great, and the process is slowed down massively.  It also sparks talking points with the people I photographed.

Do you think film will disappear?

Do I think the use of film will disappear? No, there are so many photographers using film at the moment.

Who is your favourite photographer and why?

I am really interested in the work by Taryn Simon who does interesting projects on things you don’t really see but know about. Her project the American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, she photographed things we all know about but have no idea what it looks like, for example, interrogation room or where nuclear waste is stored.

Alterations tailor, Peter, at work

How did the Savile Row project come about?

I was assisting another photographer who was shooting for a magazine article. The gentleman we were photographing were in London for 3 hours, and on Savile row for half an hour of that time. We were there longer for the setup and test shots, and I found myself fascinated by the street and the tailoring houses. They all had beautiful window displays, and I just decided I wanted to photograph there.

What were your perceptions of Savile Row before the project?

I thought it was going to be very difficult to get in to and be allowed access to photograph my project. I was worried I would be met with lots of forms and conditions. I also thought that it may slightly pretentious.

Have they changed?

Yes, although initially, when I first started emailing tailors in 2013 I was told they were too busy. Last year (2014) I made contact with coat maker Maya at Richard Anderson and after photographing there, she advised I just walked into the rest. I did and was nervous to begin with, but everyone was so inviting and interested in the project which meant I was able to return again and again to the various houses. I’ve been given advice on magazines that might want to see or use my images. Or other tailors or crafts that would complement the project.

Meyer & Mortimer's Oliver Cross

I had a great time at Meyer and Mortimer and cutter Oliver Cross was very welcoming and generous with his time. My first shoot here was a riot. I have lots of blurred images as Oliver and myself were laughing so much.

What aspects of this industry have you found most visually interesting?

I’ve been really interested in the people and how they came to work on the row. Especially some of the apprentices. I’ve met several who are 18 or 19 and they already know what they are doing with their lives.

But also the process I think is beautiful and how garments are made from scratch along with the drafting and making of patterns*. And the knowledge of how fabric fits to the body and how it needs to be cut, folded and sewn in certain ways is really interesting.

Are you showing your work from this project?

Yes, I’m currently preparing for two shows; one in Coventry and the other in London.

What’s next for you?

I hope to move on to another traditional craft such as cobblers, but I’d also like ‘The Row’ to be seen by more people so I’ll be approaching magazines or gallery’s to see if they would like to use images.

* Pattern Drafting: After measuring a customer, those measurements are used to create a paper pattern which will become the template for what is made.

If you would like to see Imogen’s Savile Row project, her work can be seen at the following places:

Lanchester Gallery, Glass Box Gallery, Coventry, 29 May – 4 June

Free Range, the Truman Brewery London, 18 June (opening night) 19-22 June day times.

Or for those not able to visit there is a selection of images on Imogen's website.