His work includes famous perfume commercials for Isabella Rossellini and Lancome. But now the British photographer and director Alistair Taylor-Young is having his first solo show in London of dream-like photographs, which, unbelievably, have all been taken with a mobile phone.
It's hard to work out how he managed to capture these ethereal images with nothing but a camera phone. But photographs of swirling snow around a tree, New York at night, the internal mechanics of a light bulb, a bonfire glow that resembles a pink cherry tree – even white clouds in the Tuscan sky, just don't resemble your average phone's camera roll.
It was a breath of fresh air for Taylor-Young who swapped his Hasselblad for a mobile phone in 2007, to take photographs, for his first book, The Phone Book. Some of the 100 images, taken all over the world, will be exhibited at The Little Black Gallery in London next month.
This new project is a reaction against the perfect world of advertising that he usually inhabits, where everything is airbrushed and manipulated.
"We have been bombarded by manipulated images throughout our creative history. Here is a collection of images with scenes I have captured without tricks," says Taylor-Young. "The commercial world is a predictable one. We are all well-versed in retouching images. I think a lot of people find it exasperating as it just isn't real. Everything is perceived to create this perfect vision of whatever you are trying to sell."
Taylor-Young, 45, is the quintessential English photographer; well dressed, well spoken and with colourful horn-rimmed glasses. Between commercials he is a busy photographer in London, New York, Milan and Paris, specialising in beauty, luxury and travel. Recently some of his photographs, including the floating nude, which stemmed from his fascination with being suspended in time and the slightly out of focus florescent bright-blue lips, which confronted the conventional concept of beauty, were exhibited in group shows. But this latest foray into the art world has given him a feeling of creative freedom that he has craved for ever since he started working in the high-gloss world of advertising. Like all his other works – his uplifting mobile phone pictures capture a mood in an ethereal way. "It comes from inside of me. I'd be walking down a street and I'd stop to pull out my mobile phone to take a picture of something. It could be anything from a glint of a light to a man walking along the street. I started instinctively taking a picture with the camera phone of something quite obscure. I was staying with my sister and took a picture of her sheets drying on the washing line. She found it bizarre but for me it reminded me of my past – but also for me it was a beautiful image. I'm not trying to be narcissistic by saying: 'Look at me! I've taken brilliant photos with a mobile phone'. It became a way of recording something for myself but in a natural way." Does he have any tips for the rest of us stuck with run-of-the-mill mobile phone photos of friends and family? "I haven't taken pictures of people. They are photos of an inhabited world where there are traces of people, humanity, kindness and events – but it's not about a person. When you look at these photos you can translate yourself into them as well. The only analytical side of what I take is because I noticed it."
The photographer who is based in Connecticut, America, was fed up with making everything perfect. "I didn't want to lie to anyone. My job is to manipulate pictures to get something perfect – there are thousands of lenses and cameras and ways to light it, in order to create a mood, but they are all tools of the trade. Yes, I could have retouched the images taken with the phone but it became objectionable to do that. It meant the picture wasn't right in the first place." It was the simplicity of taking pictures on a camera phone that he enjoyed. "I didn't plan which photos I would take. The phone was just in my pocket in case somebody called me."
Mobile phone images include British Manners of an old man in Trafalgar Square, holding an umbrella up and the streets are all wet; Sea is a photo of the sea in Zanzibar; ("Why it works? I can't explain it.") Butterfly; ("It was just there on a window and it made a beautiful shape.") A picture of a horse in Connecticut is being washed by a hose and surrounded by droplets of water. "It looks as if it is underwater. A lot of my images ask questions such as what is it? Is the horse swimming?" Some cola bottle caps are set in the shape of a heart in the asphalt of a pavement in Milan. While Miami Dinner is a photograph of a table cloth in a Cuban restaurant rather than at first glance, a scenic shot of a tree. Box makes you wonder if it is the inside or outside of a box. The Conversation, a photograph of green chairs in a circle, was taken in Paris in a park with no one sitting in them. Another titled Tea Time is a romantic-looking shot of shadows running out of the sea in Zanzibar. "Local kids were bobbing around in the sea like seals until their parents called them in from the bushes where they lived." Klimt, an image of patterns of fields, was taken from a plane over southern Italy. "All the gelds, reds and ambers remind me of Gustav Klimt," he says. "I like the rubbish quality of the phone camera. You can't change the exposure. It is literally what it is. It really is the most basic form of photography. You just hold it up and take a picture. This was done as a need to let off steam."
The Phone Book, Little Black Gallery, London SW10 ( www.thelittleblackgallery.com) 12 January to 12 FebruaryReuse content