As the VA prepares to open a blockbuster exhibition on the work of the late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, the museum has acquired 13 photographs taken behind the scenes of his spectacular catwalk shows by the French photographer Ann Ray – from an extraordinary archive of more than 35,000 images she captured and which McQueen described as “my life in pictures”.
The photographer, who has described herself as “an alien” in the fashion world, gave nine of the images and the museum bought four more, three of them previously unpublished, spanning the period from 1998 when she began working with McQueen, to weeks before his suicide in 2010.
Ray said that beyond feeling honoured herself to join the vast photography collection at the VA, she felt her prints – many with a silvery, shadowy quality she obtained by printing them using techniques developed by Victorian pioneers of photography – were going to a museum that McQueen had treasured.
“As for the man himself, I knew him well and I loved him well … being gifted with his trust, and being keen to do my duty and manage his ‘life in pictures’ I cherish the idea that these photographs made with a fierce passion and full dedication – art for art indeed – are now at a place that Lee would joyfully appreciate … Lee is at home at the VA. After five years when I missed him every day, I can smile.”
Susanna Brown, curator of photography at the VA, said the photographs were full of poetry, lyricism and drama: “It is particularly exciting to be the first museum in the world to include her work in our permanent collection.”
The exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, opens to the public on 14 March. The photographs may be viewed by appointment at the VA’s prints and drawings study room.