by Rebecca Cramer

new york fashion magazine

Luke and Mandee Woodford of Luke & Mandy are on a quest to chronicle the ever-present art of life, living and love, while using their talents to help others to observe the beauty and adventure available.

 73

Becca Cramer(BC): First I want to say, I love the fairytale feeling, of fluffy luscious dress knocked up against the kind of raw elements and the locations you shoot in. Where are you both from? You mention Eastbourne, England. Is that home for both of you?

Mandee (MW): Yeah, we both live in Eastbourne at the moment. I was actually born in Zimbabwe, but I moved to the UK when I was three.

Luke (LW): I was born is Eastbourne and raised in a town nearby called Hailsham. I moved to Eastbourne when I was sixteen and I’ve lived here ever since. We are hoping to move to the south of France towards the end of next year, we just love it there, so quiet, peaceful and beautiful.

 85

BC: So, you have been at this for almost three years now, how did you meet and begin this adventure? 

MW: We knew each other for about five years before we were together. We used to drink in the same bar in our town. It’s so weird thinking back to our lives then, we had no idea we’d one day be getting interviewed as a married couple! The timing was never right for us back then, but eventually he asked me on a date and we just got on so well, it seemed stupid that it had taken us so long to get there.

LW: Yeah, we always say how ridiculous that it is that it didn’t happen sooner, but I try to trust that everything happens for a reason and we just appreciate every minute with each other now. I’ll never ever forget the feeling of being on our first date and instantly knowing that I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person.

90

LW: I remember lying in bed one night and it simply came to me. I remember being so eager to wake Mandee up to tell her that we should make this series and dedicate our lives to, it but I patiently waited until the next morning. From that initial idea of a simple photographic series, we quickly evolved into our own brand. I love the constant evolution process and not knowing where the journey will lead.

LW: Although we try and convey a story in every image we create, as this journey has evolved we’ve had to separate the eclectic mix of photographs we produce. The official stories category on our website contains our fashion shoots and artistic concepts which are the best fit for the name, but we will always try and convey a narrative in everything we do.

 95

BC: As a makeup artist and production designer myself, it is not always easy to bring something all the way to fruition. How long do you spend planning and executing each shoot? And, do you find you can just roll into a town and find people to help, or do you do all the work, prep yourselves? 

MW: Sometimes we’ll just have an idea and everything comes together straight away, like we’ll know exactly what to wear and where to do it. Sometimes if it’s a really conceptual shoot we’ll take weeks planning it. Because a lot of our locations are abroad, or in precarious abandoned buildings we only get one chance, so everything has to be planned out. All of the prep leading up to the shoot we do ourselves. If we’re working in different countries we have a small group of friends/team who usually travel with us and they are there if we need anything on the shoot. It we need people for hair and makeup then we put out a casting call for that country and find someone who lives there, or they will travel to meet us there. If we have a big fashion shoot we usually have team with us, but so many of our shoots are on spontaneous trips abroad so there isn’t always time to put a team together last minute. A lot of the time our vision is so specific that it’s just more efficient if we do everything ourselves anyway.

LW: For a recent shoot in Germany a makeup artist drove from the Netherlands just to be involved in the shoot, which was awesome. But there’s something very special about when we shoot by ourselves. It’s like a sacred intimacy. When It comes to the big fashion shoots we couldn’t do it without the teams we have around us and we are blessed with everyone that has been part of our journey so far.

 101

BC: Who are some of the designers you have been most excited to work with? Are they local to where you are shooting? Or are you creating images around the dresses when you come across them? The clothes are stunning.

LW: We’ve worked with an extremely varied mix of designers in our journey so far. From startup artisan brand Shahad Albandar to established designers Joanne Flemming and Elizabeth Emanuel.

MW: Elizabeth Emmanuel, the legendary designer of Princess Dana’s wedding dress!

LW: I had been a fan of Elizabeth’s worn for a long time and I was extremely excited by her positive reaction to our portfolio. The collaborations with her so far are some of my personal favorites of all our work.

LW: If we get approached for a campaign we don’t get to choose the dresses, but quite often for editorials and art pieces we will approach the designers that we like. Sometimes we build the concept around the dresses and sometimes it’s vice-versa. We are extremely picky with who we work with, the clothes are such a key part to the artwork we create.

 126

BC: How do you find locations? The shots the abandoned amusement park, are so fun with that lovely-slightly sinister-allure of the carnival. How did you find that place?

LW: Sometimes we have to completely change a shoot on the day, for example, that was shot in Berlin we were meant to be photographing a really big couture designer, but due to train strikes in Germany the garments didn’t arrive, so never wanting to waste an opportunity we shot the whole thing with Mandee nude.

MW:  That shoot was crazy…. There was security patrolling the park the whole time, every time they came past us, we had to literally lay down and hide. It’s stressful shooting in forbidden locations at the best of times, but doing it nude was just another level!

LW: It’s a mixture of things. I have been shooting in abandoned locations for ten years, it used to be a struggle– involving lots of research and begging– to find locations. Now I have a substantial network of people, and we all share intel. That location was recommended to us by one of our closest friends, Antony Meadley, who is a fellow photographer and came on that trip. We don’t give info out publicly because of people trashing locations, but I can say that parts of the film Hanna were shot there.

 171

BC: It sounds like you have an amazing network to be able to find locations and make the arrangements with designers, and such. How do you manage this? What do you think about the place of social media in the industry?

MW: It’s mostly through social media. It’s an amazing tool for creatives, but at the same time I do feel it’s rewriting the industry and overall, I have to say I don’t like how things are changing. In what I do especially. I hate how easy it is for people to create false impressions of their lives through social media. The word “model” gets thrown around so much online, girls write it in their Instagram bio and you know they’ve never booked a professional shoot in their livesm but they can pretend they’re pros. People are getting booked based on how many followers they have and not for their actual talent. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to those who have spent years working on what they do in the real world. I feel like things are all so backwards now that I’m not sure I want to be a part of it. I will always create pieces with Luke because that’s what we love doing and we’re in control of it all, but the modeling industry as a whole is just not something I’m very proud to be a part of anymore and I blame a lot of that on social media.

LW: Yes, so we network so much via social media. I’ve met contacts through various shows over the years, but social media has been amazing in a lot of ways. Recently I did a Facebook status asking if anyone knew anyone with a hotel in Marrakesh. My friend, Trudy Good replied and put me in touch with her friend Lucia Silver who owns the riad (hotel) Dar Jaguar.  Networking through social media we arranged to stay in Lucia’s luxury riad in exchange for photography. Where we found and rescued our cat – Princie; and now we are doing a couture shoot with Lucia’s gowns because she is an amazing designer as well.  So social media can be fantastic, but I agree with Mandee, and I can’t hate people getting jobs just because of their “following.” I would never knock anyone’s hustle, but that does make we wish that bookings were based on talent. I don’t think social media is rewriting the industry, I think it’s already done it.

 245

BC: What has been your favorite series so far?

MW:   My favorite is the first shoot we did in Paris, and again in Tale of Parisia. There’s something special about shooting in Paris, when we go there I feel so blessed to be doing what we’re doing and I think I channel that feeling into my modeling.

LW: There are so many, but I have to say Tale of Parisia. It was our first time doing a proper fashion shoot in Paris and although the actual shoot didn’t go completely smoothly, due to rain, the final images were everything I imagined and more.  I must give a special mention to Kate Conway for the amazing painting she did on these photos! Kate is Mandee’s mum, and obviously my mother-in-law. Sometimes when we do a shoot we print the images out and then she paints on top, then we photograph them again. She is an incredible artist; her work is even in permanent collections in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe where she is from.

MW:  Its really cool to have my mum collaborate with us. I love her art and her ideas… she’s amazing!

239

BC: Are there any particular shots that started with one concept and ended up going a completely different direction?

MW: We recently did a couture shoot in Germany that was meant to be shot in an abandoned building, but we couldn’t get in so we had to do it outside. It was -14 degrees and snow nearly up to our knees!

LW: Don’t remind me of that day, I thought we were all going to die of hypothermia!

 DSC_0120-2 copy

BC: Well that sounds terrifying!

MW: Luke loves to find the scariest locations! For me lot of the shoots we do I find frightening. I’m a really anxious person so you can imagine. When we shot our short film, Broken, I had to run around London pretending to be a crazy person; and then, on the pin-up style shoot in Paris, there were big crowds of people watching us and taking photos. It makes me laugh when I think how much I hate drawing attention to myself in public. Apart from those stressful moments our trips are honestly some of the funniest times of my life.

LW: I don’t mean to find the scariest, I actually wish they weren’t, but it just unfortunately happens that the best ones usually are. I know most of our shoots are very hard for Mandee, but we both believe that is one of the things that separates our work from others, we do things that a lot of others wouldn’t.

     LW: One of the craziest events, was on a series of locations in France. One was supposed to be an airplane graveyard. We were scouting our entry point to the lot, and suddenly a huge military police van pulled us over and they kept us for over thirty-minutes, whilst searching our car and making an alarming number of phone calls. What most concerned me was when they were going through our drivers’ papers, we had an extremely detailed map of the base. Luckily, they handed the papers back before they got to it on the last page; Otherwise they probably would’ve thought we were planning something bad! I thought it was likely that we would see the inside of a French cell that evening.

 DSC_1654

BC: What do you do when you aren’t shooting beautiful images?

MW: Ninety-nine percent our time is spent either shooting, planning our next move, or conversing with brands or magazines. We don’t really have proper time off. In this industry you must work to stay relevant!

LW: And not to mention with the shit-state that our planet is in we like to keep inside our bubble of happiness as much as possible within our minute circle of family, friends and cats! Our art serves as a form of escapism so we prefer to spend most of our time shooting.

DSC_9868

BC: Your notion of “continuous documentation” do you see child/children in on this as well?

MW:   I know that when we do have children they will be photographed all the time! Whether it will be in a public series or not I guess we can’t say until we are parents and can judge the situation for real!

LW: It’s something we are open to and we will not truly know until we have them. I feel in my heart that they will become a natural part of our art.

 DSC_085222

BC: I read in a bio on one of your pages, you consider yourselves artists who “don’t specialize in anything, just simply create art in every way their unique journey takes them” was this idea the foundation for your life-long project, or did that idea come about from the project itself?

MW: I think it is who we are as people, so it is something that happened naturally as the series evolved. We have so many different ideas and things we want to do, so we would never want to be pigeon holed into one particular style, or even art form.

LW: Mandee says it perfectly. The beauty of what we do is we never know where it’s going to take us, so it’s important to be open to new paths in the journey and exploring avenues that we once might not have considered. We couldn’t imagine a world now where we didn’t work together, it’s the most special and blessed thing of our lives.

 142

BC: Are you both/or either familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss”?

LW: I actually hadn’t heard of him, I’m not as knowledgeable as Mandee on that, but I have always believed that anything is possible and if you follow your dreams you can’t go wrong, which I think is his point? If you genuinely believe you can achieve something, you will achieve it.

MW: I am indeed! I love that and it’s always something I’ve tried to base my life on. I’m a big believer that when you find something that makes you truly happy and focus on that, the universe kind of gets out your way and lets everything falls into place.

DSC_4872222

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.