We caught up with Alannah Cooper, a star student from Graduate Fashion Week and the outstanding winner of our Fashion Photography award. Alannah fell in love with photography at the young age of 14 and has pursued her creative passion ever since. With dreams of shooting for Alexander McQueen, we’ve found out all the inside info on her time at university and Graduate Fashion Week... dipping into how she is already on her way to an exciting career in the industry!
Hi Alannah, huge congrats on winning the Fashion Photography Award! How did you feel when you were announced the winner?
I was really surprised when I won the award because I was just delighted to have been nominated, as I had felt that was a big achievement in itself. I am really happy and proud that I won because it was great achievement for my university. I wouldn’t have ever been close to winning if it had not been for the support of my dedicated tutors and the team spirit of my class, who all pulled together to help each other make their best work in the final year.
Have you always loved photography or is it something you’ve discovered through studying at Heriot Watt university?
My grandad gave me a DSLR for my 14th birthday and from then I was hooked. At first I was taking photos of Orkney landscapes and scenery but I started asking my friends, such as Becky, Catherine and Iona if I could take them to castles, piers and gardens to photograph them. Then while I was interning for a local designer, Kristeen Stewart, she asked me to shoot her collections. While I was at college I started experimenting with studio lighting and all sorts of strange coloured lenses. So, I was really excited to start university, where I had some really great tutors who could help me develop my skills and find my own personal style. These days I take photos of absolutely everything that I find inspiring or interesting, which you can see on my Instagram.
What is your dream job? And has it changed whilst being at university?
My absolute dream would be to shoot a campaign for Alexander McQueen. I went on a school trip to New York in 2011 and we went to the Savage Beauty exhibition and I fell in love. Coming from an island where there are no high street shops, let alone luxury clothing - it was my first real experience of seeing incredible fashion design in person.
You won the award for your photographic publication Teran, where did the inspiration for your images derive from?
‘We leave but we are always drawn back. The moon phase changes and our bones are pulled northwards. We grow up on this secluded island that we want to escape and do so with the sound of rocks being carried into the ocean. We cross the choppy waters
to new territories. We find careers, adventures and people but sometimes we lose sight of ourselves. The current changes swiftly and we find ourselves washed up back on that same island. When we return, the sharp air rushes through our lungs like a howling gale. We trace our steps along well-worn paths, feeling that familiar entrapment but as we watch an oyster catcher swoop across the bay, we wonder -
what is it that made us so desperate to leave after all?’
This is the introduction to my publication, which I feel summarises the feeling of the project. I grew up on the Orkney Islands and felt conflict between whether I wanted to remain in the islands or leave in pursuit of an ambitious career. My great grandfather’s first cousin, Robert Rendall, was a poet, and I could see parallels from the stories told within his poems to my own life. For this reason, I decided to create my own editorials based on the vision I had in my head for many of his poems. I hope that in creation of my publication, young people in Orkney will look to their home with fresh eyes and see how there are so many opportunities and possibilities that have not yet been taken advantage of that all come from living remotely.
What do you think you will miss most about being at University?
The thing I miss most about Heriot Watt is seeing all the people that I’ve made such good friends with. There was a studio space dedicated for the 4th year Fashion Communication students and we spent so much time there bouncing ideas off each other, listening to the ‘Independent Ladies’ Spotify playlist and laughing at each other getting increasingly delirious as the year went on. Sitting at your desk dressed in curtains/plastic bags/soya milk cartons was not unusual and going to the canteen with a purple face after having volunteered to trial a makeup look for someone was nothing out of the ordinary in our studio. I made friends with some really talented, hilarious and kind-hearted people at Heriot Watt and I will miss being with them every day.
Who are your top three photographer inspirations?
My top three photographer inspirations are Viviane Sassen, Gunnie Moberg and László Moholy-Nagy. I love Viviane Sassen’s vision and hope that one day I will have such a recognisable style. Gunnie Moberg was known as the Swedish Orcadian and had such a unique take on photographing the islands, it really made me believe there was possibility to take a place that you are so completely used to looking at and find new ways to photograph it. László Moholy-Nagy was a brilliant artist, but it is photography that I am captivated by. He turned people into abstract objects within a composition, which really pushes me not to be reliant on conventional fashion photography poses.
What is one thing from Graduate Fashion Week you would recommend our readers to do whilst at the event?
If you are a current student, I would really recommend interning at the event. Last year I worked as part of the Catwalk Seating Team, which meant I saw absolutely loads of shows every day and met really great people. I even got to go behind the scenes at the show a few times! If you are visiting the show I would definitely go to see the Edinburgh College of Art show, our Scottish neighbours, because their show has been my favourite two years in a row.
Did you see any of our incredible industry guests when you were at GFW?
I had the pleasure of meeting some really interesting industry guests at GFW, ranging from journalists from Business of Fashion to bigger brands such as Clarks and Debenhams. I also felt really proud to meet the judges, Dave Bennet, Nancy Rohde, Olivia Gideon Thomson and Elizabeth Morris. It was amazing for such influential people to be so interested in my work and really encouraging. I didn’t get to stay for the last two days of Graduate Fashion Week because my sister went into labour, so I rushed back to Edinburgh on the train so I could be there for the birth of her baby boy!
Now that you’ve graduated, where shall we expect to be seeing you next?
Right now, I am working as the Digital Editor at Karen Mabon and I shot their look book in Portugal this summer, which will be released early next year. In January, I will be moving to London, to begin an MA in Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins – I met the course leader at GFW, so this would never have happened if I hadn’t been showing my work there. If you are in London and you want to work together next year, please get in touch!
Words By: Emma Mitchell