History meets high fashion in Alexia Sinclair’s stunning photographs

CNN  — 

“When people first see my images they often think they’re paintings,” claims Australian photographer Alexia Sinclair, who in fact compiles her artworks from photographs embellished with hundreds or sometimes thousands of layers of details and effects added in post-production.

Sinclair’s work is heavily influenced by fine art, and in particular the 19th-century paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, who she believes would probably have adopted the medium of photography to produce their realistic depictions of romantic and spiritual scenes had such a tool been available to them.

“A lot of my inspiration in the early days came from the Pre-Raphaelites and the way they would reimagine a narrative,” Sinclair explains. “I guess I’m not interested in the raw grit of life that a camera can capture, it’s more a sense of it being able to more accurately represent what I’m imagining.”

Real and surreal

Her imaginings often take the form of historical or allegorical figures portrayed within scenes that employ symbolism and detail to tell a tale about their personality or the period in which they lived.

From Elizabeth I to Genghis Khan and Marie Antoinette, the people at the heart of these images are brought to life through images in which realism and surrealism converge.

Agrippina - The Regal Twelve by Alexia Sinclair

In addition to the intricate process of building the complex scenes layer by layer, using sophisticated computer software, Sinclair also gets hands-on in the creation of the scenery, props, costumes and hairstyles.

For the recent Rococo series, she even grew many of the flowers strewn around the models in her own garden, while a lion that appears in an image of the Roman Empress Julia Agrippina was photographed by Sinclair inside its cage at a local circus.

A fashion influence

As well as referencing classical paintings, Sinclair’s work is strongly influenced by the expressive outfits produced by modern fashion designers.

During the completion of her Masters degree from 2004-2007, Sinclair looked to the work of designers like Alexander McQueen and Christian Lacroix, whose clothing evoked similar styles and periods to those she herself was interested in when developing her series The Regal Twelve.

Sinclair sees parallels between the dream worlds created by these designers and the theatrical way in which her artworks represent historical themes.

“I’m not trying to recreate something like a painter of that period would have, it’s about being inspired by and understanding the period and making it contemporary,” she says. “I continually look at fashion designers because they’re also always reinterpreting the past.”

Hidden surprises

Alongside her personal work, Sinclair produces images for commercial clients such as Qantas, Queensland Ballet and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Although she claims to enjoy the variety and different pace of these projects, the jobs are predominantly a way to fund her laborious personal projects.

Having recently moved to London with her husband James and two-year-old daughter Heidi, Sinclair is currently focusing on settling into the rhythm of a new city before delving back into post-production on a new set of portraits shot last year for the Rococo series.

She’ll also continue developing a series called The Golden Age that she was invited to shoot using photographic supplier Phase One’s new 100-megapixel camera.

A selection of images from the series, A Frozen Tale, were recently exhibited at the inaugural Dubai Photo Exhibition, where their large dimensions (sometimes more than two meters in width), rich colors and striking subjects lent them a captivating presence.

Sinclair insists that such exhibitions offer a crucial opportunity to show the works as they were made to be seen: “That’s the reason I shoot on a really big camera and I’ve always used medium format,” she explains, “because I want people to see a big piece on a wall like you would experience a large painting. I want them to zoom right in and experience the tiny little details that maybe only I know about.”

If you take another look at these fantastical photographs you may uncover some hidden surprises, but their painterly quality and most intimate secrets are only revealed when viewed up close and in person.