LBB’s Alex Reeves explores the polymath creative talent behind some of the most captivating music videos of recent years
Autumn de Wilde was born in Woodstock - the nexus of hippiedom. It was 1970, just months after that corner of upstate New York played host to the most important countercultural moment of the 20th century. And it explains a lot about her. “My parents were travelling across the country with two other couples during Mom’s pregnancy,” she says. “A piano player they knew named Paul Harris offered up his log cabin in Woodstock for my birth, so they headed that way and planned to have me there.”
For added context, Paul Harris has provided keys on the records of artists as diverse as Stephen Stills, B. B. King, Judy Collins and ABBA. Autumn’s parents were deeply embedded in the cultural metamorphosis the world was going through in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. At the time of Autumn’s birth her father, Jerry de Wilde, was in the middle of a transformative photography project, documenting art happenings, love-ins, anti-war demonstrations, and the counterculture more generally. Along this journey he even photographed such legends as Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar.
These days Autumn is a celebrated creator; a photographer and director - and her creative impulse was sparked by that early influence. “I spent my childhood looking through the amazing photos my dad took of his friends and the counterculture scene he was a big part of creating,” she says. “It shaped me. It inspired me to seek out friends and subjects who think differently. It also inspired me to document my world on film.”
As single-minded as she sounds, Autumn’s route to becoming the all-star photographer and director that she is today was a meandering one. Although she grew up breathing in the vapours of photography, dance was the first mode of creative expression she fell in love with. She studied ballet for 13 years and went to theatre school in her early twenties. But being behind the lens felt natural to her. “Meanwhile, I always took photos,” she says.
This is Autumn’s version of her career in a nutshell: “I wanted to dance, then I wanted to act, then I realised I was a photographer, then - because I love music and musicians seemed to love my photos - I documented the indie rock scene and eventually shot a lot of album covers. Then I expanded my view and started shooting actors, fashion designers, directors and artists. At some point I realised, with all this weird random knowledge that I had acquired... that I was also a director.”
The shift from stills photography to moving image was a gentle flow from one artform to another, she explains: “My photos were always born out of storytelling ideas. I created imaginary scenes from movies that were never made so I could help my subjects feel like they were part of something more than one still image. We were always playing pretend. That’s what made it fun. That’s what helped me find their iconic moment so I could help make them seem larger than life. Directing was just adding more frames.”
The Autumn de Wilde of 2018 is celebrated as a multifaceted creator, effortlessly colliding art, advertising and music video. For film, she’s represented by Anonymous Content and can be reached in the UK through Somesuch. Her short film collection for Prada, The Postman Dreams, was featured in Vogue and won accolades at the London International Awards and Berlin Fashion Film Festival. She’s also written, directed, and shot brand films like ‘Catch a Tuesday’ for Oliver Peoples, starring Zooey Deschanel, and ‘The Children Are Bored on Sundays’, with Elijah Wood and Shirley Manson.
Her photographs of Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jenny Lewis, The White Stripes, Fiona Apple, Elliott Smith, Norah Jones, Sonic Youth, Wilco and many others have appeared as album covers and editorial spreads. She’s also authored the books ‘Elliott Smith’, an in-depth look at the late artist through photographs and recorded conversations; ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’, documenting the White Stripes on the road during a Canadian tour; and ‘Beck’, a chronicle of her 16-year friendship and creative partnership with the musician.
She’s got a foot firmly planted in fashion, too. Her photography has adorned covers of the magazines BlackBook, New York Magazine, Flare, PAPER, Stylist, FILTER and L’Officiel. And for years, Autumn’s charted the couture design team behind fashion brand Rodarte through her photography.
Recently, Autumn’s most compelling projects have been in the field of music video. Last month she collected the awards for Best UK Rock Video and Best Choreography for her Florence & the Machine ‘Big God’ video - a raw, transfixing storm of dance performance. Autumn’s particularly happy with the film. “The whole experience was thrilling,” she says. “We had an incredible team and a reckless female army of passionate beasts. Florence was electrifying.”
Her promo for The Decemberists’ track ‘Once In My Life’ is another video that’s hard to take your eyes off, particularly when you understand the story behind it. It was the most personal project for Autumn. In a statement to accompany the video she introduced the work in detail:
“My brother Jacob is 7’2”.
His feet are size 22.
He has Auditory Processing Disorder.
He likes to dress up as Chewbacca.
He is not a basketball player.
This video is my love letter to him.”
Autumn had been thinking about how people relate to Jacob - “someone who looks and sounds extraordinarily different from their opinion of what normal is” - and the video is an exploration of that feeling. She played The Decemberists’ song to her brother and says he “had an immediate emotional reaction” to it. She’d been wanting to collaborate with him on something creative for a while, so this felt like the right opportunity to celebrate his character.
“Everyone featured in the video and working on the crew is a friend who gave 100% to this project,” she says. “I wanted Jacob to be surrounded by friends who were committed to helping him tell this story, but also create a safe space for Jacob, which changed our pace and usual process for filmmaking. It was thrilling as a director and a sister to challenge Jacob and myself. I am honoured to have put the spotlight on him, watched my brother flourish as an artistic human onscreen and show us how gorgeous different is.”
Autumn is a beguiling and mysterious figure. While she’s happy to open up like this about the detail of a particular project, when I ask if she has any obsessions or hobbies her response is almost in haiku form: “All of my muses are my obsession. Love is my hobby.”