Reflections on the The French House Series, Iona Wolff: Marie Naffah

On a chilly autumnal evening, I headed over to Dean Street in Soho, into the charming little pub, ‘The French House’ in order to see London based photographer, Iona Wolff’s latest project, aptly named ‘The French House series’.

The exhibition lacked that sterile formality one often experiences at private viewings. People had that anticipated Christmas-esque excitement  and it was contagious. Despite the viewing being packed to its full capacity, the former Central St. Martins student was the first to greet me as if we’d been friends for life, leading me to the thirteen works that made up the exhibition.

The dominantly monochromatic photographs complement the luscious deep red walls, mirroring the red wine and rosy cheeks of friends, family and passers by that turned up to share in Wolff’s success.

‘I left two in colour because they really suit colour but Lesley (the landlady of the French House) and I had an agreement that the works would be predominantly in black and white’, Iona explains.

I ask her what gave her the idea for such an original collection and she tells me that she’d built up a close relationship with the landlady from frequent visits to the pub. Regarding her subjects, she says they’re either friends, or friends of friends, which probably explains how she manages to to capture so much in each image. She describes her process of composing a piece, inviting the subjects to come to the pub with their friends and simply ‘chat’.

Above: Iona Wolff

Wolff’s approach reminded me of two of my favourite artists.  The first was Lucian Freud, who like the photographer, was completely dedicated to accessing his sitter’s personality, taking them out to dinners and asking them questions before and during his execution of their portraits. The second, dating a number of centuries earlier, was the sculptor Bernini, who sought to grasp a ‘speaking likeness’ of Louis XIV in his bust portrait. All three artists, although rendering separate mediums, capture an awareness of character that shrewdly transcends many stagnant, detached portraits.

Call me old fashioned, but I was intrigued to see what Iona’s preference was in terms of digital or non-digital photography. Without hesitation she explains humbly, ‘I’m quite lazy and I want to see instant results’ championing digital over dark rooms, a position I find most photographers take today.

But is non-digital photography being completely phased out with other forgotten favourites like Furbees and yoyos?  With creations such as the camera phone and the notoriously acclaimed Instagram, I was keen to discuss with Wolff the potential threat these instant filters posed on digital photographers.

Unexpectedly, she waxes lyrical about it: ‘I absolutely adore Instagram’ it’s the ease with which you can come to something visually satisfying, and of course share your creations, which most appeals to her. She captivates me further describing how she occasionally combines advanced digital editing on her computer with further alterations on her iPhone, creating layers through the ‘screenshot’ function and enhancing the colour or contrast through implementing certain Instagram filters. She fuses the very best of both worlds to create an incomparable result.

Above: Iona Wolff

With my own mother already beating me at the perfect ‘selfie’, the concept of the camera phone and all the apps that are introduced with it seem to have successfully integrated themselves into our everyday lives. Will this be the end of photographic prints? Or will the 6 x 4 “ default print turn into a 4 x 4” that adheres to the square format of Instagram snaps? As I write this article, I start to wonder if the red line that keeps appearing under the word ‘Instagram’ will disappear on the next edition of word.

She used to cut up magazines and filter through family albums from the age of seven, but looking to Iona’s future, I ask the photographer of her plans and thank goodness she assures me that ‘more photographs’ are on the agenda. Such an uplifting exhibition that I would most certainly recommend. The French House series is open until the 10th December 2013 and watch this space, this girl is on to something.

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