Portraits of Darian

Marc Vallée’s latest archive zine references Larry Clark and David Bowie
By Barry Pierce | Art | 7 May 2024

For the third volume in Marc Vallée‘s ongoing 90s Archive zine series, the photographer has collected a series of images featuring the mysterious and illusive Darian – a friend he first met while out clubbing at London’s Ghetto nightclub in the 90s. The pictures, which switch from simple portraits to more elaborated staged shots, were taken in Darian’s basement flat off Portland Place in London during the late 90s: his hair slicked back red, sometimes holding a pistol, sometimes daydreaming laid on the carpet. Like the majority of Vallée’s work, there’s a balance between youthful innocence and a harder, darker spirit. Acting as Vallée’s muse, the resulting images of Darian draw inspiration from a couple of key references: Larry Clark’s The Perfect Childhood, and David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth character. We caught up with Vallée to find out everything about his latest zine.


Barry Pierce: This is the third book you’ve made from your archive, what has it been like to go back through your work and relive the memories?
Marc Vallée: The physical act of editing and choosing which images to scan unlocked many memories. As I went through the archive, I had to make choices on which pictures to include and which to leave out, despite any personal dynamic that might have been at play. At that point, the work became separated from memory. Plus, now that the images are in a series of books, they’re less about my memories and more about the imagination of the person holding the book.

BP: What was it about this series of portraits that you felt deserved the book treatment?
MV: This book is a visual novella, or maybe a poem. It only has eleven images across twenty pages, and a quote from me. The portraits visually represent a past experience when I was a teenager but also reference a series of Larry Clark images of a boy holding a gun.

BP: Can you tell us how you first met Darian and how the series was born?
MV: I first saw him on the dance floor at the Ghetto nightclub in Soho. Years later the club was demolished along with the London Astoria so the Elizabeth line could be built. My approach was a bit of a cliché. I went up to him and said I was a photographer and I’d like to take pictures of him. We became friends for a few years, a kind of artist-muse dynamic, but this series was a collaboration. We took the photos in his basement flat just off Portland Place in central London.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – 1999. Art student Darian at home in London in 1999 in London, England. Photo by Marc Vallée/marcvallee.co.uk. (c) Marc Vallée, 1999. All Rights Reserved.

“The intersection between photography, autobiography and fiction is something I’m obsessed with at the moment.”

BP: Do you know where Darian is now?
MV: Unfortunately I do not. It’s worth remembering the pictures were taken 25 years ago. But I understand why this question keeps coming up with my work from the 90s. I recently reread a novel by Stephen Spender called The Temple and I was fascinated by the image of the young man on the cover. I did some digging and found his name was Franz Büchner and the picture was taken on the Rhine in 1929 by the legendary photographer Herbert List. Both List and Büchner were friends with Spender and characters in the novel. I recently spoke to the Herbert List Estate to find out what happened to Büchner. The intersection between photography, autobiography and fiction is something I’m obsessed with at the moment.

BP: Can you take us through the references for the shoot?
MV: The gun is a dominant object and symbol, as is the copy of Larry Clark’s The Perfect Childhood. The androgynous David Bowie The Man Who Fell to Earth vibe is also in the mix.  Plus the physical space of the basement flat, especially the shutters on the windows. I could not imagine these pictures being shot anywhere else.

Marc Vallée will be launching and signing copies of 90s Archive: Volume Three at The Photographers’ Gallery on Thursday 30th May.


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