The Story So Far... Denisha Anderson
Promonews - 19th Oct 2022
Identity, race and gender are at the heart of the practice of this South Londoner whose progress in music videos this year has led to a nomination at the UKMVAs. Denisha Anderson gives us the lowdown on her intriguing work, in film and photography.
Denisha Anderson does things her own way - so it's fitting that she has taken her own idiosyncratic route to music videos. The path has involved working in cinematography, production and photography, leaving the UK and then returning, before launching herself as a director.
In the past year or so, she has started to make her mark in the music video medium, firstly with a trio of videos for Wu-Lu, and also The Bug, Léa Sen, and most recently Chrissi. At the same time, she continues to build her reputation as a photographer, exporing the issues of identity, race, gender through her practice of documentary and portrait (and self-portrait) work, which has largely been exhibited in a fine art space.
"I think it’s important to disrupt the normal way of thinking - or at least try and open up a new pathway of thinking, because a lot of people don't really think about other things that are outside of their own problems," says the South Londoner, who's background includes working alongside Spike Lee, Daniel Mulloy and Joost Vandeburg.
Above: Denisha Anderson (centre) on the set of the video for WU-LU's South (photo: Nazmul Hoque)
Anderson studied at the Arts Institute, Bournemouth, where she specialised in cinematography. After graduating in 2010, she then worked in camera and lighting for five years. But that was enough for her, for frankly worrying reasons. "I sacked it off, because of misogyny and racism," she states bluntly.
She then moved to Amsterdam, and began working as a junior producer and production manager in advertising, for agencies and production companies. Then she had an out-of-the-blue opportunity to exhibit her photography. "I wasn't trying to be that," she says. "[But] my bestie Sam King just called me saying that an artist dropped out, because he worked in a really trendy bar gallery place in Amsterdam. Then I had two weeks to create a show that I’d just thought of. I did that, and sold three on the opening night."
I think it’s important to disrupt the normal way of thinking.
She had not planned to be a professional photographer. She describes her practice in the artform as "my meditation, it's my own peace." Nonetheless, that first exhibit effectively launched a new career. She returned to London, where recognition of her talents quickly followed.
In 2018 her ongoing series MAN, where she flips customary ideas of the nude in art, was exhibited at the V&A in London; she was part of the Self-Portrait exhibition at HOME by Ronan Mckenzie in North London of 12 Black female photographers across generations; and also involved in a billboard campaign for Record Store Day in 2021.
She took us through some of the key works that she has made throughout her career to date - which promises to continue to express itself in new and interesting ways.
"Part of my career is to keep on creating and keep on exploring," she says. "And I know for myself I'm a very layered person, so I don't really believe in just doing one thing for the rest of my life. Variety is the spice of life. And I'm a spicy woman."
THE BALLAD OF RYE LANE (co-director with Amy Garcia-Brooks)
"I’ve made a couple of documentaries that were selected in different film festivals so I’m really proud of myself for that. One of my favourites is The Ballad of Rye Lane - it's about a pool hall which has a karaoke night and the variety of people that it brings together.
While I was working at a club in Peckham, I used to go there after, to this pool hall, and hang out with all the locals. I did it with Amy Garcia-Brookes - one of the bartenders I used to work with as well. She’d never made a movie before either, so she was just learning from me - but I'd mainly film it and she would do the interviews.
I wanted everyone to feel relaxed about me, so at first we were just there being punters, doing karaoke like everybody else. And then slowly I started bringing out a camera and interviewing people, filming people perform on the night. So I was a part of people celebrating their 18th birthday and people celebrating their 80th birthday.
One of my favourite guys was Alex - a Sri Lankan in his 70s. He was a gambler, who lost his wife and his kids to it. I was like, 'this is really deep', and he was like 'I know, but it happened'. He was a real crooner, always really smartly dressed and he loved a little Frank Sinatra number. And then this other girl called Georgia that I met, she was in her 20s. She would do Dolly Parton and she actually smashed it. So yeah, it's just a variety of people having a good time on a Sunday evening."
"Inspired by the visual imbalance in how we see the female figure nude or otherwise in comparison to the males, I began to look into ideas regarding the male gaze and its lack of post-colonial rhetoric. This project and exhibition acts as the beginning of wider topics and themes I aim address. Using the male body as a template to explore gender roles, masculinity, desire and provocation."
WU-LU ft Lex Amor - SOUTH
"I only got back involved with filmmaking because of my bestie [Wu-Lu's Miles Romans-Hopcraft]. He knows what I'm capable of as I know what he's capable of, and he asked me to do a video for him.
Obviously it's South, it’s about where we grew up. The changing face of it, and the changing energy and essentially also a representation of the time that we're living in. Because we were representing the ends, we had to do it premium. It couldn't be half-arsed.
"The different textures [are] why you feel like it could feel like '70s, or it could feel like '90s."
It was a two-day shoot, and the whole crew was really small. I had five camera operators, I had 30 extras, and a real protest, and I had three locations. And a monsoon. I think the total budget was about £1,200.
I had five different mediums, to have the different textures and that's why you feel like it could feel like '70s, or it could feel like '90s. They intentionally gave that texture to it. And I got the film for both of my photographers - colour and black and white - so again they’re getting the texture that I want."
THE BUG ft FLOWDAN - PRESSURE
"It was only me and my mate Ben Stapleton on this one, who came down from Scotland because he liked The Bug. He had a new camera that he brought, and then he had a drone as well. He shot it and edited it, and I directed it and came up with the idea.
Ben and I grew up and attended secondary school together and is one of the funniest guys I know. So working with him in this capacity was a first, but a super-enjoyable one. He works in production and is a multi-talented guy who is great with challenging budgets, so I thought he would be great for this and the result speaks for itself.
We created a claustrophobic energy to to give space to those in estates, living upon one another and repeatedly ignored by those in power. Flowdan becomes the voice of the people, taking over TV screens, to deliver the message...'...Wait for the revolution but the revolution can’t start, We affi go bludclart start it.'
It was the first thing I did with Caviar - a little warm-up sesh. It actually cost less than the first Wu-Lu video to make."
WU-LU - BROKEN HOMES
"With the video for South I didn't make a treatment. I was just at [Miles's] house and then I just talked it through in his living room. I'm quite an expressive person, so I'm standing up and selling all this stuff. But once you're signed, you get a little bit more serious. So I had to make a little treatment for Broken Homes.
But again we were sitting in Miles's house, chilling out, and then we found the opening sequence to Blade. He said he'd had this dream, where it felt like it had a bit of Blade in there. So, then we watched it and played the tune underneath and we were like - 'Oh, my God, this is it, bro! This is sick.' So that's how we evolved.
I then got Lauren Mills on board who had produced The Bug video for me. We first met at WU-LU’s pre-album gig at Peckham Audio and bonded from there. Mills loved the song, and Brooklyn her production partner smashed it, helping me get a fantastic crew together. They have since all blown up individually which is amazing to see.
It was a dream crew – focussed and super talented, without whom it wouldn’t be the video it was. I even found my DoP Jed Darlington-Roberts two days before - DM’ed him proposing this mad idea in the hope he’d say 'yes'. He did and we have been working together since."
RECORD STORE DAY BILLBOARD CAMPAIGN: Creating an Icon
"To coincide with Record Store Day in June 2021 an outdoor photography exhibition was planned across Buildhollywood sites, in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff. I was asked to feature alongside fellow emerging artist Steven M Wiggins and established photographers Mick Rock, Pogus Ceaser and Gered Mankowitz.
They used images of The Rolling Stones, The Mighty Diamonds, Blondie and Hendrix - where I shot the magnificent WU-LU and Oscar Jerome."
WU-LU - BLAME
"Essentially, the song is about a fallout with one of [Miles's] close friends that happened while he was out making the album. Things went down and it got scary. It's that moment of when it happened, the fallout from it, the energy he felt from it, being a little bit scared, and concerned, just a fluctuation of different emotions... all of that.
It happened while he was in Norway, on a road trip, surrounded by mountains. So I wanted to essentially express that in this alternative location. I didn't have these vast mountains, but at the same point, I wanted to juxtapose it and still have that road trip energy - having it in the desert, as opposed to the cold Norwegian weather. I was inspired by that paradox.
I'm not going to go into the details because that’s his personal story. But it was a really intense time and I wanted to express that intensity. But also, for it to still be beautiful and still feel cinematic. Still feel like you're absorbed within that space."
CHRISSI - LIPO
"Every single video that I do is a new experience. I walk into it with fresh eyes and fresh energy. I liked the song, and finding out how it was inspired - about dating someone who is an absolute douche - I thought it was a vibe. And also I hadn't done any R&B before, so I thought: why not?
It's really empowering. It's not meant to be 'woe is me, I'm so single'. It's more like 'oh, I'm single - yay, this is exciting!' - that kind of energy. Britini Campbell, my stylist from Broken Homes, made that the chiffon dress that Chrissi wears - representing her queen status, and just loving herself. It's saying: 'I'm actually a dream.' Then it's a sleepover with all her besties, just talking about the scenario, which is: 'He's an absolute knob. But don't worry about it darling. Let’s have a little drinky-poo.'
What did I learn from making this one? That everything can go wrong constantly throughout the whole shoot. From falling in love with a location, to then the location telling you that you can't shoot on the date that you said, even though they originally told you 'yes'. And we ended up shooting on the hottest day of the year, up to that point. It was just baking. But my team were amazing.
I also learned that choreography is fun, especially when people want to actually learn it and do it - because everyone smashed it. I'm really happy about that. And I'm putting it in there now - Claudia [Lois, the choreo] won't mind - but one of the moves, that was in my pitch. So just letting you know, I could be a choreographer in my later days."
• Denisha Anderson is represented by Caviar. Watch more of her work here.
Promonews - 19th Oct 2022