The Bigger Picture
Model, photographer and Contributing Editor at British Vogue, Laura Bailey, talks us through her Polaroid photos and the stories they hold
By Laura Bailey
The snapshot idea of a ‘day in my life’ would be a lie as every day is different – ever-evolving, always on the run. But the foundations of my physical and emotional health lie in sport. Always have, always will. As a kid, my safe place was an ice-mud cross-country run. Or the iconic Iffley Road track. Or the late, starry bike ride after hockey, with friends. But also, the before and after – the team bus-rides, half-time oranges, the locker-room camaraderie, the pubs and the medals. Sometimes it was about winning, being chosen. (Though the more important lessons come via loss and disappointment.) But always it was about the sense of belonging, the thrill of the challenge, the dare and the high. Connection. And community.
These days, when my 6ft 2in 16-year-old comes home from football – shiny, bruised salt-sweaty, all aglow – and I lie with him in the garden, our dogs clambering all over us in needy celebration, we laugh and don’t talk too much. I just know how much it all means and feels. In the calm and the storms. I can know so much about a stranger on the tennis court before I learn the names of their kids or how they make a living. It is all an exercise in empathy and imagination and kick-ass guts and verve. Polaroid photos for me are where work meets play. Snapshots of a life in motion. Memories and experiments. Glorious moments.
Glorious: Our platform elevates women’s sport through the lens of art and culture. What does sport mean to you? Do you gain more from sport than just the physical benefits?
Laura Bailey: For me sport is the foundation of my mental and physical health and strength. But also a source of inspiration and discipline. Training, agility, style – all serve my working life in fashion and photography. I need to stretch my body and mind and to be able to manage the highs and lows, the adrenaline and the recovery, as an athlete as well as an artist or model.
Glorious: We love your work in Vogue, Violet Book and FT How To Spend It. You have so much experience both in front and behind the camera, where do you draw inspiration from for your photography, and do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Laura Bailey: Thank you. It was a thrill and an honour to shoot my friend, the iconic Courtney Love, for the current issue of Violet Book, especially as we worked in between lockdowns with a stripped-down set and new pressures – but also new possibilities. My advice to myself – and to others – is to always shoot for love, as well as work. I love working in fashion, but if I’m honest, I am happiest shooting solo reportage on the road, far from the madding crowd.
Glorious: Why do you enjoy shooting with Polaroid?
Laura Bailey: As a model, especially at the beginning in nineties’ NYC, I always loved the Polaroid photos more than the finished pages in the magazine. I wish I’d kept more. I love the rawness and the magic and the sense of a stolen moment. Mistakes, too. I’ve always been drawn to the work in progress, the imperfection, the experiments. I’ve started taking Polaroid photos again on all my shoots; a joy. And also a way to begin the day as play. Everyone loves a Polaroid, even as a blurry souvenir.
Glorious: Your Instagram is very female-focused and includes a lot of artists’ work. Who are your favourite female artists at the moment?
Laura Bailey: I recently had the privilege to sit for Chantal Joffe, one of my favourite artists, and write about the experience for Vogue Italia. I am inspired by her work, but also by her empathetic intelligence, especially in relation to motherhood and ageing. I own a small work in oil, which I will treasure forever, and it was extraordinary to sit for her, immersed so deeply in her world and imagination. Other favourite female artists include Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Tracey Emin and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. And I have long been inspired by the photography of Eve Arnold, and always in awe of Harley Weir and Deana Lawson.
Glorious: You’ve previously been quoted as saying that you would play tennis every day if you could. What is it about tennis that you enjoy so much?
Laura Bailey: It’s true. And some weeks, I really do play every day. Tennis is my addiction, my meditation, my passion. For me it’s both a dance and a fight, a test of resilience and skill. And I love learning, improving, pushing myself. Playing with friends and strangers, dawn matches or holiday afternoons. I’ve even started to plan travels around dream courts… my tennis gang mean the world to me. Some know everything about me, some nothing. But whether I’m biking to my local club or just playing with my kids, there is a deep joy in the ritual, the focus, and yes, the kit.
Glorious: What do you think about the new generation of young female tennis players who are commanding higher viewership and sponsorship than their male counterparts? How important do you think role models such as these are for young women?
Laura Bailey: I am so inspired by the next generation, especially, of course, Emma Raducanu. My kids are equally in awe. Inspirational on and off court, and just 18. And for sure, the effect of her brilliance will be seen from grassroots level to the world stage for decades to come. Mentors and role models in all worlds are crucial – every child deserves the chance to play, to learn, to excel. And the benefits of sport, especially for teenage girls, are life-changing. I work as a volunteer at my local community centre, once a week and on holiday camps. I love reading with the kids (and getting them to teach me maths), but it is sport that most profoundly connects us all. Table tennis, basketball and football forever.
Glorious: You have fallen back in love with the sport of boxing. What advice would you give to women who are considering taking up a sport whilst juggling a busy life such as yours, i.e. career, children and relationships – can you do it all?
Laura Bailey: Sometimes when life is the most full and pressured is when I need sport most. That might just be my early dog walk before my kids wake or a tennis lesson I schedule in stone in my diary. There are all kinds of ‘meetings’! I am not an advocate of ‘doing it all’ or of setting impossible perfectionist goals – the truth is that inevitably, as a working mother, something is falling apart at all times. And often it would be better for me to simply get more sleep. But still, I know that is it by factoring in my passions – Monday morning boxing to kick-start the week, Friday afternoon tennis followed by a glass of wine, i.e. the weekend – I am more able to manage my challenging, and joyous, work worlds, whilst also being a present mother, friend, partner, collaborator. Feeling strong, and curious, and energised is essential to my creative life. As well as helping me to relax, manage anxiety and sleep like a baby.
Glorious: Have you always played sports? Why do you think so many young women stop playing after school or university, opting instead for solo gym-based exercise, such as yoga etc?
Laura Bailey: I always have and will play sports, but I am aware of the statistics and have spoken to both teenagers and professional athletes about this danger zone. I feel there is a lot of work to be done to reconnect young women to community sports and teams. Pilates has really helped me over the years, especially after pregnancies and injuries, but team sports and match play are of huge benefit to women of all ages. Beyond fitness, for confidence and community and solidarité…
Glorious: You feature images of your son’s football goal and basketball hoop. How important is it to you that your children play sport, and what life skills do you think children can benefit from by taking up sport at a young age?
Laura Bailey: My kids are sports mad. Both love tennis and my son is a keen footballer; my daughter is obsessed with hockey. I haven’t pushed them, but have supported their passions and am a happy cheerleader – even if they would prefer me to watch quietly and not in ‘fashion’.
Glorious: You have photographed boxing superstar Ramla Ali, as well as other female athletes. Who would be your dream sporting subject to photograph?
Laura Bailey: I was lucky to photograph my friend Ramla early on in her career and hope I will again. Of course the dream would be to photograph Emma Raducanu – I have followed her since early in her career and couldn’t be happier for her. A major muse for me is my friend prima ballerina Francesca Hayward, star of The Royal Ballet, and our collaborations are a source of pride and inspiration. We worked together again last week and her extraordinary grace and beauty still leaves me speechless.
Glorious: You live in London, a city that is making huge investments into cycling initiatives. Do you have some favourite spots where you like to cycle? Do you think London lends itself well to outdoor exercising, i.e. green space?
Laura Bailey: I have always cycled everywhere in London. A few weeks ago, my friend and I cycled 20 miles across the canal paths, broken up by a fantastic birthday lunch en route. I love how cycling can make London feel like a village and that I am still discovering the secrets of the city I love. Park life became so extra precious over the past couple of years – I felt so lucky to be able to walk with my dogs and my girlfriends every day, and will cherish those memories and conversations forever.
Glorious: As someone who leads an incredibly full and busy life, how do you switch off and wind down at the end of the day?
Laura Bailey: Music, dogs, kids, cards, no phone, glass of wine, candlelight, cinema, girlfriends, books, magazines, Chanel No5, bed.
Glorious: Are there any sports you are curious to try?
Laura Bailey: I want to learn Padel! And climb another mountain.