Ones to Watch 2021: Sophie Gladstone

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of over 450 nominations. This artist is also one of five talents selected for Futures, a Europe-based platform bringing together the global photography community to support and nurture the professional development of emerging artists across the world.

In visualising an aspirational lifestyle, Gladstone’s ongoing series explores the notion of self-optimisation and pursuit of cultural capital

Sophie Gladstone’s photographs are sleek and controlled. “It’s a neatly packaged palette; a perfectly curated personal brand,” she says. A collection of iridescent vitamin supplements shimmer like precious jewels; a close crop of flawless skin glistens with facial serum; an assortment of mushrooms sparkle with scatterings of pink Himalayan salt. The images belong to Gladstone’s series Promise and Demand, which explores self- optimisation in a capitalist society. They visualise an aspirational lifestyle, achieved through the consumption of the ‘right’ products, and the performance of the ‘right’ signals of success.

But the work is not a clear-cut critique of consumerism, or the mounting pressure to perform for the digital world. Instead it is an honest admission of Gladstone’s role in the pursuit of cultural capital. “[The series] runs on adrenaline,” she explains. “I get this rush of what feels like an aesthetically pleasing self-actualisation when I create images that echo a successful life. It’s a gross indulgence.”

© Sophie Gladstone.
© Sophie Gladstone.

After graduating from Middlesex University in 2018, Gladstone worked as an intern at Wallpaper*, before becoming the assistant photography editor in 2019. Her commute to the magazine’s offices in Canary Wharf, London’s financial district, inspired Promise and Demand. “It felt like there was this insane amount of money in the air, like it was shimmering off the buildings,” she says. “I suddenly realised there was this whole other level of my life that I could aspire to; it elevated everything.”

In this world, a good job and high salary are not the only attributes of success. Success is arriving at the office each morning with a shop-bought coffee, joining a boutique gym to practise yoga and meditation, while having a thriving social life and maintaining a daily skincare routine.

© Sophie Gladstone.

“The project is a very transparent admission of how much I worship the gross rewards of capitalism, and how I will quite clearly attempt to perform that success,” says Gladstone, who is refreshingly – almost brutally – honest about her own ego. “It’s uncomfortable to admit that while I can grasp the damages of competitive consumer culture, my images still worship it… I cannot shake off the idea that wealth and status will lead to happiness.”

It was important for Gladstone to insert herself into the work through a series of carefully staged portraits that perform an idealistic version of herself. Being transparent about her own desires is essential because it allows others to be open about their egos and aspirations too.

“I’d never judge anyone for polishing the appearance of their life. It’s
a survival tactic in a competitive world,” says Gladstone, who admits to having an expensive-looking wardrobe, attending online exercise classes, indulging in sushi for lunch, and feeling a rush when these elements of her life align. “I’m an absolute parody – but I love it all.”

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.