Francesca Allen’s latest book and exhibition is a “complex yet flourishing” portrait of her little sister

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All images © Francesca Allen
Styling by Claire Lemaigre

Shot over five summer months in rural Devon, I’d like to get to know you is an intimate document of her relationship with her sister, Alida

Looking through Francesca Allen’s new book, I’d like to get to know you, one is privy to a relationship the photographer describes as “complex yet flourishing”, exercised with a “palpable tension”. The collaboration is between Allen and her earliest subject, her younger sister Alida. The photobook includes 42 images shot over five summer months in rural Devon; an exhibition of the same name is currently on show at London’s 10 14 gallery, until 24 April.

“I started photographing Alida when I first picked up a camera – she was kind of who was there,” explains Allen. “I got a digital point and shoot for my birthday – I must have been 14 – and the first pictures on there are of her. They’re these really weird flash pictures, quite experimental with a lot of Photoshop.”

At the time she was inspired by Tim Walker – the kind of fantastical images that wouldn’t necessarily align with how she interprets the world today. Later in 2014, she took the first portrait of Alida that would properly resonate with her current practice. Shot in a park in Hackney, Alida poses with bubblegum pink hair; her train-track braces are just visible.

© Francesca Allen. Styling by Claire Lemaigre
© Francesca Allen. Styling by Claire Lemaigre

Alida, who is seven years younger, has continued to feature in Allen’s work ever since, most recently collaborating with her sister for Sunspel’s The White T-shirt Project. Similarly shot in Devon, the pictures act as a precursor to I’d like to get to know you

The pictures in the book, shot nearly two years ago, feature Alida in brilliant fields of poppies, hanging out of second floor windows and balancing in streams. They were always intended as a formal body of work. “That’s the way I work best,” explains Allen, “I like to sit on imagery for a while and see how it evolves, not only in terms of shooting more but also how the edit moves. This project might have taken a different shape if I had released it earlier.”

© Francesca Allen. Styling by Claire Lemaigre

An intimate portrait of a sisterhood that straddles the familiar and the foreign, the pair’s often elusive bond is something Allen considers directly in the book’s blurb, to an almost confidential effect. “I didn’t think about that when I put it out, that it is really personal and actually that’s quite scary,” says Allen. “But it’s such a nice project and means so much to me, it didn’t feel right to put it out without the story behind it, so I don’t regret it.” 

Despite the pair’s occasional unease, there is a certain trust and understanding between them which manifests both in the photographs themselves and the way Allen describes working with her sister. “She’s interesting, the way she expresses herself – I think she’s amazing. But it’s like looking at yourself in a mirror, you’re so used to seeing your own face, and I feel that way about her and these pictures – I can’t see anything else, I can’t see it from someone else’s perspective.”

As for Alida, the experience has been largely positive. “I think she feels good. I keep asking her, because it must be strange, but she’s just really excited and thinks it’s really special, which it is. It’s quite unique too – I haven’t got a book of pictures of me, I don’t think many people do.”

I’d like to get to know you is available to purchase through Francesca Allen’s website. The work is on show at 10 14 Gallery in London until 24 April.

Zoe Whitfield

Zoe Whitfield is a freelance writer based in London. Her work has appeared in British Vogue, i-D, AnOther, Dazed Digital, Wallpaper*, Interview, Vice, Garage, Huck and Refinery29.