SL: I feel like you definitely shape and adapt to who you’re shooting. And how could you predict that?
VP: One hundred percent. It’s so important to me. What the girls that I’ve shot, especially in this book, have brought to the shoot, you couldn’t put that in a mood board. This book is a celebration of that. It’s all these girls who are super smart and interesting and chaotic and have their own weird shit that you could never plan for. That’s so exciting to photograph. That’s a huge privilege and pleasure. So yeah, fuck the mood board, basically.
SL: So we both kind of obsessively collect certain things. This is a question from Travis, my boyfriend: Why do you collect snow globes?
VP: I really love that question, but the sad thing is, I don’t collect them anymore. I used to collect them. I like lots of the same sort of things all together, like a snow globe and a vase and a toy airplane—things that replicate each other. So I liked having loads of snow globes. Once I had six or seven snow globes, people would be like, “You collect snow globes!” My friend, who was a tour manager, came back with 30 snow globes for me from Australia. People always ended up bringing them to me because they’re cheap and easy to carry. So I ended up with this crazy collection.
SL: It’s funny you say the snow globe thing because that’s kind of what’s happened with my brother and I. Everyone gets us Elvis stuff now, and it’s pretty gross. Both of our apartments are just filled.
VP: The problem with people knowing what you like is that you end up with people’s sort of slight misunderstandings of what you like—the kind of dumb, modern version of the flea-market find.
SL: The stepmom Christmas present version of it, like, “You like weird, creative things…”
VP: Exactly! “You like toy-like, kitsch stuff! I’ll get you a frame with Barbie heads on it.” And you’re like, “That’s gross. No, thanks.”
“At least my pictures, whether people like them
or not, look like something from my
brain and my world rather than anything else.”
— Valerie Phillips
SL: So you love Japan. What’s your story with Japan?
VP: I went to Japan for the first time probably about 10 years ago for British Elle. I always wanted to go there and always loved Japanese things. When I was a little kid in New York, we would go down to the grocery stores in Chinatown, and they have all these Japanese stickers and toys and Hello Kitty. I fell in love with that world through all the characters and stuff that you can collect. And then I got really into Japanese music magazines and would always go to the Japan bookstore and spend a ludicrous amount of my babysitting money. I love their take on British and American pop culture mixed with Japanese culture; the sort of misunderstanding of cultures that all stirs around in a big pot and comes out with something amazing, like Babydoll Goth. All those combinations that you don’t quite understand, but they’re so weird and cool.
SL: Do you go to Tokyo mostly?
VP: Yes. I’m going in October and am hoping to go to Osaka, to a bookstore there which is one of the first to stock my published books. Jason and I have gone to Tokyo for the past few years, and we’ve made so many friends, seen so many cool, weird things and just had the best time. The people are so much fun. They drink so much and do so much karaoke. Everything is open all night long. It’s nuts, beautiful and weird. It’s like going to another planet and still being on earth. They also really like my books there, so it’s exciting. I get treated like a rock star and come crashing back down to earth afterwards.
SL: Where do you want to travel next?
VP: I know this is kind of a weird thing to say, but I’m not in love with traveling because I traveled so much for so many years doing my commercial career. I feel like I want to be somewhere where I can just concentrate on making work for a while, not necessarily jumping on planes and being all over the place. I need a base where I can wake up in the morning with the headspace and clarity, and go to bed in the same bed every night. LA, Tokyo, New York, London is kind of my route. And Colorado, where my sister lives. That’s sort of limited, but it’s what I like at the moment.
SL: Is there anywhere you think you would find good subjects?
VP: It would be fun to go to Siberia. It’s so massive that I wouldn’t know where to start, but I think that would be really interesting. I like when faces are a mix of different cultures, almost borderless-looking. A lot of my girls have that, even if they’re British or American—a weird look that is slightly ethereal and otherworldly. You can’t necessarily tell where they came from.