Soul Machine

Jon Emmony is one of a new generation of image-makers who are reimagining the fashion and music worlds. His digital treatments of shoots and videos take current techniques to their limit, but, as he tells The Forumist, don’t forget the soul behind it all


Fashion is in a state of flux. It is experiencing change, or initializing, in a way that is both exciting and innovative, thanks to creatives and artists who are re-interpreting the meaning of fashion with new and modern technology. One of those artists is image and filmmaker Jon Emmony, who approaches his work through a contemporary lens and as a result is moving away from the more traditional approach of representing fashion and clothing.
Emmony is a digital artist and art director who is known for his impressive, some say mind- blowing, surrealist, 3D-scanned compositions. Based in London, he creates installations, fashion films, editorials, music videos and graphics. He has worked with The 1975, Nike, Dazed and, most recently, Selfridges on the store’s swimwear campaign for summer 2019 entitled The New Order. The campaign was a collaboration with photographer Chris Sutton, and consists of a completely digital approach in which each image is reimagined. Emmony designed a colourful animated Greek swimming pool, where the models exist in a beautiful physical space, inviting the viewer to swim in an ocean of data.


“The New Order campaign saw various digital artists reimagine what fashion communication and campaign imagery can be, and I was lucky enough to be approached by [Selfridges],” he tells me as he describes his experience working with one of the leading department stores in the UK. “Fashion is a fascinating field to work in, not only because of the fast pace and constant change that drives it, but because there are infinite references, ideas and viewpoints embedded within each piece of clothing. It is liberating for me to work with fashion as there are already ideas linked to the garments that can be extended into imagery. And there are no physical constraints; surfaces can be made from any material and can be lit in any way. There is no such thing as gravity and I can create imagery with a virtual camera… It’s a framework that allows infinite exploration and development, much like fashion itself.”


Emmony graduated with a degree in photography and went on to intern at SHOWstudio, the award-winning fashion website, before joining the team in 2011 as digital art director, a post he held until 2016. In recent years he has worked on a range of projects with various brands and artists, experimenting with different technological methods and image-making. “It pushes me to new places that I could never anticipate,” he says. “The way that technology sees the world fascinates me; sometimes it’s funny and outrageous, but it’s always inspiring. I taught myself how to create 3D imagery from watching YouTube videos and reading forums so I appreciate the DIY attitude that surrounds this kind of new image-making. I am also currently experimenting with artificial intelligence, which pushes things even further, opening up a real dialogue with the machine that interprets imagery and presents new visions back to you. I embrace mistakes and the unknown.”

But he insists that although he is working with new innovative technology, he wants to make sure that the work has “soul or thought behind it,” as he puts it. “It’s a fine line you need to be aware of, and so removing myself from my work to some degree allows a dialogue to be opened in terms of software algorithms that have no premeditated intention regarding the outcome. Otherwise things can quickly feel like a trick or a glitch. It’s an exciting collaboration.” The digitalisation of various fields such as fashion is becoming more and more apparent and celebrated. I ask him if, at this rate, will the digital take over the physical in art and fashion. “I would hope not… there is definitely space for both,” he says. “I feel that in a time where so much of our lives are experienced digitally, physical objects and experiences are becoming more valued and embraced. For example, I recently worked with [jewellery designer] Silvia Weidenbach, who fuses centuries-old jewellery-making techniques with 3D-printed elements. It’s an interesting hybrid approach, and craftsmanship, both in the real and digital world, will always be celebrated. One can complement the other.”

This crossover between the conceptual and real world is precisely the kind of thing that Emmony explores. He explains that, “although I work with modern technology, many of my references come from art and fashion history. I think it is important to balance the new with a respect for the past. In a way, anything digital is part of our real world as we spend so much time consumed by different devices that act as portals to this ‘new world’. For me, there isn’t much of difference anymore [between the real and conceptual world]. The line is blurred.”
As well as being visually stimulating, Emmony’s work also tackles pressing issues, such as climate change. His work with The 1975 on their single ‘People’ is a perfect example. He collaborated with the band to create a music video that aims to investigate surveillance culture, environmental collapse and contemporary nihilism present on social media. Designed across several digital platforms, the video features glitchy graphics and neural networks based on algorithms modelled on the structure of the part of the human brain designed to recognise patterns. Disturbing images of destroyed landscapes, deforestation and garbage heaps intertwine with serene stock footage, highlighting the negative impact of the human impact upon the environment.


“Everything I work on has a function,” he explains. “Whether it’s to show a garment so it can be sold, or helping musicians to visualise the messages they are trying to communicate. As a visual communicator, it is important that people feel something from my work and leave with a clear concept of the message that is being delivered. I think now more than ever it is important to be active and engaged in important issues, whoever you are and whatever you do.” One cannot help but think of sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who also happens to feature on one of The 1975’s tracks, for which she recites a letter about climate change over a background of ambient music. Emmony created live visuals for this track, with art director and creative consultant Ben Ditto.

It seems like a digital new wave is well under way, with artists, designers and musicians using modern technology as a way to experiment, explore and modernise different artistic industries, such as the fashion industry. Emmony has managed to do exactly that, by working on projects for which he experiments with different technological methods of image-making. He has helped define a new era in art and fashion that is well underway and cannot be ignored.

Words by Roxanne Nielsen
Jon Emmony

Art Credits:
Jon emmony’s projects include working with iris van herpen, dazed and kate moss, selfridges and the victoria and albert museum with Sylvia Weidenbach.
Images courtesy jon emmony