It takes a hell of a woman to handle and fall for bad-boy rock star Arlo Jones. Get up close and personal with London, the woman who brings the man to his knees.
As I walk through the door of the bright but compact Chelsea studio, I’m greeted by the bright but compact ex-ballet dancer turned professional photographer London Llwellyn. Llwellyn turned to photography after a severe car accident prematurely ended her ballet career. I’ve been invited to interview the novice a few hours prior to the opening of her debut—Arlo Jones//Cold, Hard, & Heartless, an exhibition to promote the launch of the coffee table book of the same name. For those who have been on a media blackout for the past forever, both feature photographs shot by Llwellyn of Arlo Jones, frontman of the Heartless Few, while on the band’s recent Cold, Hard, and Heartless tour.
Don’t let the subject matter fool you, though. As I enter the gallery, I’m immediately struck by how non-rock ‘n’ roll the photos are. By that, I mean that after fifteen years in the spotlight, we’ve come to know what to expect from the broody rocker: rock and brooding. These shots have both, but that’s not what jumps out at you right away. What really stands out is the beauty, peace, and intimacy Llwellyn has captured. While I find it hard to look away, I also feel somewhat like a Peeping Tom, peering in through the bathroom window on someone else’s private moments.
I turn to her and she shrugs ruefully before wandering the space herself. Watching her trajectory around the room, I’m struck by her poise and grace. She’s a big presence in a small physical form, and her exotic beauty—her father is of Trinidadian-English heritage, while her mother’s background is Filipino—gives her an enigmatic air. I turn to her to commence the interview.
The photos are stunning, congratulations. Are you proud?
She nibbles on her bottom lip thoughtfully before answering.
At times I’m immensely proud, but at other times I’m equal parts highly critical, and extremely terrified. I’ve danced in next to nothing on huge stages in theatres around the world more times than I could care to count, yet I’ve never felt as exposed as I do in putting these photos out into the world.
Really? Why is that?
I think there are a few reasons, the first being that this is completely unchartered territory for me. As a classical ballet dancer for as long as I can remember, I was mostly translating someone else’s creative vision through my body, and my movements. With this book and exhibition, not only am I publicly debuting my work in this discipline in which I have limited professional experience, but even scarier still, this is all me. My vision, my ideas, my story. Well, it’s Arlo’s story, but my telling of it. It has a been a huge leap of faith and wild ride. I’m so grateful to him for giving me the opportunity, and I hope I have managed to do it justice.
At the mention of Jones’s name, she develops a wistful, faraway look, staring unfocused into the middle distance. I clear my throat and her focus snaps back to me.
Where did you go just then?
Nowhere really. I was just thinking how any story is one big narrative made up of lots of small and interlinked moments. That’s what these photos are. Small moments that tell the story of the entire epic tour, and believe me, that tour was epic with a capital “rock gods on the road.”
Looking around the room again, I’m not sure I’d agree with her assessment. There’s definitely a story in the images, but I don’t think it’s the story of the tour. Overwhelmingly, what I see is a love story, but I decide to keep my couch psychology to myself.
That’s a great way to think about storytelling. What’s your favorite small moment of all those represented here?
That’s hard to say. The simple answer is that I don’t have one, but that’s only half the truth. In reality, I have many favorites. It depends on my mood. Some I love for purely aesthetic reasons—the composition, framing, light, or some other artistic feature might really appeal to me. Others may not be as strong from a technical perspective, but I see things in them that nobody else, except possibly Arlo, would. Context makes a difference to me. Right now, I’m loving this one.
She walks toward a photo of Jones with his head back, eyes half-mast, mouth open in laughter. The sun is radiating onto his face.
It’s stunning. Tell me about it. Well, it was in Paris. Arlo wanted to show me his favorite crepe place. He thought he knew the way, but after the fourth time entering the same square with no crepes in sight, he had to admit defeat and concede that we were lost. He was laughing because the whole situation was so absurd. Not surprisingly, for a guy who has a reputation as a broody bad boy, this kind of laughter isn’t something you see every day. I was glad to be able to capture it.
You seem to have caught a moment of pure joy. Are the two of you in love?
Llwellyn looks like a rabbit in the headlights before taking a deep breath and looking me straight in the eye. I see it again, the strength and poise I noticed in her earlier.
I can’t speak for Arlo, but I can say that we spent a considerable amount of time together on the tour and became close as a result. Now that we’re back, we’re taking some time to figure out what comes next.
They say the camera never lies, so despite her very non-committal response, I’m guessing that Mr. Jones’s bad-boy-about-town days are numbered. I have a feeling that not only has Ms. Llwellyn captured his spirit on camera, but she’s also caught his heart in her hands.