Ameena Rojee

University: University of the West of England, Bristol

Graduation: 2014

Genre: DocumentaryPortraiture

Websitewww.ameenarojee.co.uk

Artist StatementMy work is very much a mixed bag. Since graduating, I've slowly been discovering my true style and realising the concepts and subjects that re-occur in my photography. I am greatly intrigued by people and cultures, because I have a very mixed heritage myself: half-Spanish and half-Mauritian, and I was born and grew up in London. Because of this, I experienced an incredible mix of cultures as a child, which greatly influences me and my work today. On the other hand, I also love to shoot fashion! In all cases, my style is very much a engaged one; I love to experience new things and get fully involved. As a photographer, I participate as well as observe.

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

What are some standout moments from your time at university? It's difficult to say, my entire university experience was really one big, continuous standout moment! From living independently, to meeting some fantastic people who I am still, to this day (almost 2 years now!), in contact with, to completing my final year project. It was all amazing. 

I'd have to say the cherry on top would be my final year project itself: having the somewhat crazy and sudden idea to go to China and study Kung FU, actually going through with it and having what was possibly the most amazing time of my life so far, then completing the project to great success which now includes a published book and solo exhibition!

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? This is a bit of a tough one, because I don't consider my work to fall into any one genre. As I mentioned before, I enjoy documentary and portraiture but on the other side I also love to shoot fashion. At the moment, I'm obsessed with landscapes and it's something that I'm getting more and more into. And I mean landscapes more in the terms of Stephen Shore or Robert Adams - the banal, mundane and everyday. I know, what a cliché! It's something that I'm enjoying as an exploration and experiment though, from everyday iPhone photographs on my Instagram to more focused day trips with my Mamiya. 

What are the biggest influences on your photography? It varies so much depending on what I'm working on or what I'm into at the time. Like I said already, my upbringing and heritage both have a huge impact on the topics or subjects I look at, or the things that I look at within a project or exploration. I also look at and love to discover new influences when researching for new work, and that could be anything from a film still to some random poetry I've come across. 

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

Is social media important to you as a working photographer? If so how? I use Twitter and Instagram mainly. For me, social media is absolutely essential and always has been, as a student and as a working photographer. I started using it properly quite early, around first year or so, and I am still amazed at how much opportunity is on there if you look for it: from jobs and internships, to professional photographers I admire helping me out with my projects!

It's a fantastic tool for networking with other like-minded creatives, as well as with some of the top contemporary photographers. Like you would anything else, just approach people politely and friendly, and you can easily make friends with photographers you admire. It's also a brilliant tool to get your work out there and seen by the right people - in fact, it's how my publisher saw my project Hard Work, which they then went on to publish! Finally, it's a simple and easy way to keep track of what's going on out there in the industry; being up-to-date is always essential.

Can you inform us on the process you go through to achieve an image? For me, there's not much of a process if I'm using digital. I'm quite trigger happy - which is something I'm working to improve. For big projects, I tend to research and imagine the shots that I want or need; however, once I'm actually shooting, I tend to just go with the flow and shoot everything and anything that I like. It's normally a big mess when I get back with my full memory cards with hundreds of photographs to sort through and edit... I came back from China with over 4000! It's why I'm trying to shoot film more, because I love the slow process. It forces me to stop and think before each photograph, to really see what's going on in the frame and out of it.

In the statement about your project Hard Work, you say that is was conceived out of a life long interest that goes back to when you were growing up watching Bruce Lee films etc. How did your trip live up to expectations? When researching and preparing for my trip, I tried to keep my expectations low as I knew that it would be utterly different to what I thought I would find. Still though, I was blown away by the differences and unexpected similarities I found there. For example, our Shaolin teachers did not have supernatural abilities in the literal sense of the word – however, the things that they could do were incredible and almost bordered on supernatural. And there was so much that I hadn't considered or expected that affected my work – the poor attitudes to the environment and animals, the bleak, dry and yet still beautiful landscape, the strange feeling of quite clearly being a foreigner in a distant land... So, the trip lived up to my expectations and it did not, it surpassed them and it also fell short. Which, in the end, is what I expected I guess! 

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

What visual influences did you have whilst making work in China? Did being in a different country change your way of working and researching? While I was in China, I didn't really do any research. I had already been researching and exploring ideas before I had left the UK as I only had a month in China, so once I was there I was working on carrying out the project itself. I gave myself half of the trip to get involved and participate, and the other half I dedicated to working and photographing. 

How does it feel looking back on the project Hard Work? It makes me nostalgic for my time there – it was such a wonderful experience, and my first time travelling alone to a foreign country! I try not to look at the work itself with a critical eye, which is what I tend to do. Always spotting things I did wrong, or things I didn't do that I should have done; instead I'm trying to take my mistakes forward with me, to learn from them. 

Would you ever go back to China to extend the series? I have been thinking about it for a while actually, as I really didn't give myself enough time the first time round. I would love to go back and carry on the series, perhaps focusing on a new direction, it's just difficult to organise it as there's so much more I want to do and so many places I want to go to! 

Tell us more about the process of creating a book. Hard Work was my first book, so it was difficult and long. The best thing I did was to ask for outside help from professionals – I contacted a few creatives in the industry that I admired and was pleasantly surprised by how much time and help they were willing to give me. In technical terms, the hardest parts were editing down the photographs to the final selection that would be in the book, and then finding a way to put those images together to form the story I wanted to tell.

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

You said that you came back from China with over 4000 pictures; how did you edit down to make the final selection? It was a long process, and I involved a lot of different people to help me choose and decide, including some professional photographers who I asked for help. This is the best thing to do - to involve as many different eyes, views and opinions as possible, to help you make your own informed decisions. I broke it down into parts – getting rid of all the bad ones, choosing my favourites, choosing the best images, the strongest, the most important in the story etc. and on top of that, asking others to do similar. 

Have you got a favourite image by another photographer? Yes – although I have a few. I'll mention this one, as it was probably my first ever favourite photograph. It's a fashion photograph, the model Lily Cole shot by Tim Walker for a Vogue editorial. Tim Walker is, in general, one of my favourite photographers for the amazing worlds he creates in his work, and that they're created by hand and shot on film. Although this is one of his less detailed sets, it resonated with me when I was growing up and thought that I would like to be in the fashion industry. I love the beautifully soft and exotic colours, that gorgeous location and that dress... it became one of my first favourites, and set me on the path to becoming a photographer myself. 

Do you think it’s a bad thing to be ‘trigger happy’? Why do you want to change the way you shoot? I do – when I shoot on digital, I take too many photographs of the same thing without looking at the images or what I'm shooting properly. I take lots and lots of photographs and then look at them later – often to find that I've just missed something or haven't taken the best shot properly. It's frustrating, and I think it's mostly because I put myself under pressure to shoot quickly and shoot lots.

I just came back from a 4 week trip to the US where I was trying to put slow shooting into practice – funnily enough, I was so worried that I was going to fill up all my memory cards that I bought for the trip, and instead I came back with only about 500 photographs! And now I feel like I didn't shoot enough... but I was focusing more on each shot, and only shooting what I really wanted to so I think it worked out well. 

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

Tell us about the online photography magazine you run, of the land & us? So back in my final year we had a choice of doing a business proposal instead of the usual dissertation, and so I set up an online magazine as part of it. I was having such fun with it that I carried it on after the deadline had passed, and it evolved into of the land & us. It focuses on the two subjects that I love in photography – the land and the people who live on it. I have hopes that one day I will be able to create a print version, and now that I have the time it's one thing that I will be focusing on. 

How was your experience of securing a job after the completion of your degree? It was less scary than expected. I knew I wanted to do some internships first and there are so many – I ended up getting involved with the Brighton Biennial Festival only a couple of months after graduating, and then I was lucky, I ended up getting an internship which then turned into a fantastic full-time job that gave me a wealth of experience and responsibility. I did this for about a year and a half. I left the job only just recently to go travelling, to focus on my projects and pursue my photography. 

What advice would you give to a student about to graduate? Don't be worried, and plan ahead – take some time off to relax, but find something to do and work on, whether that's a small project or learning a new skill. Keeping busy is the key, it'll help with the strangeness you'll feel after graduating, perhaps after moving back home, being away from your university friends and not having anything to work on. It'll also help with your job applications, because it'll show that you're proactive and have self-discipline. It's something that has greatly helped me.

From the series Hard Work

From the series Hard Work

How was the experience of putting on a solo show? Do you have any tips for photographers that may be preparing their own exhibition? It was an amazing experience. I had a bit of a leg up in that by the time I put mine on, I had already worked with several artists in creating and setting up their own through my job, so I knew how to go about it. The most important thing is to make sure you prepare ahead of time and start promoting/marketing the event long before it happens, and promote it to relevant industry people as well as the general public.

What are you working on at the moment? As I said earlier, I've just come back from a month long trip to the USA in which I travelled by train to 8 cities in 15 days with a rail pass. It was part holiday and part photography practice, as I hadn't shot in such a long time. I didn't pursue a specific project, although I had intended to do one. I was having such fun on the trip though that I just went with the flow and photographed what I wanted to. I had some fantastic experiences and photographed some great people I met, although not many. Now that I'm back, I'd like to organise the photographs I took into some sort of order and presentation, and I've also got a couple of side projects on the go also including of the land & us and one other thing that I won't say much about yet. On top of that, I'm planning some more travels and personal projects.