University: University of the Arts London
196 countries in this Incredible world
196 Portraits to be made
Shot entirely on 35mm I use the the concepts of "the gaze" & "the spontaneous" within portraiture playing with the notions of beauty and identity. We are bombarded with the "ideal" and the "perfect" image of women and men in magazines and in the commercial world.
The goal is to raise awareness of social stereotypes and to illuminate how much social media and magazines determines the way we perceive beauty. I hope it can also question how dangerously homogenous our ideas of beauty and aesthetic appeal have become. Thus, the attempt to photograph people just as they are without touchups, using natural light experimenting with different outdoor and indoor locations.
It is also an opportunity for me to be able to celebrate co-operative relationships within a networked and globalised world.
Using a RAW aesthetic, the human element and channelling simplicity, I set out to make portraits to bring out people's personality therein celebrating individuality and London's diversity.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I think the third year in particular was quite important as I began to reflect upon my practise a little more seriously. The first two years were spent largely attending as many events, exhibitions, portfolio reviews, fashion weeks, photography festivals, talks and gathering influences from everything possible looking at all the work and making creative connections and also trying to gauge which particular genre I would be most interested in and what excites me the most. I spent a lot of time working on 35mm in my second and third years and really enjoyed the analogue process. It made me work slower and the wait before the scans came out was excruciating but also exciting. The reason I chose BA Photography over the other courses at UAL was so that I could experiment and make work in all the different genres I was interested in and challenge myself in all possible directions creatively. The standout moment for me was to have the courage to make the work I wanted to and be able to give full attention to my final year project of shooting portraits of Londoners from every country of the world. A lot of people had opinions about how and what I must photograph and that is understandable since a lot of my previous work was travel centric, but I was fully aware of what I was doing and I am incredibly glad to have found a long lasting interest in Portraiture and Fashion.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I am really interested in a diverse approach to storytelling. My influences and inspirations come from so many different things - films, music, and travel, and so the genres I am interested in are also diverse. Social documentary, street, portraiture and fashion, weddings, travel, and film stills. I wish to make lots of work in all these genres but largely with a fine-art approach. Overall, I would say I enjoy working with interesting people the most. I am looking to work more with designers on collaborations and undertake more commissioned editorial work in the future.
What's one vital thing you learnt at university that you think will always stick with you? Don't try to fit in and fall into cliches, work with ideas and follow them up. In the creative fields you can stagnate very quickly if you are not motivated enough and don't have the courage to follow your instinct. Experimentation is the key. You may fail but you have to be persistent and that persistency will never come unless you are genuinely interested in what you are doing. One more thing I learnt was to be able to manage my finances properly as I tend to go all out when I am working on an interesting Idea. My final year work for example was all self funded and I was so deeply involved in making it that I shut myself down completely from everything else and found a way to work part-time so I could invest in my project. Despite making all the work, I never won anything at the LCC final year awards, not even a mention from my course director and it just broke my heart!!! It was like I had made all this work for 15 months but it meant nothing! It was hard to digest but I finished photographing 100 countries after that and was subsequently selected for the British Journal of photography's Portrait of Britain which was tremendous in terms of exposure so that came as a huge relief and also compensated for all the motivation I needed. I would say that being able to manage the business aspect of it is equally important for me as a creative.
Your series is very influenced by photographic theory. Can you tell us who or what inspired you when making the work? I decided late in my second year that I would want to work with portraiture but at the same time I knew if this was something I was going to invest so much of my time and money in then I needed to do it whole heartedly. Also the fact that I could tackle a socially relevant theme like diversity and have this universal element in the project was a huge plus. I thought the project would enrich me in a lot of ways too since I get to interact and photograph all these interesting people from all these countries.
Peter Lindberg, Rosaline Shahnavaz, Juergen Teller, Jamie Hawkesworth, Annie Leibovitz, Spencer Murphy, Alec Soth, Alex Webb, Ryan Mcginley, Ryan Muirhead, Tereza Cerenova, Chloe Matthews, Rosie Matheson, and Jason Bell are some that come to my mind instantly when I think about people I look up to. I also spent a lot of time at the Print Space in East London attending a lot of events and talks and it kept my creative juices flowing. The project is still ongoing and i am looking to find all the other missing countries but now when I shoot I would want to include more age, gender and skin colour diversity in the project and also look out for quirky personality traits.
How did you find these people to photograph? They all look very comfortable in front of your camera; what did you talk to them about? My job is to give people a personality or to bring out someone's essence in a portrait. Largely, it is also about giving dignity and acknowledging that person's presence. Sometimes the presence is strong depending on my interaction with the subject sometimes not so much but there is still some element of that person's personality that I can instinctively sense. The majority of people I photographed were found because of my friends recommending my project to their friends, and then the rest of them were people I found through advertising the project on Social Media and on all the six colleges within University of The Arts London. I am very easy going and social so perhaps that has helped but i actually love the ones that are not posed, they are the hardest ones to capture. I kept it simple and spontaneous - nothing extraordinary but i made sure my subjects remember me as much as I remember my interactions with them. A little sense of humour has helped.
Describe your equipment choices; was it simply just a 35mm camera and rolls of film? If I had a choice to do this project all over again with a DSLR I would not do it because i am forever in love with my Pentax and Mamiya and Kodak film. It just feels different shooting on film - the process and the results reveal a level of intimacy. Also, you have more creative control. When I look at the result I feel like what I saw through the viewfinder has been reproduced exactly like that with all the grain and attention to detail just like a cinematographer would want when shooting on location.
How do you stay motivated to continue making work? In my spare time I am always looking at the work of people I admire. Also, since the majority of my work involves people, meeting those interesting people is motivation enough. Staying self motivated can be really hard though so I have to make sure I don't stop making work because if the motivation runs out if you are not in the groove.
Once you’ve made a portrait representing every country in the world, what would you like to do with the images? Firstly it would be great to actually finish as many as can in the next few months. I am in touch with everyone I have photographed and once the project is finished I shall spread the images out to see how text can be included within the project. I would aim for an exhibition and pitch this to some publishers to see what they have to say. I have been showing this project at portfolio reviews and constantly get feedback so the project is developing.
Can you tell us about something you’d like to achieve during your photographic career? I want to enjoy the process of making work. Photography is the best way of conserving memories so hopefully when I look back I will have lots of good memories of people I have met, places I have been to and get to be part of good storytelling. I get a lot of creative satisfaction making work and photography is also my way of understanding the world around me. There is always a different way of doing things and narrating stories visually so hopefully I can look beyond cliches and find a personal touch to my work.
I will start my Masters in Photography in Paris August onwards which I am eagerly looking forward to. At the same time, I don't want to think too much as for me photography is like music. I would like to keep it spontaneous and free flowing without any boundaries.