October 16, 2015

Welcome to Friday. You made it through another crazy week, so treat yourself to a little slice of calm with Friday I’m In Love, our weekly feature dedicated to digging up the artists and photographers we’re going heart-eye emoji for.

This week, British-Iranian photographer, Rosaline Shahnavaz talks to us about developing an intimate relationship with her subjects, her first real camera inherited from her father and feeling inspired by her sister, Nazanin.

UO: Tell us a little about your story so far.

Hello! I’m Rosaline, a photographer from South West London. I studied Photography at LCC, where I made several bodies of work. Whilst I was at uni, I began to shoot for a lot of my favourite magazines and clients, which felt like a dream! It’s been amazing and I have continued to do this ever since.

My sister Nazanin is an editor and stylist, and she studied at UAL. During this time she became the Music Editor at Under the Influence magazine and would moonlight as a DJ to fund her way through uni. Nazanin then went onto Tank Magazine where she spent three years writing about fashion, music and culture. She’s now freelance and contributes to Dazed and Confused, Broadly and Varón Magazine.

Though we’ve been working together on editorial projects for a while, we have officially taken the leap to focus on our collaborative ventures, such as our latest shoot for Urban Outfitters!

UO: Where does your passion for photography come from?

I first got into photography by documenting my friends and my boyfriend. I started off like a fly on the wall, obsessively capturing candid moments we shared. I love these photos the most because of their intimacy. I think they say a lot about myself and my subject, as well as my relationships with them. As I continued to develop as a photographer, I would start planning shoots with them and we’d go on road trips or adventures and continue to shoot in the same way. It wasn’t about staging the photos, but about creating experiences or situations and allowing for these photographs to happen. It’s always been a lot of fun.

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UO: You worked with your sister, Nazanin on the Urban Outfitters shoot who styled and art directed. Are you part of a creative family?

Though our parents aren’t creatives by profession, Nazanin and I have definitely inherited their passions for art and culture. My dad took hundreds of photographs in Iran before him and my mother moved to London and had Nazanin and I. There’s a particular photo album from when my mum and dad first met which inspired me to pick up the camera. It’s a really beautiful documentation of their relationship. He actually gave me the camera he shot these on and this was my first ‘real’ camera. I learnt everything on it, from the basics of analogue photography, understanding light, to using the lens as my eye.

It’s so great working on set with your sister. We’re constantly inspiring each other, we’re never shy of sharing our ideas as sisters do, and our mutual passions bounce off of one another constantly. It’s always been that way, since we used to get ready to go to gigs together, visiting galleries together, making art together, borrowing each others clothes and ideas… there has always been so much energy. We definitely believe that ‘sharing is caring’!

Growing up, I remember my mum having really cool style and we spent a lot of our childhood listening Michael Jackson tapes or watching Top of the Pops whilst drawing and painting with her. I think this all captured Nazanin’s imagination from an early age, she developed her love for music and would always be requesting to wear elaborate dresses to school.

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UO: We love everything about the shoot – from styling to location. Tell us about the inspiration behind the shoot.

Thank you, we loved working on the shoot. Our ideas come together very organically and it just feels like we’re hanging out and whatever we are working on becomes an extension of all the things we are passionate about. For this shoot in particular, we wanted to capture a cool ’70s music girl, who’s a bit of a tomboy but feminine at the same time.

UO: Where did you get the bunny rabbits and how much havoc did they cause on set?!

When we arrived at the shoot location, not only did it feel like we had stepped back in time (the house hadn’t been redecorated since the ’70s) but we discovered that these fluffy guys all lived there too. If I’m entirely honest, I think we were the ones causing the havoc – they were all just chilling, admiring Marli’s coat and doing their thing. Our favourite was Jeff (closest to Marli), apparently he’s dad to all the other guys.

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UO: What is it you love most about photography?

Photography invites so many people through your doors, you’re constantly meeting new people, exploring and seeing new places. Photography gives you an excuse to ask people to do things you’d never be able to ask without your camera. There’s a real magic to the chemistry when you’re printing in the darkroom too. I love everything about the process.

UO: You’ve worked with a range of incredible clients and publications including NME, i-D, Dazed, Rough Trade and Stolen Recordings. Which project has been the most exciting for you and why?

It has been amazing. But this is a tough question as there is honestly never a dull moment. I find every shoot so exciting. Photography is so fast paced: you’re constantly meeting like-minded people so every shoot is an opportunity to create something fresh and exciting. I was once shooting musicians for AnOther and hadn’t been told I was shooting PJ Harvey until I was in front of her with my camera… Ahh! That was pretty cool, she was just amazing in real life.

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UO: What themes do you enjoy exploring in your personal projects?

My personal work tends to focus on female individuals and youth. I spend the duration of the projects getting to know my subjects, so the photographs embody a lot of intimacy. It’s a lot about the trust between photographer and subject, which allow me to produce these works. ‘Far Near Distance’ was an intimate study of my cousin’s life in Tehran, and the photographs were presented with letters we have written to each other during social media blackouts in Iran. It was a poignant piece, and it exposed a lot about our relationship and the differences in our cultures.

I recently published a new book called ‘Aleko’ which is an intimate documentation of a friend Aleko, shot over the span of a year. ‘Aleko’ explores notions of the muse and depictions of women through the perspective of the female gaze.

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UO: What or who inspires your work?

People. I love what makes people individual. It can be little things like someone’s laugh, or a freckle on their back. These details always stand out to me.

UO: What is your favourite era?

I love the late sixties and early seventies. It was such a big time for changes, from music, culture, lifestyle, fashion, architecture… everything was moving! So much was changing and it gave birth to some of the most amazing works. I have to say my music taste is definitely more 90s Britpop. As a nineties baby, I was raised watching Blur, Elastica, Radiohead, Pixies and Suede on Top of the Pops. I have never grown out of that.

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UO: What other photographers are you admiring right now?

I really love Angelo Penetta, Venetia Scott and Juergen Teller. These photographers never fail to excite me!

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