© Rosaline Shahnavaz

Rosaline Shahnavaz: Friendship through a Photograph

20.08.2017 | Culture , Fashion | BY:

The relationship of a photographer and a model has long been documented to live beyond the flash. Love affairs, marriages, betrayals and betrothals have long been mapped out, but what about the friendship of a photographer to her subject?

Rosaline Shahnavaz is a photographer whose work holds a unique elegance in its informality, often capturing her subjects in a limbo between self-reflection and personal expression.  Her clients range from Coca-Cola to Urban Outfitters, her youth-centric approach editorially gracing the pages of i-D to ES Magazine.

The women she has photographed appear aware of their own elements, basking in a modern innocence – not so much picnics on the lawn, but more playing with their environments through a decided void of limitations and playful potential. Toothy smiles, cowboy stances, sunlight squints and legs akimbo. The women Rosaline has photographed feel like they own the frame she has caught them in: their selves and spirit bigger than their own image.

Rosaline has just published her first photo-book: an out-of-hours report with the model Fern that steps Rosaline’s photographic approach further. The result is a publication that pulls into question the relationship between the vision and the voyeur, and what happens when a friendship is formed on both sides of the camera. A lesson in capturing a two-sided relationship when only one side is visible.

Fern is the first photography book that you have released, how did the project come about?

I first met Fern after I casted her for an ad campaign I was shooting. We had this spark immediately and I loved photographing her. I kept casting her for everything when I decided to step away from fashion and spend some time photographing just her. She was thrilled and so it began. I had initiated the project however there was a role reversal and Fern would get in touch with me to shoot whenever she was in my area too. We got to know each other a lot during the process, and as our friendship bloomed the photographs did too.

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

What sparked the idea to make this project into a book?

The photographs are really personal, and I think the tactile nature of the book suits perfectly. You physically look closer and the narrative woven into the sequencing reveals a lot about Fern and our relationship. I love the editing process, I always print out all of my images and plaster my studio with them before I start to make the book. It’s a laborious process and I’ll go away and come back to it numerous times until I’ve got it.

Why did you choose one year to document Fern?

I didn’t. I honestly think I could continue to shoot the project forever. I don’t think the book marks the end and I’d like to revisit Fern with my camera further down the line.

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

How would you describe the resulting book? A documentation, an exploration, a study?

All of the above! I’d say it’s also a celebration of femininity, friendship and coming of age.

What are your thoughts on the concept of muses? What does ‘muse’ mean to you?

I think the concept of the muse has shifted, and that’s happened with the emergence in female photographers. I am more drawn to the sensibility of a woman depicting another woman.

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

Would you consider Fern a muse to you?

She could be a muse, but I found that photographing Fern wasn’t just about her, but more about our relationship and the connection we shared as photographer and subject.

Fern was 17 when you started photographing her – do you feel the images capture Fern the young woman at a turning point in her life?

Fern was at a particularly pivotal time in her life. It doesn’t stop with age but I recall the extremity of it as a teenager. She’d described being in a limbo state between girlhood/ womanhood, her sense of home/place and the shift between education / career. Over the duration of the book we both went through changes and found solace in each other.

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

© Rosaline Shahnavaz

Do you feel it is important to gain a connection with the subjects you photograph?

Definitely. I first got into photography by documenting my friends like a ‘fly on the wall’. It was naive and I didn’t really have an intention. The intimacy and closeness of those relationships enabled me to photograph the way I did. This approach marked my interest and subject matter. I’d love to spend a sustained period of time getting to know and photographing all of my subjects. I never give much direction, I would rather share an experience with my subject and capture them candidly. I don’t want to take ‘perfect’ photographs, I am more compelled to the in-between moments.

Fern will be available in a selection of bookstores in New York and London from the end of August – check @rosaline_s for announcements. Fern is currently available online: http://rosalineshahnavaz.bigcartel.com/product/fern-by-rosaline-shahnavaz

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