I love it when the timing of new connections yields enjoyable collaborations
Not long into my film photography journey, I came across Brazilian model Mariana Mendes whilst idly browsing Instagram’s explore page. I was immediately struck by her unique birthmark. Mariana has Congenital Melanocytic Naevus (CMN), a rare skin condition that can cover up to 80% of the body in dark brown birthmarks, and known to affect 1 in every 20,000 births.
Having been already interviewed by the London newspaper METRO previously, Mariana had taken part in a photoshoot project by London photographer Brock Elbank in a series of images he had put together for an exhibition called “How Do You C Me Now?” at OXO Tower Wharf. At the time I found her account, it just so happened that she was planning a visit to London to attend the private view for this exhibition. It was the perfect opportunity for us to work together.
The shoot came together very quickly. I booked Kitsch Studio in North London and brought in Ash Shah, a make-up artist who had messaged me via Instagram mere weeks beforehand regarding working together on a shoot (unbelievable timing, really). Having taken another look at Mariana’s Instagram account, I decided I wanted to try and capture her in a different way to the content on her social channel (mainly travel images and bikini shots). I sourced some basic items of styling to present her in a more masculine, workman-like fashion.
I also chose to use some expired film (as I was feeling in an experimental mood) so brought some expired Kodak Portra 160VC, as well as my usual Portra 400 on medium format, and a roll of expired Fuji Neopan 1600 black and white film for my Canon 35mm camera.
Using expired film is not for the faint-hearted, but can still produce good results (for those interested in doing a deep dive, this great article on Emulsive should give you plenty of information on the subject). Depending on the film stock, you may get colour shifts that can produce results you are neither expecting or ultimately happy with. Fortunately, I had already tested some of the 160VC on a previous outdoor shoot and therefore knew what colours to expect.
It was a real pleasure working with Mariana and Ash, and although we had a relatively short amount to time to work together, the camaraderie between us and the way we worked together to achieve the result we wanted was superb. To date, the image below is still one of my favourite portraits I’ve ever taken.
They say the best things come to those who wait, and the results of this shoot were two months in the planning. I was contacted by Romi Desani, founder of the beauty brand UN_DID via the agency Truffle who I had previously done some work for in 2020.
Romi had started UN_DID because he felt there was not nearly enough representation of Asian/POC people in the beauty space. He had sought to use his brand to normalise individuality in the everyday, and take inspiration from South Asian culture.
He wanted to put together a branded shoot for product photography, model visuals and short clips/videos, all to be used across website and socials, for which he felt my style and aesthetic could align perfectly. Romi also wanted the new imagery to place UN_DID as much as a lifestyle brand rather than just an ingredient-centred/beauty one.
With what he wanted to achieve with the shoot, I essentially took on the role of co-creative director as well as producer and photographer (phew). The production side for me didn’t feel like a huge stretch, given I seem to take on that role as well as that of art director (as well as photographer!) for my own self-initiated collaborative shoots.
Throughout the process, we were constantly refining the way we wanted brand came across in the new visuals, from how the products were to be captured to the model casting, right down to deciding the studio we felt best suited to the content we were looking to shoot. Ultimately, we settled on a concept and tone that we billed as Benetton-branches-out-into-the-beauty-and-lifestyle-space.
For us, the casting of the models was as crucial as the capturing of the product content, and we really wanted to cast diverse people of colour who had the kind of personality we felt would help us create images that showed joy and spirit without feeling too staged. We ended up casting three models, Tanya, Pat and Nandi all from the same agency, BAME.
Romi came up with the idea of using clothing branded with different variations of the UN_ branding, which I think worked well with the images we shot and played well with the Bennetton-inspired theme.
After a look at studios, we finally settled on Studio Rogue, a lovely space in South London. It proved to be perfect, small enough for the team to feel comfortable but large enough for us as a team to move around in comfortably. Despite the studio having perfectly useable lighting, we managed to do the entire shoot using the available daylight we had on the day (thank you, UK weather).
Although it was a long shoot day, the entire team were amazing to work with, and managed to sustain great energy throughout the entire shoot. The models really made the effort to show a range of expression and personality that helped elevate the images beyond the standard model shots, and Cat our videographer captured some great footage.
All in all, the shoot proved to be a great success, with a set of both stills and video assets that Romi was incredibly happy with. You can see final shots from the project here.
I don’t usually shoot anything still life or product related, but I was really pleased to be asked to help create the latest assets for Misfits, a brand who produce a great range of vegan plant-based protein bars.
The opportunity to finally work with Millie from Set Sisters - who I had connected with last year via the platform The Dots - was also too good to resist.
Rich Saint-Ford, the creative director had come up with a concept for the shoot that revolved around an American high school theme, for which Set Sisters did what they do best - namely coming up with great settings in which to capture products as well as people. This included some old gym flooring sourced on ebay, along with an old school locker and velvet curtains.
I feel fortunate to have worked with such a great team. The shoot went so well in fact, that we finished significantly earlier than intended, and Rich had made his image selections before we even left the studio. Efficiency indeed.
You can see final images from the shoot here.