There’s nowhere like a darkroom, for young photographer Rosaline Shahanavaz. Born and raised in London, the 22-year-old is one of the most promising talents currently attending the London College of Communications. The beauty of her portraits generates from a deep sense of intimacy with her subjects. Through her camera, she creates a startling human connection which reverberates even on the viewers. Recently, she has started wandering in fashion lands, with her latest editorial being featured on C-Heads Magazine. IDOL sat down with Rosaline to talk about analogue photography, London and what it takes to shoot a great portrait.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where does your passion for photography originate from?
It all started with my dad. He used to shoot a lot of photos of his life in Iran. As a child, I was always amazed by them, they were this insight into a world I could have never seen otherwise. So, when he gave me his old camera – the most battered I have ever seen! – that was it. I think I was about 16. And then there was a photography teacher at my school. I was too young to be studying photography, but I just went up to him and asked ‘can you teach me how to use a darkroom?’. And he accepted. He taught me the basics on how to print and that’s when I started being a bit obsessed with it – I wanted to stay in the darkroom all the time.
In your latest project, ‘Iran Diary’, you focus on everyday life in Iranian contexts. Where did the inspiration for the series come from?
For my final major project at university, I wanted to work on my connection to my roots in Iran. My parents emigrated before I was born, 12 years after the revolution, but I felt the need for a personal connection to the country. So I decided to focus on my cousin Sahar who lives in Tehran. In the series I am going to combine portraits of her with Iranian mountain landscapes. All her portraits are shot at home where she isn’t veiled, and can be herself, dressed as she likes.
How much time did you spend in Iran working on your project?
I was there for a few weeks. I really want to go back though. There is so much to see, and so much to capture on camera. The situation in Iran is such that even when they’re presenting a private moment, they’re presenting it as if it were public. It was important for me to go beyond that and get a glimpse of real people’s private lives.
Most of your personal projects focus on people who fearlessly offer themselves to your camera. Which are the main characteristics you look for when choosing your subjects?
Usually I work best with people I know, people I’m extremely comfortable with. I don’t want them to look perfect, my photos aren’t supposed to be perfect. Even when I am shooting with a new model, I like to spend a lot of time trying to get to know them. I guess I seek to create a very balanced relationship between me and whomever is on the other side of the objective.
We noticed that you recently started shooting for fashion magazines and websites. Is fashion something you have always been interested in or is it more of a recent passion?
Fashion is something I have always liked, but I had never really gone for it. Now I love it, it’s nice to do some editorial work while working on my art projects at the same time. I incorporate the same kind of creative impulse into my fashion work and my personal projects.
What would you say the main differences between working on your personal projects and working for fashion are?
I guess that with personal projects, I never know where it ends. I may set myself a deadline, but then a year later, I’ll do something and be like ‘uh, that’s not the end of that!’. While when you’re working or shooting for a magazine, it’s a different story. You have a deadline, and you have to go from a to b. I appreciate working to a brief – you know what someone else wants you to work on.
Against the digital revolution, you are a self-declared analogue-addict. Why?
As sentimental as it may sound, I started off shooting film, and just fell in love with it. When I compare digital prints with photos I have developed in the dark room, it’s a totally different universe. In a way, it also depends on how we are trained here at LCC. When we create, we are usually thinking about artwork on the wall in an art gallery, as opposed to on a website. So since you need to put your work online, I do end up spending a lot of time scanning. It can be a bit tedious, but I think it’s worth it.
Any idea on what your next step will be, after you’re done with uni?
I think I’m going to travel for a bit, and simply practice as a photographer as much as I can. I’ll have the freedom to devote all my time to it, which right now seems like a dream. I may do an ma in the future, but there’s no rush. We’ll see how it goes.
What can you tell us about subject, the online art platform you work for?
Subject is a project created by two DJs Nazanin Shahnavaz and Phil Adams. They do lots of crazy things, interviews with artists, musicians, while also DJing at some really awesome parties. I started out with them as an in-house photographer two years ago. I get the chance to attend some incredibly stimulating events and meet very talented people, I couldn’t ask for anything better.
You were born and raised in London. Do you ever dream of migrating somewhere else?
I feel London is a huge part of me, I can go away for a while, but then I’ll always want to come back. The only place where I thought ‘okay, I can see myself living here for a while’ was Brooklyn, and New York in general. But in the end London is such a vibrant city, with all its galleries, museums, magazines. If I ever moved, it would always be somewhere with the same kind of creative energy.
If you could choose any model in the world for one of your portrait series, who would it be?
That would definitely be Chloë Sevigny. In all the films she stars in, she manages to be incredibly personal. It almost feels like I already know her! She’d be an amazing person to shoot. She has that thing going on, about being very relaxed and perfect in her own way.
And our last question… if you had to pick one, who would you choose as your ultimate idol?
I don’t have just one, my idols change as my life changes. So far, though, my biggest idol is Bill Henson. When I was 16 I went to see his exhibition at the V&A. I was completely overwhelmed by his work. Simply too beautiful.