Twin issue XVII: Wham Bam Andersen
Photography Clare Shilland, Words India Doyle
Olivia Bee started taking pictures in her early teens, one of those rare precocious talents who already had the basics nailed before most of us had figured out how to make our lava lamps work. And when I say basics, I mean being commissioned to shoot commercials for Nike and Converse by the time she was 17…
Having emerged during the peak Tumblr years, Bee has continued to carve a name for herself with candid photographs that capture the intensity of youth; the fragile nexus of love, and the yearning for the wild. Her photographs are often situated within nature, away from the obvious limitations of the city and the responsibilities that lie therein.
With a knack for powerful juxtapositions, Olivia Bee’s photographs have a corpuscular quality that capture individual moments in time but which together weave a wider narrative about the transient nature of youth. With a beautiful new tome, Kids in Love, out now, Twin caught up with her to talk hanging out in Oregon and the future of the Internet.
Starting with Kids in Love – your photographs embody a fantastic energy. What’s your process when shooting?
Kids In Love came about because I was taking pictures of the world around me — I wasn’t really trying to make anything in particular, other than the things I gravitated towards. When it was finished, I knew, and I knew it was a show and a book. The energy in Kids In Love came from the universe that I existed in and made for myself when I was a teenager. I was observing that universe.
What was it about the camera that you were originally drawn to?
The ability to create and make art simultaneously; to directly document your experience.
What I like about Kids In Love is that you immortalise the transient state of youth through movement and these wonderful juxtapositions with the natural world. Was this an aesthetic that came naturally to you? How did your style develop?
I mean this just came with living in Oregon, living in nature but being around kids my age and exploring that universe. In Oregon you just go to the river and to the mountain and to the beach and to the forest, that’s what you do for fun and that’s where you get drunk. it was just part of every day. Green was my studio.
You started working professionally when you were pretty young, did you ever feel that this inhibited your ability to develop creatively? Was there less freedom to make mistakes, experiment etc.
I always kind of did what I wanted and didn’t think much about it. There were times I’d get feedback from people who were selling my work saying what i was doing was less marketable, but i’d just be like, “dude. i’m just documenting my world.” It was (and is) a natural process for me to document. I still experimented and made plenty of bad pictures.
What is it about intimacy that interests you as a subject matter?
It is so innately human.
Instagram has bought this generation a whole host of really exciting creatives who otherwise might not have had the capacity to promote their work to a global audience, but do you ever feel that sheer scale of the platform – and its millions of contributors – might come to negate the power of a singular image?
I’m getting less and less satisfied with the internet. It’s all controlled by money at this point and our information is getting sold so that companies can market for our demographics. It’s terrifying. We have to fight back and play that game to our advantage. My work belongs in galleries and in books and in theaters — not just the internet. I get depressed when my pictures I love are just on the internet and then they’re gone or stolen because people think the internet is an equal playing field and ownership is lost.
Also with the internet, people skip over movies, books, tv shows, people, and minimize them into one single image on their tumblr when they haven’t seen that movie, tv show, read that book, or researched that celebrity. Everything is aestheticized. Even the notion of “liking” or “loving” something or someone has been aestheticized. Authenticity has been aestheticized. People have to remember what’s real and I really do think a big part of that is existing in your world and participating and reading and talking to people and watching movies in the theater and on tv and going to museums and being in nature if these kinds of things are available to you. That shit will keep you human.
Who and what are the major influences for your work?
My life and my emotional experiences. The wonderful people i surround myself with. Nature.
What do like to listen to when working?
Right now I’ve been listening to a fuck ton of Leonard Cohen. I just discovered Emily Eeo when I was in a coffee shop in Portland and have been playing that over and over. The Lemon Twigs are wonderful too.
What’s your favourite camera to work with?
That’s a secret 😉
What’re your plans, concerns and hopes for 2017?
Time is a marker that we created — it doesn’t actually exist. It’s fluid. So I don’t always believe in setting goals for certain periods of time but I do feel that with 2017 and the upcoming Trump presidency it is especially important to stand up for the things you believe in. I want the people I choose to be in my work, especially in fashion, to be more diverse, and I want to write a book? Or a movie? I want to quit low balling and I want to stand up for myself and the ones I love more! Also establish some sort of place to live in the future in nature.
With ample experience in fashion, Lily More and Daisy Walker decided that it was time to address the issues around gender equality in the industry with their new initiative ‘Women in Fashion’.
The aim is to empower women through community, creating a strong network for women and men to learn from, inspire and create a stronger framework together. The time has never been so ripe for change and innovation, which makes Daisy and Lily’s desire to tell new stories and spark fresh conversation especially exciting.
Twin caught up with co-founder of Women in Fashion Daisy Walker to discuss issues around the male gaze, street casting and launching a dynamic new platform.
How did you two get to know each other, and what drove you to start ‘Women in Fashion’?
We met through a mutual friend when we were 19, far before either of us had any idea we’d end up in this industry.
Lily is a researcher for David Sims, and I am a photographer. Coming from very different sides of the industry we quickly found through conversations that we were already having that a lot of our experiences were similar, but that there were multi layered experiences that were specific to each part of the industry as well. We wanted to create a space that would allow these layers to be explored and shared with the aim of changing the negative aspects of an industry we love.
What is the aim of the platform?
To provoke change through conversation and to make the industry accountable for it’s ways of working.
wWhat do you enjoy about street casting?
Street casting came out of necessity for me. I was looking at other fashion images and saw nothing of myself in them. These girls literally didn’t look like me or the people I knew. By using models from agencies I felt like I was contributing to a warped view on age, size and diversity that the whole industry was feeding into, which lead me instead to start street casting.
When you’re casting from agencies you’re casting a professional to turn up and act and behave a certain way. When casting someone you literally found on the street, or is a friend of a friend, there is no formal set up for how the day should go. There’s a level of closeness and trust you have to build very quickly with that person, and it’s that interaction, that honesty and that connection that I love.
Much like Women in Fashion, I’ve made lasting friendships through my casting and and it’s that drive for inclusivity and level of intimacy that drives me to continually cast outside of the agency system.
More than ever, with Instagram etc, image is central to how fashion is portrayed. How do you see photography shaping the conversation within the industry?
For me photography is a window into the concepts and ideas behind artists, and I think fashion photography is the only tangible and visible way that the industry can change perceptions and give a voice to niche experiences. It’s great to see that brands are reverting back somewhat to hiring photographers with a clear voice and message and the more those experiences are given a visual representation within the industry, the more space there is for that conversation to continue and evolve.
Do you think a women’s relationship with the camera has changed permanently now? How do you think men can navigate the stigma of the ‘male gaze’ while embracing a feminist narrative?
I don’t believe that anything is ever permanent, nor do I think we’ve necessarily reached any kind of goal in terms of the female gaze. The female experience is incredibly diverse, and ever evolving and the social landscape morphs, as well as our means of communication within it. What I do hope is that this wave of the female gaze continues to grow and move forward.
I think there’s huge scope for men to reappropriate the male gaze and offer new and fresh perspectives and continually strive to create work that is feminist. As fourth-wave feminism has opened up to the mainstream, perspectives are more readily available for feminist men to absorb and learn from. It’s the reason that Women in Fashion is not open to only women. We are open to all iterations of gender, specifically because we think that it is open conversation that allows better understanding, which leads to us all becoming better feminists and better allies.
Thinking more generally about the industry, what are the biggest challenges that you perceive for ensuring greater diversity in the industry? How can we overcome them?
Often i find that diversity is hindered by sales. Clients and magazines are certainly becoming more aware of the need for diverse casting but at times are wary because they often experience a drop in sales. It’s an extremely painful truth, but one that lies in a history of brainwashing women to believe that white, tall and thin is the definition of beauty. The only way to overcome that is to push to saturate the industry with images that prove that is not the case.
Years of oppression can not be overturned overnight, but it’s important to remember that the images we put out today are the ones the next generation will be growing up with. And if they can learn the importance and beauty in diversity now; then they’ll be the next generation to buy into it.
Who are the women you most admire and who inspire you in fashion, and in culture more generally?
I’m a huge admirer of Vivienne Westwood. She was my first ever client and set the tone for me, personally. She came from humble beginnings and fought her way to success in an industry very much owned by men at the time. The industry is still run by men, and she still endures. She is ever evolving, always looking forward and always focused on exploring the role of gender.
Outside of the fashion world I am very inspired by Patti Smith and Arlene Grottfried. Their portrayal of relationships, in their own very distrinct ways, is lusty and ardent and far removed from the perfection often synonymous with that theme.
What other female collectives do you admire, and who do you think is exciting in the industry?
Gal- Dem! We were interviewed alongside Liv recently and loved everything about her and what she’s doing!
In terms of individuals were excited about in the industry; Fern Bain Smith, Emma Hope Allwood, Sara McAlpine. These are all people who are working in the industry on their own terms and have a lust for questioning norms, for change and for promoting women. Really the greatest hope for a safer and more responsible industry is inclusivity and passion, and these girls are brimming over with it. They are all also Women in Fashion members!
Twin asked Women in Fashion to curate their favourite images as part of their Twin Instagram takeover. Check them out on our feed and below.
‘I ain’t no Kendall Jenner but I’m a black muslim girl from east london that’s about to finesse the modelling industry’ wrote Shahira Yusuf on Twitter back in November. Born in Somalia and hailing from East London, the 20 year old’s statement has since been retweeted almost 60,000 times, making her entrance into the fashion world one of the most hyped this year.
It’s no secret that fashion has historically failed on diversity, but with Edward Enninful at the helm of British Vogue, 2018 might be the year in which the seismic shifts that need to happen finally do. Entering the industry at this febrile time, Shahira’s energy and passion for ensuring proper representation is an exciting harbinger for what’s to come.
We caught up with Shahira to talk about diversity, role models and breaking into the London fashion scene.
Culture Trip: How did you get into modelling, and what did you find interesting about it?
Shahira Yusuf: I was scouted at 17 but initially I didn’t consider modelling. At 20 I finally built up the courage to try it out, and decided to visit Storm. For someone who hadn’t initially had an interest in fashion, what attracted me to fashion was the amazing opportunities. I’m glad I have the opportunity to do something that allows me to represent not only myself, but to represent diversity.
CT: Your tweet went viral – what do you perceive to be the main challenges facing the industry in terms of diversity and inclusivity?
SY: Prior to being a model, I assumed the industry wasn’t at all inclusive. However now having some experience, I feel that the modelling industry tries, I honestly do. Do I feel that the industry could try even harder for a shot at equal representation? Yes, I do. I’d like to see the industry look exactly like if I were to walk down the streets of London in terms of ethnic diversity. I no longer feel like there should be a need to address diversity, in this day and age. The world is made up of over a hundred nations, we come from all walks of life. Diversity in the fashion and modelling industry should not be an option, it should be necessary. If the industry’s aim is to flourish, inclusiveness should be the basis.
For instance, I don’t feel it’s right for designers and/or companies to hire a majority of non-Muslim women to model modest Islamic clothing. There are many Muslim women willing to represent themselves. Find them. Or when West African or East Asian clothing is being modelled, you have to consider the roots of the cultural clothing/items and use models from that particular country/region. That’s not to say people from other ethnicities cannot wear the clothing, but if I’m watching a runway and that’s been inspired by a particular culture, I expect to see models from that culture dominating the runway, representing their roots to the fullest extent.
CT: Who were your role models in fashion growing up?
SY: My role models were successful beauties like Iman, Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell.
Iman is certainly someone I can relate to, being from the same ethnic background. In terms of her branching out and dominating the fashion and beauty scene and building her legacy, I definitely was drawn to her. As for Tyra, I grew up watching many seasons of ANTM and also her talk show. I’d probably say there was no-one I was more engaged with in the fashion scene more than Tyra. I certainly loved Tyra growing up, she’s the whole package. Naomi, well honestly there’s no need for me to even explain this one.
All three models are incredible women that are worth looking to in terms of success in the fashion industry. They paved the way for diversity and if it wasn’t for them it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t be modelling today.
CT: What were your frustrations with the industry before going into it, and how do you want to participate in shaping it going forward?
SY: My main frustration was the lack of diversity, and I’ve realised there’s more of an effort in inclusiveness being made by smaller companies in comparison to established, household names. This is quite disappointing. Most well known designers and companies love to express how they’re inspired by different cultures, yet if you watch a runway of most of the well established names, you’ll only find a couple or at most 3–5 ethnic models.
To me, that’s unfair. If you really believe in diversity, prove it. You cannot simply say that you’re inspired by different cultures yet turn around and rarely choose people of different cultures to represent you. It’s contradictory and although it’s continuously addressed, there’s not been a huge effort to make a direct change.
It really isn’t even about me, I just feel that there’s so much beauty around the world for the industry to be painted over by one coloured brush. We don’t all appear the same, so why create that false idealism? There’s no such thing as universal beauty standards, the world realises this, and it’s time the fashion industry stopped enforcing something that’s deemed as unrealistic.
A lot of times, the modelling industry is stereotypically viewed as superficial for these reasons. There’s so much more to modelling than what meets the eye, complete inclusiveness will prove modelling is not only ‘skin deep’.
CT: Do you think there is space for fashion to be a medium for activism and actual change?
SY: I do believe the fashion industry holds the potential to make a huge shift in society and for the better. In fact, I think it’s underestimated how impactful the industry really is. Many designers, companies and models have the ability to use their platform to make a change – and I mean a real change. It’s so easy to distance yourself from what’s going on in the world, but once you do, you’re losing sight of the bigger picture.
I think people should start by firstly acknowledging their surroundings as you cannot be out of touch with reality. Then set out ideas of what you’d like to see in the world in terms of improvements and how you could contribute to making that happen. I always say, no matter how big or small your platform is, use it for the better. It makes everything more worthwhile. Ultimately, it’s the intention that matters.
CT: What have been the most powerful images you’ve seen in fashion recently?
SY: Probably Adwoa Aboah as the cover star for Edward Enninful’s first edition of British Vogue. Extremely captivating. I loved the cover, and everything about it screams excellence. Rihanna’s Fenty cosmetic campaign was also powerful. It was the key defining beauty campaign of the year, I personally feel. An amazing representation of diversity.
CT: You recently signed to Storm. How have you found the London fashion scene?
SY: the best word I could use to describe it is, evolving. I feel like the fashion scene is always evolving, nevertheless I’m very much enjoying myself and in the little time that I’ve been modelling, I’ve had some cool experiences!
CT: What’s in store for 2018?
SY: I’m looking forward to doing more photoshoots, I’m also hoping to do some runway shows. I’m extremely ambitious and see myself only ever improving. As someone who loves experiencing new places and going on adventures, I’d also love to do some traveling.
A version of this article was originally published on Culture Trip.
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