Sophie Mayanne, 22, is a London-based photographer best known for her sensibility for portraiture and monochromatic images that unveil the truth of real expressions without impositions. The hint of what is not said will always remain in our most enduring visual memory, as she explores a creative scale that transcends the conventional, relishing honest and beautiful details.
Sophie started to take pictures about three years ago, shooting a self-portrait daily for one year. When she made it to day 211, she realised she had started turning her camera away from her, towards other people: “Photographing other people began to consume more of my time and interest, so it felt like the right point to leave the self-portraits behind. I felt like I had taken what I could from experimenting with them (and there’s only so many angles of my face I could take!).’’
There is something in her compositions that’s innately provocative, yet relaxed and serene. Her glimpse into the daily life of a group of eight girls in Tottenham Hale or the vivid energy of a young boy, full of dreams and need of experimentation, are just one part of the series that consolidated Sophie in the professional scene, reflecting an ease to her that is alluring, confident and absolutely natural.
Sophie, on School of Education you document the girls of Fountayne Road and their “infamous” warehouse. How did you meet them and what did inspire you to capture their lives?
I first met the girls in around August last year. My close friend –and stylist– Dasha Kova
started living in the warehouse, and I began to visit it and stay there more often. I didn’t begin photographing the girls until I’d known them for several months – until a rapport, and friendship was built between us. It would feel invasive otherwise.
I think what’s great and inspires me to capture the girls is their zest for life, and positive, free spirited, creative energies. Some of them are artists, models, dancers and actors – I think this amalgamation of different energies feed off of one another, and creates a wide sphere. I think I can say for a lot of people, that when you visit the warehouse, you don’t want to leave afterwards! Everyone there has great stories and experiences – and I find really healthy to be around that. It felt natural, after a period of time, to start bringing my camera out. Some of the girls are still a little conscious when my little point and shoot comes out, but I think over time it will become even more of a natural process.
On Demarcation there is an axiomatic thought about life: ‘’Life is a collection of experiences. Your life and the legacy you leave will be as full or as empty as you make it…” Are you a big collector of experiences?
I think experiences are a big factor in moulding personality, it’s important to collect both bad and good experiences, as these feed off of one another. I remember reading a book a long time ago, and the main character spoke about experiencing everything – how when he had a headache, he preferred to experience the pain, as then you value not having the headache so much more afterwards! So yes, to a certain extent I would say I collect experiences, both photographically and in my memory, as they can then influence an action, or output later on. An experience recently that was quite impactful was visiting Auschwitz in Poland. I think it’s one of the most intense and emotional experiences I’ve had. It was also quite serene, and peaceful.
Your images are a visual doctrine of monochromatic and portraiture, a straight-forward format prone to bring the real and natural personality up. How do you create this atmosphere of intimacy and truth?
For me, it’s about getting to really know the person you are photographing – sometimes you only have 10 minutes to break the ice, sometimes you have longer. But someone has to firstly trust you to be at unawares with you. I think I can also be quite shy when I first meet someone, and before photographing someone too – so I think this give and take can help. I shoot at a quick pace, and encourage people to really be natural (as natural as being in front of a camera, in a contrived situation, can be). I then think, even with the most guarded person, there are moments in between a frame where you capture them without that protection.
Marcus Sivyer –a Photography student who posed for you in a beautiful series– shows gratitude as you taught him ‘’that being a photographer goes way beyond just knowing how to use a camera.” What did you learn from him?
Marcus has been a breath of fresh air, he’s a few years younger than me and hungry for life, experiences, meeting new people and what the world can offer me. I think he’s taught me more about bringing energy and life to photographs, and it’s been great to experience things with him, and be able to photograph that organically!
There is a sentence by Yohji Yamamoto that goes: “When everyone says that something is beautiful, I don’t like it.” What do you think about the message of fashion?
I haven’t done a huge amount of brand shoots, but I definitely see eye to eye with that statement. I think the unexpected and honest is more beautiful!
Your narrative also connects with different talents of music, as Rosie Lowe, Cash and David or Coasts. Are they inspirational for you? Is there any musician or artist you’d like to work with?
Working with Rosie Lowe was great – she is passionate about what she puts out in the world, and was one of the first artists I worked with. What I love about working with musicians is being able to create something together that really represents a vision for their music, and where they are going. Artist-wise, I would really love to work with Sia –I think she has an incredible mind– but mostly I’d like to work with people whose work marries well with mine!
You’ve recently exhibited at wer-haus (Barcelona), and SoShowMe at ThePrintSpace Gallery. The professional life of a photographer today goes beyond brands, magazines and art galleries. Is the internet the best platform to discover new talents?
I think the internet has given young talents a huge playground, but I also think it’s somewhere you can get lost in. Social media has its pros and cons, as people are now rated on their follows and likes, and not on profound talent. The fashion industry has also become a bit of a scapegoat with this – too many brands care more for the celebrities they can persuade to do their campaigns. I think there’s much more to the world than that, but I do think it’s a great place to share your work with like-minded people too. I follow some great people on Instagram that perhaps I wouldn’t have chanced across otherwise.