Ah, the world of fashion photography, known for decades as the home of willowy white models and a rampant fetish of ‘heroin chic’. With the rise of social media came the expansion of what was once the fashion industry’s narrow image of the world. It isn’t as difficult today to see models who aren’t white and who are plus-sized or have disabilities. The fashion industry is steadily going from an incredibly damaging place full of nepotism and high-end mediocrity to something new and fresh, something that we can all finally relate to rich or poor, white or not. 18-year-old Mattesse Riley-Christie from Leicester is one of the teens breaking down the social boundaries the industry worked so hard to build since the birth of fashion photography. She spoke about coming across her love of photography by accident and her goal of making high-end fashion more accessible to young people from all backgrounds.
How did you come to love photography so much?
It was literally an accident. One time I took a picture of my trainers, just like for Snapchat and stuff and everyone was like “oh my God this is so cool! You should start an Instagram page,” and then from there I just started developing my skills and stuff like that [and] I did a bit of work experience.
What kind of photography do you like doing best?
Fashion photography, I would say is my favourite. I just think it’s just so cool to photograph people’s different styles and what people class as fashion and what looks good and what doesn’t look good [to them]. As well as that, portraiture I think is quite good – you can like, take – pictures of people’s expressions and how they feel and capture memories… all that cool stuff.
Is there anything special you look for in your models?
Um… just a bit of edginess [laughs], I don’t know if edginess is a word, but I like them to be a little bit different from what’s normal, d’you know what I mean? I like to break boundaries, just nothing too mainstream, to be fair.
What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
So much, I’d love to end up working for a high-end magazine like Vogue or Elle, something like that, but if not, I’d just like for other people to see [my photography] and be inspired, you know?
Where do you plan to take it after college?
Hopefully, I’d like to study fashion photography at uni and then get an internship with Vogue, that’s like the dream. I’d like to start my own magazine.
Where do you see yourself and your work in ten years time?
Oh my God, if I have my own magazine then that would be like, ideal. I just want my work to be more public, I want more people to see it. I hope to have a few expeditions, some exhibits, all of that stuff. Just, like, be more creative, I suppose, on a broader scale.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Is there a specific person that inspires you?
There’s so much and I get my creativity from loads of different things. I think my grandma, for one. My grandma’s like super eccentric and stuff and she’ll have like loads of different colours on all the time. I feel like colour is always one of the things that stand out for me. I think, who inspires me, is this guy called Dennis Morrison. I watched his documentary ages ago, like before I started college and he was like, ‘one day I was just taking photos in my bedroom and the next minute I was on tour with Bob Marley’ and I was like, I wanna do that too! I was like yes, that’s it, end of story [laughs].
You’re a student as well as a photographer, do you think that that affects your photography?
I feel like if you have a passion for it, that’s always your main focus. Sometimes it is hard to balance the two, but this is just for now. At this moment, I think that it’s just helping me get where I want.
What about the industry itself, do you think the fashion photography industry is diverse and inclusive or do you think it needs to improve?
At the moment, it’s getting more and more diverse. I feel like before it was like stick-thin models, you know what I mean? Blonde hair, blue eyes but now we’re getting more curvy people, we’re getting like a range of ethnicities and backgrounds but I think my aim is to break the social structure of it, like break the social classes world. Like working class kids, what do they think is cool? I’d like to make it more accessible to people, that’d be so cool.
Do you have any favourite moments as a photographer?
I think my favourite moment was when I won this competition to be in the Tate Modern and I didn’t realize I’d won it because I’d logged out of Instagram. I logged back in and Tate Modern had been like “you’ve been one of the select winners for the Tate Modern,” and I was like ‘oh!” I think that was one of the best moments of my life because someone else could see my talent. It was like Tate Modern, not just some small Leicester thing. Yeah, that was probably one of the best moments.
What did you have to do for the Tate Modern?
You had to take some pictures of somebody who inspires you or has a specific meaning to you and I did a back to back picture of my little brothers. I just think they’re my favourite people, all three of them just mean so much to me but at the same time have different aspects that are all important to me. It wasn’t just for me, it was for them as well, I was like ‘yeah you’ve been in Tate, I’ve been in Tate’, it was like a family deal. My family inspires me a lot, yeah.
Interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Image credits to Mattesse Riley-Christie (Instagram).