In the third instalment of her High Fives series, photographer Holly Falconer chats with Clare Shilland, a London-based snapper whose work she’s long had a crush on. Her carefree portraits are so full of freedom and joy, you can’t help but be drawn in. She’s music mag Beat’s regular cover photographer, and her clients range from i-D, The Gentlewoman and The Wire to Supreme and Marni.
Clare Shilland : Alice with tea, Summer 2010. From the self-published book Love from Alice, which I made with Alice Goddard, Beth Fenton, Suzy Wood and Martin McGrath. We went to a small island near Stockholm to shoot this. We had an amazing time and made something.
Clare is known for the brilliant subjects she chooses to work with, relationships that have resulted in stunning projects such as Love from Alice, an intimate photo story on Alice Goddard which used Swedish locations sourced from found or received postcards, and her excellent series on female drummers. The people she snaps also confound stereotypes: girls sometimes look tough, and boys gentle - and everyone’s snapped in soft, non-judgemental black and white or pared-down blocks of colour. It all makes for compelling, unfussy work. Holly caught up with Clare to find out more…
Can you tell me about your background. What lead you to becoming a photographer?
I grew up in suburban south London and went to art school in central London. I did a BA in graphic design - which I was terrible at. I picked up a camera at the beginning of the third year at Camberwell and everything fell into place! I went on to the RCA from there. So I guess photography just came more naturally to me than other creative things.
Clare Shilland : Warpaint, Beat 1st issue cover, September 2010. Brilliant art direction by Dean Langley.
I love your portraits for music mag Beat. You can really see a thread in them continuing on from your earlier work, such as your portraits at the Underage Festival, to now. Their beautiful simplicity works so well with Dean Langley's art direction. Can you tell me about some of your favourite Beat shoots from the past few years?
I love all the stuff I do for Beat. Dean asked me to shoot the cover for the first issue with Warpaint, which is probably my favourite. I got the train up to Manchester where they were on tour.
I scouted around and found a freshly-painted white hoarding in a back street near the venue. I took the four girls there, the sun came out, and we took the best pictures ever. They were just dressed in their tracksuit pants and it was super natural and fun and free - I did 10 pages and a cover in about an hour. Serendipity.
The last one I did is also a favourite - Skinny Girl Diet, also a cover that came out a couple of months ago. Those girls are so cool it’s hard to take a bad picture of them!
Your photographs of girls refuse to typecast, and range from ironic takes on very feminine picture postcards to images of girl drummers, full of energy. Can you tell me more about that approach.
I love shooting girls - they're beautiful and complicated. I guess the way I photograph them is a reflection of me - I’m quite a tom boy. I don’t like girls to look like they're being forced into being sexy or doing certain things. I just prefer them to be totally themselves and catch their true spirit. I always wanted to be a drummer, but I was terrible, so I took pictures of them instead.
What have been some of your favourite commercial projects over the past few years, your client list is diverse - everyone from Supreme to Marni.
Working with Marni and Michele Rafferty is fantastic. I’ve done quite a few lookbooks for them, and a film, and a couple of years ago we did a proper book with Dean Langley, which I absolutely love.
We shot the whole thing in a day, on every different format and camera (35m, polaroid, 120m, Flip) but Dean made it look like we spent weeks shooting it. It’s really special. We were lucky to have a client that gave us the opportunity to do that.
Supreme are fun to work with. I went to Miami with them earlier this year and hung out with teenage skateboarders. What’s not to love?
I work a lot with my friend Sofia's label Aries. I love the clothes and it’s nice to watch it grow. We have a similar aesthetic and like the same kind of girls - it’s always really creative.
Clare Shilland : Spread from the Marni book FW 13/14. With Michele Rafferty and Dean Langley
What do you have coming up in the pipeline at the moment - are you currently working on any new personal projects ?
I'm actually working on a project I’m really excited about. Hanna Kelifa and I went to Amsterdam in January to shoot a girl we both feel in love with. We spent a couple of days with her and took loads of pictures. Art director Suzy Wood is turning it into a book, which should be out in September. It’s looking amazing so far.
Clare Shilland : Damaris. From a new project being published in September 2015 with Hanna Kelifa and Suzy Wood.