Originally published on White Noise
How do you sneak onto the ‘frequently called’ list of influencers, models and bloggers alike aged just 21? Fashion photographer Kirin Sall is fast becoming known for her down-to-earth fashion portraits and deft approach behind the lens. Arnelle Paterson found out how she does it.
Arriving at Kirin’s home in West London, I’m greeted with the Sall hospitality that my 14-year-old self knows so well. After all, Kirin’s big sister was one of my closest friends at secondary school. As born and bred Hounslow girl, I know it isn’t exactly the town of dreams; most people don’t know where it is unless you mention Heathrow airport, and our claim to fame is Chabuddy. However, this 21-year-old has managed to defy the odds and mingle with the stars – with a few great shots of it all along the way.
The freelance photographer picked up a camera at 14, and by the age of 16 she’d already snapped high-profile media personalities from fashion blogger Yasmine Chanel to radio host Snoochie Shy. It all began when Kirin was attending a wedding at the Sikh temple, and her dad handed her his camera. “I walked outside of the Gurdwara and went around taking photos of everything,” she says. “I was like, ‘Dad, teach me more, teach me more!’”
For the then-schoolgirl, pursuing her ambition came at a price. “I took as many days off school as I could to go out and shoot with people,” she laughs. “I got in trouble so many times for not going to school!” But she has no regrets. “I thought, I’d rather just do photography and learn as much as I can, because even though I was doing art at school, they wouldn’t let me do photography.”
Working with stars like Cadet and Alisha White was a daunting experience at first. “It was really fun, but weird because I was quite young. I thought, ‘Wow, these people are quite influential. Am I ready?’” And how did she get these opportunities? “I literally slid into the DMs,” she laughs. “I emailed, commented and showed that I liked their work. I’d just reach out to people and hope for the best. The worst they could say is no. I didn’t really lose anything.”
Kirin’s work focuses on street style, fashion, and beauty. Events are also a favourite, and it’s not just about rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous (although she did bump into Gok Wan and Alexandra Burke on a recent job). She says: “I like getting candid moments. A lot of the time when people are drunk, they don’t remember the memories they’re making. So I thought, you know what? I’ll help these people out! I’ll capture their memories and they can see them later.”
When it comes to retouching, Kirin has strict guidelines. “I’ll make the client as happy as I can if they’re paying, but I’ll never go against my style,” she explains. “Editing out eye-bags on a long shot? You can’t even see them!” she laughs. “That’s your fault [for showing up hungover]. I’ll still do it anyway and try my best, but you can’t make everyone happy. If that’s your face, that’s your face.”
A proponent of self-love and body positivity, Kirin has found time for a passion project that celebrates stretch marks. “Girls need to feel sexy in their stretch marks; it’s so normal. People always say you get them when you’re pregnant, but I’ve had stretch marks my whole life.” I nod in agreement. “I can’t remember a time when I’ve looked at my bum and haven’t had stretch marks,” she explains over a cuppa. “I’m going on holiday next week and usually I’d be like, ‘I need to get as many pairs of skirts and shorts as possible because I’m not walking around like that,’ but now I’m like, ‘That beach will get whatever body it gets.’” We burst into a fit of laughter. “I do not care.”
Kirin has branched into the lucrative world of wedding photography this summer, and tells me that male photographers dominate the Asian scene. “They’ve said to me, ‘You’re a girl, you did fashion, that’s the easy work, you won’t do well at weddings,’ but they’ve not done the other side. The grass ain’t always greener.” The support of family has helped her through. “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. The people who love me don’t care. My dad is the best. He’s the one who helped me buy all my kit.”
That being said, being a young female photographer has its advantages. “A lot of my female clients say it’s easy to work with a girl. They’re more comfortable.” She’s also had requests for gender-segregated pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies, popular amongst some West London Muslim communities. Growing up in a Punjabi Sikh home, she talks to me about what that means on set: “There’s a lot of assumptions about the Asian community which people ask me, and it’s like, why is that relevant? I can’t speak for every Asian female photographer.”
Kirin’s off to study a master’s in advertising and public relations next month, and leaves me with a few words of wisdom for aspiring young photographers. “Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it. Persevere – trial and error is everything. Don’t let people give you no shit. Stay true to yourself; never ever cheat yourself, because you’ll lose yourself. In this industry where you can get mugged off very quickly, you don’t want to do that.”