Originally published on White Noise

September 2018

Have you ever felt like you’re losing your mind? Photographic artist, lecturer and RCA researcher Sharon Boothroyd draws on our experiences of ‘madness’ to subvert society’s ideas of normal.

Her haunting visual series have created photographic interpretations of prayersasked strangers to critique her work and plunged the viewer into the fantasies of fictional characters.

With my own love for photography and the human psyche, I was excited to delve into Sharon’s with some email questions about her work. Putney-based Boothroyd talks about making fictional friends, the difficulties of living with unanswered questions, and why romance makes her cringe.

How did you get into photographic art?

My dad is a photography enthusiast. I remember being bored waiting for him while he took pictures in the countryside where we lived in Northern Ireland. At the same time, I was intrigued and envious that he got to climb over fences and disappear for what seemed like ages so he could “get a good shot” while the rest of us had to play by the rules. From early on, I learnt that photography gave you a licence and could take you places.

It wasn’t until I got into the darkroom at school and saw the magic of developer trays and later at university that I discovered the conceptual power of photography as a medium. It was then, when I was introduced to artists who were making photographs that spoke of identity or politics, for example, that I got a sense of how far it could go. I was hooked from pretty early on, probably because it was the only thing I was really good at.

You’re studying a PhD with the Royal College of Art called ‘Boundaries and Slippages of the Self: Photography and autobiographical fiction in the performance of female fantasy and delusion’. What does that involve?

It involves, as with any research, following a hunch and then working hard to provide evidence to back up that hunch. For me, I had a hunch that photography and fiction could work well together to enhance public understanding of ‘madness’. I wanted to challenge fixed ideas about ‘correct’ ways of fitting in to societal structures. I’m doing this by developing a fictional character who is going through an episode of delusion. I want viewers to see my work and have empathy towards her, and for them to respond by thinking, “It could easily be me,” rather than stigmatise and dismiss her.

Most of us have probably gone through times when we have felt like we were losing our minds, and I wanted to draw upon that. I use my own experiences – although I have no diagnosis or personal history of psychosis, I identify with the feeling of being an unreliable narrator of my own life. I also work in collaboration with a psychiatrist and psychotherapist to ensure the work is made within an ethical framework.

Photography is well-suited to the precarious job of describing reality, because photographs can only exist due to a connection to an actual moment in time. There is no way of telling anything about whatthat moment in time was really about. There is so much more to the context than what we see in the frame, even if it is an ‘accurate’ depiction of what was literally there. There is an inherent ambiguity at work in photography that I want to play with. Photography can allow truth and fiction to merge and ambiguity to be enhanced, questioning how any of us can know what is real, and how photography can be trusted at all.

Your book, The Subtext of a Dream, centres around the experiences of a fictional character, Madame Beauvais. Is she your favourite character? What would she be doing on a typical day?

I can’t say a favourite. The thing I love most about reading fiction is the new friends I make. I really miss them when I finish the book.

My character Madame Beauvais is derived from Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a tragic female character who was prone to depression and ‘flights of fantasy’. Flaubert famously commented “Madame Bovary, C’est moi!” It is this self-identification of male author with female subject that attracts me to this particular example.

On a normal day Madame Beauvais would be sitting in her hotel room, where she lives, making books, or writing a lecture, preparing a conference or having a conversation with a jug or a dead philosopher. We never know if any of the lectures are real or not. In a sense, it doesn’t matter.

Despite the element of fiction that you use, it’s all very real in its setting. Is that part of the reason why you chose that element of artifice, in order for us to emotionally detach and just observe?

That’s an interesting take. It might have that impact, yes. Ursula Le Guin asks, “Why do we huddle round the campfire?” in her essay of the same name and concludes that it’s simply human nature to tell stories. To understand ourselves and our histories. I think that’s why I do it too – to seek understanding. To try and make sense of things and yes, perhaps some of that understanding comes from an ability to make more sense of things that are not so close to home.

One of the hardest and possibly one of the most important things we can do is to learn to live with unanswered questions. Perhaps fiction is a way of helping with that. You can tell a story a hundred times and each time hear a slightly different one depending on what you ‘need’ each time.

Despite the erotic material, your work isn’t overtly explicit, but beautiful – romantic almost. What is the aim of that?

It’s an illusion! I think romance and falling in love is an illusion, but it’s very seductive and tempting to fall into that delusion. I think that’s why I’m drawn to recreating that beauty or romance in the imagery. However, I do always want there to be something within the work that punctures that illusion, for example the violence of the erotic literature in The Subtext of a Dreamor the madness of Madame Beauvais. Romance for romance sake makes me cringe a bit.

What do you want people to take away from your work?

In an image-saturated world, the most I can ask is that they are glad to have encountered it.

How do you want to be remembered as an artist, a lecturer or a psycho-socio artist?

I want to be taken seriously. I want to be making relevant work that makes people think. I also want to make people smile and to make meaningful connections through my work, which I regularly do and am very thankful for. It’s why I do it.

As a lecturer and tutor, my main aim is to enable students to develop their own voice as artists. I hope I do this by listening to them and asking the right questions in order to open them up and perhaps by suggesting pertinent literature or strategies. Ultimately, it’s up to them. I want students to come away from my sessions feeling inspired and able to do anything they put their minds to. I also want to release them from academic restraints that have often been ingrained since school. I hope to engage them in a process of unlearning and relearning.

Sharon is a Photography Lecturer at Ithaca College, London Centre and Roehampton University and Visiting Lecturer on the MA across-school group at the Royal College of Art where she teaches Language: Transparency and Concealment.

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

Sat on a pair of bar stools in Huckletree West, Monika Kamycka is wearing a selection of dainty pieces, illuminated by the warm August sunshine. It’s the perfect way for East Acton-based jewellery maker to showcase her brand, Mona Pink.

The part-time ethical jeweller and part-time accountant began her journey in 2011. I’m impressed that Monika’s able to use both her head and her hands harmoniously. She agrees: “You work with your head and you work with your hands, and that keeps me balanced.” As logical as she may be, embarking on a new career wasn’t a calculated move. “It seems like everything in my life happens by accident,” she laughs. “I was given a voucher for my birthday from a friend to make my own silver ring,” she explains. “I just got hooked on the metal. You see how it reacts; when it heats up it comes alive and I just couldn’t get enough of that. I discovered a whole new world.”

Not only did Monika discover a new world, but an alter ego too, which you can see on the header of her website. “It’s Mona Pink. She’s not grown up. She can be an older woman, but not necessarily taking life seriously. She’s got that little bit of cheekiness.” Is Mona Pink to Monika what Sasha Fierce is to Beyoncé? “It’s a person outside of me. I always think, ‘Would she say that? Would she wear that?’”

Monika works exclusively with 100% recycled Argentium silver and enamel. She explains that Argentium has a different chemical composition from traditional sterling silver, and is entirely produced from recycled sources. It’s whiter than platinum, tarnish resistant, and hypoallergenic, meaning your skin won’t react to it. “I like how it behaves. I find the process of working with it rewarding, and I got addicted,” she says.

Despite the beautiful creations, Monika assures me that being a trained silversmith isn’t glamorous at all: “It’s a dirty job. I can’t grow my nails, but smashing and banging the metal is a good stress-reliever.” As a jeweller who makes all her own items by hand, being Fairtrade-registered is important to Monika. “I’m certain they’re not working with mercury with their bare hands, and I can sleep nicely at night.”

On the day we meet, she happens to be wearing her favourite piece. It’s the first ring she made, a brown circular gem set in silver. She twists the ring around her finger playfully as she talks. “It’s not perfect, but I wear it as a reminder of how I started.” The jeweller took a break from silversmithing as she struggled to balance her two occupations. “[The ring] really reminded me that I can actually still do this. I wouldn’t sell it.”

The inspiration behind her Luminous collection was architecture, which she feels lies within nature. “Nature has everything, all the shapes and lines you can think of. The feeling I was trying to evoke was calmness in understated jewellery. It’s simple, but it’s not. If somebody wants to see something simple, then they will. If they don’t, they won’t.”

Clients also have the option to design unique, one-off items with Monika, which can be challenging. “People know they’d like something, but it’s hard to get an exact idea of what they want because it’s in their heads, and I’m not there!” She laughs. Despite this, there is one particular client that she remembers fondly, a woman who wanted a non-traditional engagement ring. “They weren’t going to get married, but they wanted a symbol of their relationship,” Monika explains. “They had a story in their relationship about the film Nightmare Before Christmas, so the spiral in the movie had to be on the piece.” The jeweller was left with the creative freedom to work her magic. “She loved it. She was so happy. She sent me a picture of it on her hand and it was the best feeling ever. I was really happy to know that I’m a part of their happiness. Part of me is going to stay with them forever.”

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

Imagine Secret Cinema, but… sweatier. Our Huckletree West studio-mates Sweat & Sound have found a way to blend fitness, live music and intriguing locations from forests to historic churches. Arnelle Paterson had a chat with founder Ariana Alexander-Sefre.

It’s a dreary Tuesday afternoon, and I could do with an energy boost. “Arnelle?” An unfamiliar voice interrupts my train of thought. As I turn my head to investigate, a sudden gush of energy fills the space. It looks like my shot of Lucozade has come dressed in work-out leggings.

Ariana Alexander-Sefre is the founder of Sweat & Sound. She creates live music fitness experiences to engage all the senses, complete with storylines and themes to offer an escape from reality in secret locations.

Ariana’s spent the last ten years in the events industry, working with companies like Nike, Coca Cola and Sofar Sounds. After moving to Bristol for university, she started to “spot missing pockets of experience” and began catering for the under-represented. She says, “The music scene there is very middle class and white, especially in the uni. There were no hip-hop nights and I was like, ‘Let’s just do one.’ We got a few local artists in and it was a hit!”

She set up her first business aged just 19, running underground music gigs and club nights. “It was all cash-in-hand and I was cycling around Bristol with ten grand of cash in my backpack at 4 am about to get mugged and then I got to the bank the next day like, ‘Would you mind cashing this into my account please?’” she laughs. “And they were like, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ So I’d end up stashing it in my room. This is money I owed people as well; I wasn’t this super-rich student.” The entire operation lasted two years.

After university, Ariana emigrated to New York, where she worked for a bank and ran events for their ultra-high net worth clients. “It was ridiculous. I was booking private jets from Switzerland to the Bahamas so they could go to a golf tournament.” Despite the initial excitement, Ariana realised it wasn’t for her. “I hated the corporate world. You become a robot and a bit depressed, and you manage it with drugs and that’s what everyone does,” she admits. “75% of New York’s on Xanax; they prescribed me Xanax.” The idea for Sweat & Sound was niggling away, but visa constraints held her back. “I didn’t want to be one of those British people in New York working in a bar. I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to where I came from, set up this business and hopefully move it back to New York one day.”

Sweat & Sound experiences combine the mind and body, and tap into emotion for escapism. I’m interested to know why this combination works. “It’s been scientifically proven,” she says. “They proved that when you listen to live music, your happy hormones increase and it makes you feel better. When you’re doing exercise and movements, the same thing happens. When you combine the two, they increase even more than they would otherwise.” She tells me that exercise and music are being used for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Ariana describes a study on multi-sensory immersion using VR and the senses (example) that’s being used to ease post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re so used to living these one-dimensional lives where we go from work to transport to office block. We’re sitting for eight to nine hours a day in fake light, fake air,” she explains. “All these senses we were using 500 years ago on a daily basis, we don’t use them any more. Anxiety and depression are increasing every single day in major cities.”

Aurora is one of Sweat and Sound’s most popular events. It’s yoga and meditation in a historic church with a live orchestra. Expect a journey into outer space with the help of projected visuals. “Ahhh, it’s so beautiful!” Ariana clasps her hands together with satisfaction as she beams. “I look around and there’s tears streaming down people’s faces. We have other experiences where everyone’s really happy and laughing. By tapping into these little emotions, it’s your body saying, ‘Thank you for engaging these senses that I don’t engage with every day.’”

The effects that these experiences have on people are pretty profound. “People have said that the event stayed with them for a couple of days. They’ve described the experiences like a mini-retreat, like they’ve been there for a day or two. It’s an extra way to disconnect people from a far more mundane reality for that two or three hours. With what we’re doing, the biggest angle is the mental over physical.”

It’s no surprise that mental health is important to Ariana, as the Londoner has had her own battle. “My anxiety was linked to my purpose and what I was doing. You can probably tell I’ve got a lot of energy, so I need to put it into something that’s going to matter to me and make a difference,” she says. “I work so much harder and I’m probably a lot more stressed, but it’s good stress, rather than negative, depressed stress. I still get anxious and overwhelmed and I’ve got coping techniques, but setting up this business has been one of my biggest helps.”

Ariana’s got a pretty jam-packed schedule, with a session last week for White City Place’s Not-So-Sporty Sports Day, a space-themed event in Seven Sisters, as well as some retro Bollywood yoga in the mix. Her closing sentence makes me smile: “I’ve got the yoga and live orchestra at the beginning of October in New York.” 18 months after moving back to London, this logical dreamer has realised her dream.

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

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.”

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

From snipping the locks of Diane Abbott to P. Diddy’s mum, we met the celebrity hairdresser shaping an afro revolution.

Walking down a narrow corridor into Derek ‘DeCutter’ Clement’s section of Bella & Bello Hair and Beauty in Ealing, I’m met with a flurry of customers entering, leaving and waiting. Known for his dedication to black hair, the Grenada-born hairdresser’s career spans over three decades. Having worked with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle and in the historic Splinters salon, his CV is enviable. The DeCutter range now encompasses hair products, cosmetics, and nutrition. He’s even penned a series of erotic novels set in hairdressing salons.

Derek shared the secret of great haircut, the future of black hair, and how he impressed P. Diddy.

You’ve said that hairdressing found you after you visited a salon. What was it about that visit?

I never knew about hairdressing and the services provided by Mark James hair supplies online . I must’ve been 17 or 18, walked into Splinters International, owned by the late Winston Isaacs. While I’m sitting there waiting for my girlfriend to get her hair done, I saw all these black people. As a black child going to school, the white kids would be pushed to excellence and we weren’t. I thought to myself, “Bloody hell. When I leave school, it’s quite likely I’ll experience the same thing, so I need to work for a black company.” But no such place existed. I went to the West End, and there it was, a black salon! Owned by black people!

Splinters was nothing but brilliant. It was the Motown of hair. You were taught to speak, to dress well; the standards were extremely high. The place was massive. There could have been 50 young hairdressers working at the same time. I started shampooing hair, I moved up to become artistic director of the company and, soon after that, I owned my own shop.

How have you seen black haircare change?

Black hair’s evolved phenomenally. We used to emulate the white salons, the big names like Vidal Sassoon – the Trevor Sorbies, the Daniel Galvins of the day. Winston Isaacs himself was a Sassoon-trained hairdresser, so he brought the technique of cutting white hair into afro hair. Our approach was to ensure that afro hair was relaxed, that it moved, bounced and had direction. We expanded on the idea. So when you see a customer from my shop, you’ll see the bounce. Afro hair moves with shape and balance. Afro reincarnation, that’s the term I use! For years, it’s been straightened, it’s been Jheri curled, but 90% of our clientele prefer the natural look at the moment.

What was it like working with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle, as well as managing P. Diddy’s personal barber shop in New York in 2001?

Splinters was the salon to go in those days if you were a celebrity, politician or lawyer. Everyone aspired to Splinters; it was a high-end salon. I was blessed to do all the famous people. As a young stylist, it was brilliant. Sheila Ferguson, Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, they all came to the salon and I did their hair. I was very blessed indeed.

Were you starstruck, awkward or nervous?

No, I think P. Diddy was quite impressed with me. [Derek laughs.] I’m from London! They loved it over there.

You’re also big on the teaching element of hair.

It’s about honesty. Somebody taught me the trade; it’s incumbent upon me, therefore, to teach others. My daughter’s only two and that’s all she talks about: hair, hair, hair! It’s important to ensure that we create legends of the future. Hair growth is holistic. The hair shaft is actually dead, it doesn’t have any feelings. The hair root however, is within the scalp. So the emphasis should be on healing or nourishing the hair root.

And you run hair surgeries too?

I use this wonderful thing called a hair and scalp facial: coconut oil, aloe vera, mangoes and bananas mixed together and put it on the hair. The scalp is where the hair enters into the world. It’s like your plot of land. It should be healthy, nourished and moisturised for the hair to be healthy. The scalp, to me, is absolutely fundamental.

Do you find that scalp issues are more problematic within our community, as opposed to other ethnic groups?

Not really. I think black hair needs moisture and as a result, I tend to recommend that my clients drink water. It’s crucial. It goes directly to the hair root and nourishes the scalp.

Do you deal with problems like traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is massive; it’s almost pandemic. Weaving is fine, wigs are great, braiding is brilliant. But we have to ensure that the braids aren’t done too tight, the weave shouldn’t stay on your head as if it’s the be-all and end-all. Wear a wig, fine, but remove the wig at night. Your weave should be done in a way that won’t break off your hair. The problem is leaving a weave in for too long.

Let’s talk about your technique. What is it about cutting that you love so much?

With a good cut, the customer gets the benefit of a great shape. You’ve got three things in a good cut: shape, balance and movement. Without those three things, the hair doesn’t move, there’s no direction. There’s nothing better than seeing a woman walking on the street and her hair’s moving, but it falls back into that shape based on the cut. As a result, I’ve created my own scissor collection. They’re marvellous. I love cutting hair.

What’s been the high point of your career so far?

I opened my first shop at the tender age of 24. It was a three-storey building in Maida Vale called Derek Clement. A year later, we had another shop in Lewisham called Noir. We had another shop in the West End where we collaborated. The year after, I was nominated for afro hairdresser of the year by the Hairdressers Journal. I didn’t accept it. I was young and naïve. I thought, “Why am I afro hairdresser of the year? I’m a hairdresser! I didn’t want to be referred to as an afro hairdresser.” So I didn’t take the award.

Do you mind being called an afro hairdresser these days?

Oh, I love being called an afro hairdresser now! I love it; it’s afro hair! [Derek laughs.]

What’s been your biggest obstacle?

I love obstacles. Obstacles are nothing but stepping stones, so when I come to them, I have to keep it moving. I lost my shop in 2014. It got burnt down. I’ve had to collaborate with others since that time. The only obstacle I have now is to make sure that we get back the Derek Clement shop.

What do you think the future of black hair is?

Black hair is going places. It’s achieved respectability and integrity. It’s a great thing to see that the average black girl doesn’t feel embarrassed to wear her natural hair. I’m looking forward to the different trends, textures and styles. I’ve got this wonderful acronym called BLACKS: braids, locs, afro, curls, kink and straighten. Afro hair can do all of those things. Afro hair is phenomenal. It has no bounds, it’s brilliant. My business partner, Rudy Page, says afro hair is vibranium. It’s the one thing that brings us all together. Wherever you come from or whatever texture, it binds us together.