Inspired by her evocative and cinematically charged imagery, ILYSM commissioned Montreal-based photographer, Charlotte Rainville to shoot our latest collection of striped Tabis.
I'm curious what led you to photography, do you remember your first camera?
Ever since I was a kid, I've always been into arts and crafts and when I got an iPod Touch at 10 years old, I became obsessed with taking pictures of everything.
Then on, I quickly became the friend who took (horrible) MSN and Facebook profile pictures for my friends. At 13, I received a Canon PowerShot compact camera for Christmas and I started making video montages of my life, filming room tours, vlogging my afternoons with my friends, etc. Tumblr and YouTube were central to my life and made me want to pursue being some sort of photographer, artist, architect, or marine biologist combo. I knew the content I was creating back then was cringey, so I never posted it anywhere (thank god), but I loved immortalizing everything and recreating the trendy videos I saw on YouTube.
In 2014, I attended a Montreal photo camp, Entre Quatre Yeux, which taught me about camera settings and let me experiment with a better camera than a point and shoot. From 2014 to 2017 | continued photography for fun, and in 2017, during my last high school year before CEGEP, I enrolled in a Multimedia class. At that point, I started my photo account, @jailli, which was called @belttzarana at the time and since then, I've been in love with photography.
There's an old Richard Avedon quote about how we are all performing, all the time. How has the role of portraiture evolved in your work? Is there an essence you are looking to bring out in someone, how do you balance your vision while maintaining the spontaneity of the person in front of the camera?
When I do street, diaristic, or casting photography, I keep the directing of my subjects to a minimum and do think I can keep a balance between constructing an image's scene and preserving authenticity.
However, I definitely don't have a tactic to this balance; for most of my editorial or conceptual shoots, I don't maintain it. I really enjoy directing my models and often put aside the recording of a spontaneous moment. Plus, considering that my camera is already filtering what's happening or who is in front of it, objectively, I think it's inevitable that anything I photograph is slightly going to alter the truth.
When it comes to reality and representation, I am fascinated with contrast. Which, we all know is drastic nowadays; between how one views themselves and how the world, or in this case myself, sees them. With conceptual portraiture, I get time to speak to someone and let them know about how I perceive them and what caught my eye about them. I get to be creative about perceptions and invite someone along. To me, portraiture is a fun game of capturing assumptions, in collaboration with the subject positioning themselves how they want to be perceived and letting the viewer do the same.
Regarding an essence I'm trying to bring out in someone, I would say it is confidence, vulnerability, and a cinematic attitude, whatever that means. Usually, I try to showcase these in an image by keeping a minimal mise-en-scène and composition, focusing on the subjects gaze, giving posing prompts, preparing mood boards, and talking to the model a lot before and after the photo-taking.
There is a unique intimacy with a camera, can you tell us about a moment you experienced in your work that you felt privileged to capture?
In general, what stuns me the most about photography is a photograph's ability to immortalize someone's being at a specific moment in time or tell an important story. I am a big fan of Rineke Dijkstra's work, for example, because I am fascinated by the procedure of a photograph being taken similarly year after year and consistently showing someone's evolution and vulnerability, whether or not the photograph is accompanied by text.
To me, the moments I feel most privileged to capture are those where there is an exchange happening about the human experience. There is nothing more special to me than people trusting me with their stories and allowing me to immortalize a glimpse of it by getting their portrait taken. With this in mind, I think the times I felt most privileged to capture were the afternoons I spent photographing and talking with a group of 15 to 17-year-olds for “Transitions”, a documentary portraiture project I did in 2019. For this project, I photographed a group of teenagers and interviewed them about the challenges they were facing during their adolescence. The bonding that happened with “Transitions” was unreal and I'm very grateful for it.
Otherwise, photographing artists performing at a concert is always indescribably special to me. Concert photography makes me feel so alive and connected to those performing: there's nothing like it!
What is the most arresting image you have seen recently that was not your own?
Copenhagen-based award-winning director Nina Holmgren's slow moving short film, I Want You To Panic, is absolutely astonishing to me. It is an artistic exploration of people's indifference towards the climate crisis and a perfect demonstration of critics' description of her approach. It shows Holmgren's passion of finding beauty in what the rest of us might find appalling and her brilliant, whimsical
incorporation of the fashion world to her practice.
You can view her work here: https://www.nowness.com/seasons/survival-season/i-want-you-to-panic-nina-holmgren
You recently shot some striking photos for ILYSM, what was your inspiration behind the shoot, and what were you looking to capture with your models? Would love to hear about your interpretation of the Tabis and how you integrated them into your narrative...
Right off the bat, as I am a huge fan of deadpan, head-on, and passport-like photographic shots and adore creating images that feel zany in terms of the models' clothing, body language, and mise-en-scène, the Tabis being a very unconventional shoe felt more than fitting with my preferred creative approach.
To me, “ugly” things in general or high fashion pieces such as the Tabis are so ugly and different that they become alluring and impossible to stop staring at when first encountered. “Ugly" things always make me question what I truly find ugly, what I'm told is ugly, and what is in reality so beautiful, original, and different that I cannot cease to look at it.
In the conceptualization of this project, I, therefore, questioned myself about how exactly I could create a project that highlighted the Ugly and the Unconventional's magnetism to the eye, or to mine at least, whilst depicting the Ugly as something ubiquitous. In doing so, I thought about Mark Cousins' “The Ugly" essay, in which he argues that ugliness is not only the lack or negation of beauty but mostly an object that's there which should not be there, an excess of something which is outsider and threatens the subject.
With this in mind, I thought about how I could make the Tabi stand out in its glorious “ugliness” whilst surrounding it by also “ugly”, cold, odd, and less mainstream elements, aiming for a “two negatives make a positive” result.
With the help of LOCAL By Local Girl, the stylist I collaborated with on this project, I focused on combining fashion and mise-en-scène elements that are “ugly”, unusual, and clashing amongst each other such as poofy dresses, gothic gowns, cliché golf and office attire against a dentist office cabinet and an eclecticly decorated Victorian-looking home.
Then, by bringing in older models, I wanted to celebrate older bodies and people in a way they usually aren't in the media, once again questioning the idea of the Ugly through the Old being a state we put creams under our eyes to not physically reach too soon. By including the charismatic models Gilles and Jennifer, I wanted to steer away from the representation of older people as cast in a tokenizing fashion or stereotypical grandparent roles.
What is next for you and how can the ILYSM community continue to support you?
Realistically, what's next for me is working very hard, continuing to put the focus of my work on creating striking images and making those l photograph feel confident and at ease.
I like to dream big, though, so in the next years, I could see myself being a photo documentarian and traveling a lot, having a few solo exhibitions around the world, publishing a couple of photo books, directing a short film, going on tour to photograph artists I love, starting to incorporate art therapy into my photographic practice and obtaining my Art Therapy Master's degree.
As for how the ILYSM community can further support me, I don't think it's a one-sided thing; I also want to support the artists that are a part of it! I hope we can all share resources, opportunities, give critical feedback on one another's work, and celebrate each other's successes!
Regarding specific things the ILYSM family could do to help me, there would be one thing in particular, lol. If anyone knows a friend of a friend of an agent who could help me photograph Shawn Mendes, Viola Davis, Zendaya, Rihanna, or Kendrick Lamar, I would be eternally grateful! Anyone who knows me well knows these artists are people I've admired for years and have always dreamt of working with in any capacity.
*Follow Charlotte on IG @jailli