Features, Interviews

Chloe Sheppard’s paean to contemporary girlhood

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Sylvie. © Chloe Sheppard

“It would be cool for someone of the next generation who is fat and self-conscious to see my work and think that they can also take self portraits”

Brighton-based camera manufacturer Intrepid Camera Co. has teamed up with British Journal of Photography to launch the Intrepid Enlarger. With only a few days of the Kickstarter campaign left, we spoke to Chloe Sheppard about the enduring appeal of film photography.

It is no secret that the gulf between social media and reality is vast. Digital technologies have exposed us to the malleability of the photograph, making many of us lose faith in the legitimacy of the camera. But a wealth of young female photographers are now exploring photography’s potential to represent visual truth – Juno Calypso, Arvida Bystrom and Chloe Sheppard to name just a few. Sheppard’s work examines the realities of being a modern woman and the intricacies of female self-perception.

“Photographers should be more honest and open because there is a whole group of young girls looking up to us. We should be trying to help guide them through our work,” she says. Her images can be seen as a caveat against the barrage of airbrushed digital photographs visible on social media and in magazines. Though employing anachronistic elements like ‘70s decor and romanticised light, her photographs depict imperfections and the realities of life as a young woman today.

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Ikee. © Chloe Sheppard

The subjects of Sheppard’s pictures seem uncannily familiar, like long lost childhood friends you have vague memories of. People you think you know when you pass by on the street. That is unsurprising: Chloe makes a point of returning to the same subjects time and time again. “I never set out to photograph someone all the time. I like to shoot people that I can see a bit of myself in. I shoot mostly with the same people now. Once I find people I like I want to keep using them,” she explains.

Here, Sheppard discusses how film has become a vehicle for self expression and how she envisions a future in which the notion of the “ideal woman” is deconstructed and dismantled.

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www.chloesheppard.com © Chloe Sheppard 

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© Chloe Sheppard

Is being honest on social media part and parcel of being a photographer today?

To be successful you have to be relatable. I respond to my direct messages most of the time. If people can see themselves in you they want to help you move forward; if you are always pretending to be this pristine photographer who never fails then people will probably think “this is not real.”

I try to be honest and open because I would have liked someone to admit that sometimes you do not get paid, or you get really bad feedback on your work or miss jobs, or that it can just be a bit shit.

It is about having conversations about how social media is just a highlights reel that only shows the best moments.

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Charli. Berlin. © Chloe Sheppard

Do you feel you have a responsibility because of your fan base?

When I was 14 all I saw was people with their rib cages out on Tumblr. It would be cool for someone of the next generation who is fat and self-conscious to see my work and think that they can also take self portraits.

What are the qualities that unite the people you shoot?

When I first started getting followers on Instagram, I shot people who were conventionally pretty, thinking that at least I could post those images on social media. I always felt so ugly. That is how I found Sylvie [Sheppard’s long-time muse and now a close friend]. I discovered that we have so much in common.

We shot in this rose garden and she turned up in a t-shirt from a brand that not many people knew and then Lana Del Rey came up in conversation and that was it. As I got older, I started using photography as an outlet for expression. When I am making work I do not set out to create something feminist but everyone I shoot, especially Sylvie, is really clued up and on it.

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© Chloe Sheppard

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Christa. © Chloe Sheppard

Have you always shot film?

I have taken photos my whole life. I used to horse-ride when I was younger and I have little disposable cameras that I actually never got developed. Then, as a teenager, I always had a little shitty phone that I would use to document going to the park. With photography, you are more inclined to shoot what you are afraid you are going to lose. I joined Flickr when I was 13 and that was where I first read about film. The first roll I took was at the seaside in 2011.

What draws you to film now?

I think it is because I am lazy and I do not have to edit the photos; they come out looking exactly as I want. With digital, I could sit there for hours and they would still not look as nice. With film, it is what it is. I am obsessed with ‘60s and ‘70s photographers and it is a way to try and recreate that and relate to them. When I was younger I used to love looking through family photo albums from the ‘90s and the ‘50s. Sometimes I think “oh maybe I should go digital I’ll get more jobs” but ultimately film is my thing. Film is what I love.

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© Chloe Sheppard

When did you start using the darkroom yourself?

When I was in sixth form college we had to do film photography and we were encouraged to do black-and-white printing. I really enjoyed it. Then when I went to university in 2014 there were darkrooms that any student could use. I never went to any of my lectures because I was always sloping off to the darkroom.

At first, I found it really overwhelming because there is so much to take in and you are in pitch black. But, once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it. I want to spend as much time as possible in there. I think prints are such cool memorabilia.

Words: Alice Finney

Click here to contribute to the Intrepid Enlarger Kickstarter. Pledgers will be given a reward of their choice and will be able to purchase the enlarger at a special price, before the release date.

The Intrepid Enlarger Kickstarter is supported by British Journal of Photography. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.