The photographer gets candid on body positivity in the industry and being more inclusive.
If there is one thing for certain, it’s that the industry is changing. A decade ago, mainstream media plastered their platforms with what we should consider to be beautiful and what isn’t. But as the times change, so do perspectives and we’re now entering a new era of acceptance and inclusivity, and photographer Rachel Sherlock couldn’t be more ready. “Feeling attractive is a party we should all be invited to,” the photographer states. “In order to make that party happen, we need to consume more imagery that features a wide variety of people – I want my work to contribute to that movement.”
Known for her work on body positivity and gender exploration, the London-hailed artist uses her work to focus on those who may not have a voice. From the LGBTQIA+ community to those who have blessed her creativity, Sherlock shines a light on those underrepresented and pulls away from the “traditional” look. “There’s a myth that for a photo to be fashionable, editorial feeling, or general of a high quality, the model has to adhere to a ‘traditional’ look, and I aim to use my portfolio to prove that notion wrong.”
Continuing her journey of producing bold and free photography, Sherlock catches up with us talking about the evolution of the photography industry, why inclusivity is at the center of her portfolio, and how COVID impacted her work.
Check out the interview below…
Hey Rachel, how has this past year been for you?
It’s been surprisingly productive! Cabin fever fully set in during Lockdown 2.0, but my lovely, wholesome housemates let me dress them up in fishnets and Dr Martens for home studio shoots and that just about got me through. I also had a brief and mostly tragic baking phase, but then again who didn’t?
With everything that happened last year, was your creativity affected in any way?
The pandemic has made me appreciate how heavily I rely on other creatives for company. Not being able to work together, chat together, problem solve together, felt like a real challenge. Standing in a room with a fellow artist and creating something from scratch is a process I’ll never take for granted again, I didn’t realise how much I needed the art community until we were locked up and kept apart from one another. Creativity and human connection go hand in hand, so it was difficult to keep the artistry going when we were all in isolation.
How did you first get into portrait art? What sparked the interest?
My gorgeous friends, who somehow forget how beautiful they are. I was a teenager who remembered a time before the internet, and then lived through the rise of selfies and social media. I saw, with my own eyes, a whole generation suddenly place their entire self worth on what they looked like in a photo and I never wanted anyone to feel invalidated by that. I started taking pictures of friends and put all my effort into making sure they liked who they saw in the photos. It didn’t feel enough to talk them into feeling gorgeous, I wanted to show them so they could see it for themselves. After a while, I realized that photography has this wild ability to show a person in their best and strongest light, you can see their personality in the photos and understand them better for it, so I kept going and never stopped!
You’ve been building your portfolio for almost 10 years now, what has been a focal moment for you?
About 4 years ago I was booked by a very serious, successful solicitor in her late 40’s who needed a couple of headshots for her website. While I was there we got chatting, she joked that after 3 kids and working hard for decades she thought her days of having any kind of sex appeal were over. I obviously followed up with a list of reasons why that was nonsense, and after a bit of back and forth she suddenly broke down. She told me that in reality, she could barely look in the mirror and didn’t recognise her own body anymore, and that she’d do anything to feel attractive again. So, we talked. She cried. I listened, then I told her I had a plan and I’d be back the following week. Over the next few days we organised for her to have a bit of self care time, she had her hair cut for the first time in years and invested in a couple of lingerie sets, then I turned up with my studio kit and we took some sh*t hot nudes. At first she was self conscious of her plus size shape, but after a while we found a good rhythm and she was loving it. We took them for no-one but her and it shifted her perception of herself completely. It isn’t always that straightforward, but on that occasion it worked wonderfully. I restructured my entire portfolio after that interaction, it was a real turning point for me.
You’ve recently got involved with The Positive Birth Company 2021 campaign, how did you get involved and what does it mean to you?
The lovely folks over at The Positive Birth Company approached me last year asking if I’d be able to shoot a campaign for them that was healthy, inclusive, and inviting to all expectant parents. What struck me the most about their pitch was how dedicated they were to making a home for people from all walks of life, they were prioritising diversity because they wanted to be a happy, safe space for pregnant people, rather than using inclusivity as a marketing tool. So, I took the job and we invited parents from across the country to share their stories with us, it was an absolutely magical experience! The love and strength they showed us was inspiring, I’ll always be grateful to have been involved.
Who inspires you?
This is such a tough one because there are so many on the list! I’m always drawn to eccentric people like Jeff Goldblum and Eddie Izzard, and anyone making space for underrepresented people is incredible to me. Laverne Cox is such a powerful presence in the world, as is Jacinda Ardern and Rihanna. I’d also say Polly Harrar from The Sharan Project, who’s worked so hard throughout the pandemic to keep vulnerable women safe. They’re all changing their environments for the better and I can’t imagine anything more inspiring than that.
In your work you involve people of all sizes and cultures, how important is it for you to do this?
Inclusivity is central to my entire portfolio. I’m not in the business of making anyone feel excluded or not enough, we all deserve to see ourselves represented in attractive, powerful roles. I really believe a large part of how we think about attractiveness is down to conditioning, if we only see certain skin tones or body types or age groups etc., in mainstream media, then that’s what we’ll consider beauty to be. Feeling attractive is a party we should all be invited to and in order to make that party happen we need to consume more imagery that features a wide variety of people – I want my work to contribute to that movement.
In terms of the photography industry, how do you think COVID impacted it?
Not being able to stand in a room with someone and take their photo meant many photographers had to adapt to get through the pandemic. For a long time we were all trying to find a way to shoot from home, but mostly we needed to wait until it was safe for us to leave the house and go back to work. Since then, I’ve been very happy to see many of my photographer friends thriving in a world that needs new material after a year of recycling the same photos over and over again, so hopefully we’re getting back on track!
What are you most excited for?
The next step for me will be to keep exploring sex and gender, as well as body confidence work. As a queer person, being able to work with other LGBTQIA+ people is a blessing and helps me continue to build a portfolio that’s a happy, welcoming place for everyone. Finding ways to shed shame via photography will always be the sweet spot for me, I want to produce work that’s bold and free and empowering for the people who see themselves reflected in the photos.