Based between London and Brighton, Rosie Matheson’s portraits pay homage to a candid film tradition. She has worked with clients such as The Guardian, i-D, Dazed and Confused and The Culture Trip, with her portrait of Elliott Brown, being nominated for the Portrait of Britain Awards, 2016.
With her subjects being predominantly boys, Rosie’s images display an alternative edge to conventional masculinity. Each photograph is beautifully vulnerable. All bravado is put to one side, and instead, we are left with a moment of honesty and sensitivity. As Rosie Matheson quotes,
“In a portrait, I’m looking for the silence in somebody.”
It is this stillness that we experience when observing her portraits, a moment of clarity between the viewer and subject. For Rosie, an image must be sincere. She wants to portray the model as they are, styled naturally, in their favourite outfit. She is not creating, but rather documenting a specific moment in time, showing how these boys exist in a modern world.
Chróma talks to Rosie Matheson about Masculinity, Vulnerability and Working in Film
Which photographers have most influenced your work?
Zed Nelson, Stephen Shore, Harley Weir, Jim Goldberg, Dana Lixenberg, Derek Ridgers, Samuel Bradley, Jamie Hawkesworth and Petra Collins.
How does your work explore the pressures of ‘masculinity’ and repressed emotion?
I don’t like people to play up in front of the camera if that’s not who they are or what they are like. It’s about a one on one interaction and making a very personal set of photos. As a girl, photographing males, there is no need for them to square up to me or show a toughened/macho side. I hope that through our interactions they can relax and open themselves up to the camera. It’s all about capturing a moment that shows something honest about them.
How important is vulnerability to your photographs?
It’s everything. I personally, most of the time, feel more vulnerable than my subjects. I am pretty introverted and feel the pressure of capturing them honestly, which perhaps takes the pressure off of them. My vulnerability allows them to show theirs, and it’s at this point where we can make some beautiful images.
Henri Cartier-Bresson quoted something that sticks with me: “In a portrait, I’m looking for the silence in somebody”. I couldn’t sum it up better.
Do you feel your work explores a notion of ‘class’? Are you aiming to give a voice to a male subculture that is often invisible?
It’s more about giving a voice to a range of people in the project, rather than focusing on class. The project transcends class; I think it’s important to be inclusive of everyone rather than creating more divides. Young people don’t really have a voice in society, and the expression they do have is mainly through their actions and appearance. 'Boys' takes a look at this idea, which is interesting in a time where subcultures aren’t as visible as they were pre-2000’s and self-expression through clothing and style is becoming more and more blurred. The project is simply about documenting a moment in time and showing how I see these males.
What draws you to your chosen models and how do you make them feel at ease during a shoot?
My casting process is usually through Instagram or on the streets. It takes me a while to find people for the project, but I know them instantly when I see them.
I’m into shooting people who aren’t used to the attention and don’t realise how special they are or people extremely passionate about something they do.
I always offer to go to where the subject would like to shoot as people are always more comfortable in their environments and they own the space a little more. However, I also find it interesting to place them somewhere new.
The connection between people and places fascinates me. After meeting up with my subject, I usually chat with them while we walk around looking for shoot locations and try to get a sense of who they are. A key ingredient to making someone relaxed is not to make a big deal of the shoot; I never want to pressure anyone and always want them to feel relaxed.
Why is it important to you that your models are styled naturally - wearing their own clothes and no make-up?
As a personal project, I wanted this to be fully documentary/reportage style as that’s where my interest in photography began - with documentary work. I always tell them to wear their favourite outfit, what makes them feel good and we go from there!
Would you say you’re drawn to ‘city boys’ in particular? What is it about the city that attracts you?
Not necessarily, that’s just the environment I have grown up in and am surrounded by. The attraction of the city is the diversity of people, the feeling of being anonymous and the endless things to do. It never stops which is both a blessing and a curse.
I am aware that you travel a lot, through the UK, Los Angeles and Hawaii - do you notice a change in masculinity across cultures?
I think from travelling and shooting the same project around the world, you realise that everyone goes through the same shit regardless of location. Some cultures and countries, of course, have less liberal views than the UK, but I feel everyone I’ve photographed have been pretty open (perhaps due to this age group). It’s given me a sense of hope for the future generations hearing the range of opinions and the willingness to show a more vulnerable side!
Finally, why do you choose to work in film?
I love shooting on film. It’s warm, rich and full of emotional information. Film renders more colours than digital, it picks up on temperature and light and creates an honest replica of real life. The colour palette of film is beautiful, it makes you feel something and captures skin tone perfectly. You make a real connection with your subject when you shoot on film, and every shot is meaningful.
words: Emma Phillips