For portrait photographer Rosie Matheson, every face tells a story. In 2015, she turned her lens to young men, capturing their emotions and looking at how they present themselves to the world. Her project Boys is a beautiful exploration of boyhood and masculinity, each portrait giving unique insight into the male experience. We got in touch to find out more about where it all started for Rosie, and how the Boys project came to life.
Hello, Rosie! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into photography?
I became obsessed by photography from a pretty young age. Looking back, I now realise what a solid feature it was in my life. One of my parents’ best friends is award-winning photographer Zed Nelson and he was always around photographing parties, weddings and birthdays — I was exposed to his work and exhibitions from a pretty young age. My dad is a massive film lover and my granddad used to work for Kodak, so the photography and visuals element was always a huge part of my life. As a teenager I actually really got into Lomography cameras. I owned the Fisheye, Diana and the Spinner 360° which I was always experimenting with — literally every day. It was during sixth form college and spending lots of time in the darkroom that I knew photography was what I enjoyed most, was happiest doing and what I wanted to pursue.
Did you know from quite early on that you wanted to focus on portraiture, or is it something that you found yourself drawn to as you spent more time behind the camera?
It was definitely something I was drawn to the more I did it. At college I was really into documentary photography. I wanted to be a serious documentary photographer, and I did my college projects on my Paramedic neighbour at work and a guy who worked at a local car garage. I think I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories and trying to tell those. I really got into portraiture once I had left education as I found it a great way of coming out of my shell and meeting such a variety of people. It was almost like when I had a camera with me, I could be a little more confident.
Your recent photo series, Boys is a stunning exploration of boyhood and masculinity. Could you tell us a bit about the project, please? What inspired you to focus on men and their experiences?
Without realising, I’ve actually been shooting males since around 2012. The project really started one day in December 2015 when I photographed two boys, Elliott and Phoenix. I was just starting to find my photography style and figure out what I was trying to achieve through my work. Shooting males made me feel more comfortable — there was no pressure to make them look attractive (which definitely comes with shooting girls). Guys are effortlessly cool and rarely require styling or hair/make up. I like the ease of it — we could shoot two rolls of film in thirty minutes and be done, there was no stress to it. I began to shoot more and more boys and suddenly had built up quite a project. It began to almost form its own narrative, and I then picked up on the idea of masculinity as I was being told that people had never seen guys photographed in such a ‘gentle’ and ‘sensitive’ way. To me, this is how I saw each one and suddenly it was a talking point. I’ve always been interested in people’s lives and stories, and so tying each individual’s story in with their views on being a young male today seemed appropriate and is extremely relevant right now with the changing idea of masculinity.
What has the casting process been like? Did you know your subjects before, or are they people you’ve gotten to know through photographing them for the project?
The majority of them, I didn’t know but know have gotten to know most of them pretty well. I like to keep up each relationship and enjoy going back to shoot them as we both get older, our lives change and our appearances. I cast my subjects through Instagram, mutual friends and on the streets.
The portraits are beautifully intimate. How do you build that kind of connection on set?
For me, I almost feel like I make myself more vulnerable. I take on the pressure, to capture them honestly and get a great portrait. I just want my subject to feel as comfortable as possible. I prefer to shoot one on one without anyone else, and just chat to them as we shoot. It’s all about trust.
We love that the portraits are so personal — from animals to boxing gloves, they’re full of details that give us a real sense of the subject’s identity. How did you decide on where to shoot and what to include in the frame?
I usually like to shoot somewhere that’s personal to the subject. I’m interested in what they do, the choice of clothing, jewellery, haircut. I’m fascinated by it all. I think you have to be obsessed in order to pick up on these things. Everything a person does, owns, decides to wear says something about them, so every detail is important to me.
You usually shoot on film, as opposed to digital. Why is that? What do you think this brings to a project like Boys?
I love the intimacy of film. It’s only between the photographer and subject. I really dislike the fact that when shooting digital, it includes everyone’s opinions and takes away from what you really see and feel to capture. Shooting on film makes it about capturing a moment rather than capturing everything possible.
Do you have a favorite photo from the series? Could you tell us a little about the story behind it, please, and why you like it so much?
Of course Elliott has to be my favourite. It’s an obvious answer but that photo honestly changed both of our careers and I never really get bored of looking at it. It was shot in a Camden skatepark in 2015 and was the first time I had met Elliott. We don’t ever really talk that much but there’s this feeling/vibe that is always there — it’s always very calming and we understand how we work well together. This photo of Elliott was the second to last shot on my roll of film and I got him to close his eyes. I’m not sure why, it just felt right
They all mean so much and I really do love them all. Each one has its own story and is a memory forever.
The talented Kaj Jefferies — who we’re interviewing for our Magazine very soon! — recently created a documentary based on your series Boys, shot entirely on super 8 film. What was it like, seeing your project come to life like that?
Myself and Kaj directed ‘Boys’ over the last month. We’ve just finished the edit together and it’s honestly so beautiful and touching. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be and I’m excited to film some more. It’s fun to collaborate and actually to move away from the camera and focus on directing exactly how I have thought about this film happening for months and months. It’s a moving shot documentary that really honours the guys involved. They make the documentary, we were just there to capture them.
What’s next for Rosie Matheson? Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I’m currently working on some other areas of the Boys projects —expanding it a little to include young dads etc… There will be a second Boys zine later this year, and some more exhibitions and screenings of the short doc in LA and Paris over the next two months. Boys is definitely something I will be continuing with and I hope for it to become a worldwide photo series and documentary.