"It was love at first sight," Rosaline Shahnavaz explains, of the first time she met Fern. She was working an ad job, and Fern was the model. "Not only does she look like the love child of a cherub and Uma Thurman, but she also showed up to the shoot wearing thigh high white PVC boots. We had this special dynamic straight away. I couldn't stop casting her. I told her I wanted to make a book about her, and that's when this all started."
So Rosaline and Fern have spent the last year hanging out, shooting, capturing the intimate, cute, and beautiful moments in their lives. They've compiled those pictures into a book, which is appropriately called Fern, because it is all about Fern. It's also a little bit about the relationship between photographer and model of course, but really it's about Fern and friendship and intimacy and being a young woman.
Rosaline's pictures of Fern make you want to smile every time Fern smiles, and they make you want to frolic about and be cute and be a teenage girl, too, because it all looks just very pure and perfect. "I guess I initiated the project but then there was this role reversal," Rosaline says. "Fern would text me whenever she was at her boyfriend's who lives up the road from mine, and we'd make some time to hang out. We'd always say we'd meet for like an hour or two, then before we knew it we'd some how end up in Gosport having eggs for breakfast."
The book is out on the 20th July, but we got Rosaline and Fern to sit down and interview each about it right now.
Rosaline: What do you like about being photographed by me?
Fern: I like the collaborative aspect, the feeling when our vision is becoming reality. I feel like you have a way for drawing out my authentic, rather than projected, self.
Rosaline: What do you think this book says about us?
Fern: It says that I'm an exhibitionist and you encourage me! It shows that we believe in dreaming, romanticism and escapism. It also reveals that we both grew up and live and hang out in south London, which is comforting. What's your favourite thing about south?
Rosaline: The commons, where I grew up. I tried everything for the first time there. You?
Fern: Actually so did I! Yeah I'd say the commons too. It's like an oasis.
Rosaline: What's it like having a book all about you?
Fern: It's bizarre... the photos document a very visceral, vulnerable time in my life so the idea of lots of people seeing something so personal is scary! But exciting.
Rosaline: Do you have a favourite photograph in the book?
Fern: I think the one shot on the Gosport ferry in my rosaries. That place symbolises so much for me; it's a limbo, literally and emotionally, between town and city, love and hate, girlhood and womanhood. It's where I experienced my darkest days and met the love of my life. What's yours?
Rosaline: I really like the one of you on the rooftop in Peckham. I love that moody London sky, right at the height of summer. I think your facial expression sums it up pretty well too, I can't remember what I'd said but it must've been ridiculous. Can you remember what you felt like the first time I photographed you?
Fern: I felt nervous and excited and young.
Rosaline: What about the most recent time I shot you?
Fern: I think I felt a little disappointed because it was raining and all the animals in the farm we went to were hiding! This is your second book, on one subject, why do it again?
Rosaline: These photographs are so personal and I think the tactile nature of the book encompasses that closeness. I love the whole process of making a book; from editing down the images, sequencing, working on the layout, the design... I always start with printing everything out and plastering my studio floor in photographs.
Fern: What's your outlook on the photographer/muse relationship? Do you find it's outdated, degrading, empowering?
Rosaline: It's evolved from what it is used to be. I personally find it collaborative, and kind of an exploration of myself through female identity. I think that's why I tend to photograph women more. Ok, so what makes you hopeful about the future?
Fern: In the future I'd like mental health to be dinner-table chat and for every porn film to be mutually empowering... not to sound too 'I want world peace' or anything... You?
Rosaline: World peace!
Text Felix Petty
Photography Rosaline Shahnavaz