get to know ronan mckenzie, the london photographer who started out as a stylist
From shooting for i-D and Marques Almeida to holding her own exhibition exploring today's perception of the black body, young photographer Ronan McKenzie is making waves in the fashion world. Having grown up in East London's Walthamstow, McKenzie creates empowering imagery through documenting the beautiful people around her and promoting diversity. You only have to look as far as the 'Girls' section on her website to see how she captures the perfect female gaze. Here's 10 things you need to know about the i-D favorite.
1. Initially, she wanted to be a stylist.
"I began studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins but quickly realized it wasn't for me. With the support of my family and amazing advice from Madeleine Østlie, who had become a good friend, I left after a few weeks. Luckily I'd already interned and assisted so I had a few contacts and began helping stylists, although after a few months of this, I started to want more control over the final image. I realized that I was more interested in the person than the clothes. When I was styling a test shoot with Piczo, he encouraged me and gave me the time and opportunity to take some of my own photos. I was sort of just hooked from there."
2. She was never scared of teachers at school.
"Art and English were always my favorite subjects, when I was nearing the end of college I had to decide whether to go down the English Language path or Art, and I chose art. I got in trouble quite a lot at school, though; I was kind of the kid that wasn't scared of teachers. When they were being ridiculous, I would call them out on it in a way that made total sense, which would make people laugh and embarrass the teachers which, obviously, they hated. I also got in trouble for uniform a lot, or more so me not wearing the uniform."
3. She's quite obsessed with people.
"I'm can't help listening to people's conversations and I love watching their iterations — the way they walk, talk, speak, everything. I also absolutely LOVE Eastenders, not even in a jokey way, I genuinely enjoy it."
4. Her female role model is…
"Simone Biles! 4'9, 19-year-old world champion and daughter of an addict, proof that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it."
5. Sometimes, the best shoots are the ones you least expect.
"It was just a test shoot and I'd planned to just go outside and take some photos around Walthamstow. But shoot day came and rain was shitting it down; there was no way I could shoot outside and my bedroom was too dark. I panicked massively, I'd never shoot indoors and had no idea how to control the light settings on my camera as I was used to shooting on auto. The model came and I had to wing it. I used my digital camera to light test, and played around with angles in my room to try and make it as good as I could. I was nervous until I got the photos back from the processor and I was so happily surprised at the results. It's not like they're the best photos I've ever taken, but the light came out well and the photos were nice! That gave me the confidence to trust myself and try new things because as my mom says, sometimes the best results come out of experiments."
6. Her advice to young photographers is:
"Just keep shooting and being open to learning from everything and everyone around you. Never feel like your work isn't good enough, and try not to compare yourselves to others because no one can do what you do the way that you do it."
7. She wants to solve London's homeless crisis.
"I'm passionate about the homeless crisis, especially in London. I had to start volunteering a few years ago because it got to the point where I would get so emotional about not having the means to help. My main goal in life is to somehow use my work to make a lasting change to homelessness. I'm not exactly sure how yet, but that's my aim."
8. Being a photographer can be challenging…
"Finding spaces to share my work without compromise, and being able to afford to continue working in the way I like can be difficult."
9. But it's also rewarding.
"For me, I guess it's not even when people say they like my work, it's more that I love taking photos. When I take a photo that I really love and feel like I'm improving my skill, that's the most rewarding thing. When I manage to capture something about a person's spirit, it's an amazing feeling as it becomes more than just a photo and an explanation."
10. These are her dreams for the future:
"To just keep learning and growing as a photographer, travel the word, and hopefully one day create a safe, non-judgemental space for homeless people to get the help and support they need to truly rehabilitate."
Text Lula Ososki
Photography Ronan McKenzie