The photographer speaks to Dazed about how he tries to resist being defined by a particular style of photography and how the fashion industry is an endless source of inspiration
John de Lima is a photographer that experiments and blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. He’s managed to build a portfolio to reflect this approach ranging from documentary work, portraiture, still life and fashion. His bold colours and contrasts, highlight the often surreal presentation of de Lima's subjects, captivating the viewer and making the images memorable. By creating what the client needs as well as retaining the rawness and candid method apparent in his images, de Lima is fast becoming a go-to photographer with a client list including, i-D, Net-A-Porter, Dossier, Craig Lawrence, Maarten Van Der Horst as well as many others.
Currently, de Lima is now branching into sculpture, creating pieces for an upcoming solo show as well as producing an accompanying monograph. Dazed caught up with the photographer to find out why he feels all his photography should be personal to him, regardless of whether it’s for a client or not, and how he first got into photography.
Dazed Digital: How did you get into photography?
John de Lima: I was doing an Art Foundation and started taking photos while I was there. I got really into it straight away. I found the whole process meditative. I remember getting hold of Ray’s A Laugh by Richard Billingham and feeling so privileged; being able to look into someone else’s reality like that is such a beautiful thing. I started finding more and more things that I wanted to make photographs of, and it's become such an integral part of my life now, I can't imagine being without it.
DD: How would you describe your style of photography? As well as your personal approach to style?
John de Lima: There is a definite style to my work, but I'm not sure I can, or want to understand what that style is completely. I'm drawn to a lot of different subjects, but whether it's a commercial job for a client or an art project, I approach everything in the same way, which I think gives a sense of continuity to my work. My images look like anyone could have taken them, which is something that's really important to me, whatever I'm depicting it always seems believable and sincere.
DD: In a lot of your personal photos often you have a very raw and brash approach to your subjects, how does that process compare to the more stylised fashion based shoots you've done?
John de Lima: I think I can be just as brash with my fashion work. I see my fashion and personal work as the same thing, I've never made a distinction between making photographs for a gallery or for a fashion magazine. If I'm making photographs of something or someone, I'm using it as personal expression all the same. I think a lot of photographers make these divisions between contexts and it feels unhealthy to me, in that respect I see myself more of an artist than a photographer.
DD: What is it about the fashion industry that you find appealing to photograph?
John de Lima: I'm endlessly fascinated by how we dress our bodies, how much importance we put on our image, or how little. I've found a lot of artists look down their noses at fashion, unlike the art market, the fashion system is brazen about it's transient nature, new designs replace the old seasonally, with past designs decreasing in value rather than increasing- the fashion system opposes the supposed permanence of art, but for me it remains the most accessible form of art. No one escapes presenting themselves to the rest of the world visually, however much an individual protests that they have no interest in 'fashion', they make that statement wearing certain clothes, with their hair at a certain length, maybe they’ve got shaved legs, these are all symbols, gestures of how they want to be seen.
Photographing clothes gives me the opportunity to work with the most talented and inspired artists and the most incredible designs, I just worked on a project where I collaborated with Charlie Le Mindu and Samara Scott who are both incredible- I can't think of another context where that can happen so freely. My fashion work allows me to build fantasies and characters that I couldn't achieve outside of it. I feel that boundaries between art and fashion are blurring more and more, we're in a time where Terrence Koh shoots editorial fashion, and Cindy Sherman models for MAC, and I'm really excited to be a part of that crossover.
DD: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
John de Lima: A lot of things that I'm not allowed to talk about! I can tell you that I've been working on a project with The Photographers Gallery recently, who have been incredible to work with, and I'm working on my first photography book. I’m also about to go and spend two weeks photographing one of the oldest circus groups in Europe.