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Chloe Sheppard’s All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun
Charli XCX, Berlin, 2017Photography Chloe Sheppard

This new photo zine is full of bittersweet nostalgia for youth

Chloe Sheppard bids farewell to an era by publishing a collection of her work from the past three years

As another year edged closer, photographer Chloe Sheppard felt the pressure of a looming birthday. Despite only being in her early 20s, she explains, “I know 22 isn't old, but in an industry so obsessed with young artists, it's easy to feel resentful towards each year that I get older.” Having spent the past three years capturing the highs and lows of her youth – often through her muse, Sylvie Beam – instead of dwelling, she took the time to reflect on her work and channelled her feelings into her latest publication, All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun. A culmination of her last five zines, All Flowers clocks in at a striking 240 pages and includes her favourite photographs from her archive, photos she’s found at car boot sales and on eBay, as well as a combination of her most-loved lyrics and her own, at times heartbreaking confessions, such as, “I am sure I don’t see myself as I really am”.

Technically still a zine itself, the publication brims with the honesty that Sheppard has always put into her own work, particularly about her own struggles with identity and acceptance. In February, the photographer penned a love-letter to herself in honour of a new self-portrait series with Polaroid, writing, “When I first started taking photography seriously I would only photograph girls that I thought were so beautiful because I was so aware of how much I differed from them. I was posting photos of all these girls because I knew that was what people wanted to see.” She also mentioned that she took on the revealing project because she wanted “to be the person I wish I had to look up to when I was younger”. It felt like Sheppard had turned a corner, or at least taken a few steps forward towards self-love. And with All Flowers feeling like a yearbook of her youth – as well as the prequel to the book that Sheppard would like to publish next – the mega-zine feels much the same way, like a stamp on a bittersweet era. Below, Sheppard muses on the past with a look to the future.

What was the reason to culminate your work together in this way?

Chloe Sheppard: I’ve always put zines out because I want my work to be seen in a more tangible way. I shoot film, and that's partly because I like having something to hold in my hands. I love having the actual negatives and printing in the darkroom, so putting my photos out to the world in a way that is more than just on a screen is something that's always appealed to me.

Last year for my birthday, I had a solo exhibition. It seems kind of sad, but I don't throw parties for my birthday because I know a lot of people wouldn't come and I'd end up feeling alone, so I put on an exhibition that everyone could come to if they wanted – whether they knew me or not and just liked my work.

This year, I wanted to do the same but I couldn't find a venue that wasn't extortionate to hire, so I decided to put out this book instead as something to celebrate my birthday. I get a lot of people asking about buying my old zines that have all sold out, and I haven't reprinted any recently, so it’s also a way for people to have all of my zines in one place, as well as other photos that I'd like to end up in a properly published book one day too. 

What would you say that you have learned over this period as a photographer and as a person? 

Chloe Sheppard: Everything I've learned, I always knew. I just didn't believe it as much until it happened to me, which I guess is naivety. Mostly things like opportunities can be taken from you as quickly as they are given to you, and to never get too comfortable. I've realised how obsessed I am with film photography; how I want to spend my entire life doing it. I've also learned that I am even more insignificant than I thought and that photography is the only thing that really gives meaning to my life.

Can you tell us about the title?

Chloe Sheppard: I wish I could take credit for it but it's actually a song lyric from an unreleased track by Jeff Buckley and Elizabeth Fraser. The song itself is so beautiful and one of my favourites of all time. I love this line because it's like, you can fight against what you know you need for so long, but eventually, you end up giving in and going towards what you're trying to deny. In relation to this book, I put it as the title because I hate the idea of getting older. I still feel like I haven't experienced enough in my youth, but I am getting older and I need to accept it and embrace it rather than trying to pretend it isn't happening.

Sylvie Beam has been your longtime muse, and she shares her memories of meeting you in the opening of the zine too. What is it that you see in her that makes you keep capturing her?

Chloe Sheppard: When I first met Sylvie, I didn't expect us to get on so well. I think we were sat on a bench in the rose garden that we always shot in and she started talking about liking Lana Del Rey in the same capacity as I do. It sounds stupid but immediately I was like 'we were meant to be friends'. Every time we'd have a conversation, she would always say something that proved her to be so wise beyond her years and it inspired me. I have learned so much from Sylvie - I think I went vegan initially because of her. Sylvie is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met in my life, and to share a similar vision with her in terms of art, is what makes me so keen to capture her and make work together. We are similar in a lot of ways, so I'm not sure if it's a conceited way of idealising how I'd like to capture or present myself when I shoot Sylvie, but she has been the biggest influence on my work and will continue to be for as long as I know her. 

Creating a tome which compiles all this work in one feels like a stamp on the end of an era, would you say that?

Chloe Sheppard: Well, I feel like my youth is over so maybe that can be the era that is ending. (Laughs) But looking back on my work from the last few years, I feel like it's all very blatantly pretty, soft, and curated, and I do kind of want to move away from that in newer projects. This book is a way for me to nod towards the work that got me to where I am now and gave me some incredible opportunities, but I do feel like I'm in a period where my style is becoming more focused and changing in some way.

That said, what's next?

Chloe Sheppard: I'm learning how to shoot 16mm film and then I'm hoping to make a short film over the summer once I've got enough of a grasp on it. I've always wanted to go into moving image and directing, so this will be my first proper venture into it. I’ve also begun documenting myself more and taking quite contrived self-portraits. I like creating a different narrative within my self-portraits and being able to portray myself in a way I'm not usually seen, so I think I'll keep expanding on that in my work too.

Pick up a copy of All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun here