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David Shama

The photographer tells us how he ditched medicine to pursue the will to tickle your imagination

David Shama likes grain, dirt, old stuff and eating outside when it’s warm. Curiously enough, you can see this naturalist approach in his work, emanating the heat of sunlight and projecting the relaxed gracefulness of old school heroines on the girls of today. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Shama spent a few years in Argentina before moving to Paris, where he currently lives and works as a fashion photographer, while still maintaining a few artistic and personal projects. His adventurous, impulse-driven character shows in a body of work that is clear, easy, spontaneous and effective in its storytelling, translating into the relatable emotional charge of the people he photographs.

My work is all about story telling, I believe that pictures don't have to be obviously narrative to convey a story, sometimes the simplest portrait can tell more then a very constructed scenario. I'm trying to convey something that can tickle someone else’s imagination

From architectural landscapes to rural Wisconsin, greasy diner fries, deserted roads and candid yet curated portraits and editorials, Shama seduces the viewer with the frank simplicity of his visual language and the unpretentious nature of the quotidian. Here, he talks about his wandering mind and the endless search for that magical spark. 

Dazed Digital: Who are you? What wakes you up in the morning, and what makes you sleep at night?
David Shama: Who am I? I guess in a few decades I'll know the answer to that question, at least I hope. I am a very curious person, I am interested in everything. I tend to over think things, but I am working on it. But seriously i am an insomniac, so waking up is not an issue. I am driven by spontaneity, one of the things I enjoy the most is to take my bag and leave, on a trip, for the street, anywhere but impulsively.

DD: How did you get into photography? What makes it so attractive as a medium?
David Shama:
 You know how they say the quickest path between two points is a straight line… I surely didn't take that path, but rather the most indirect path possible. To keep the story short, I studied Medicine for a few years and I think that photography got me rather then the contrary, I always loved that medium. I used to collect photography magazines as a teenager and admired Newton, Avedon, Ellen Von Unwerth, Corinne Day, Peter Lindberg. When I decided that the medical field wasn't my thing, I went back to what I really liked. I couldn't be happier now, doing what I love the most as a job. I really never feel like I am working.

DD: What do you hope to achieve through your work?
David Shama:
 My work is all about story telling, I believe that pictures don't have to be obviously narrative to convey a story, sometimes the simplest portrait can tell more then a very constructed scenario, so what I am trying to achieve is probably that. Trying to convey something that can tickle someone else’s imagination.

DD: You seem very intimate with the people you photograph. Who are these people and how do you get them to open up to your lens?
David Shama:
 Well, I am intimate with some of them, I love to shoot the same people over and over again, so some of them become good friends. I think a photography shoot is one of the most intimate things two people can share. It evolves with the relationship you have with your models. Of course, often you just meet someone the day you shoot them for commercial work but in that case it's all about making them feel comfortable or trying to establish some kind of interaction that leads to an emotional response.

It’s an endless search for that magical spark in the eye that tells it all. The unattainable truth. But it's very important to go with the flow and not to force anything. Basically, I try to be a good judge of character and see what I can get out of every one particular individual.

DD: Where do you go to find inspiration?
David Shama:
 I watch a movie or read something and it strikes me, I see something that makes sense to me, it can be very far from the original source. Sometimes I am watching a movie and my mind starts to wander, I get so distracted by my own imagination that I loose track of the storyline of the film while making up one of my own. This alternate story I made up stays with me. All of a sudden I become obsessed with this idea I want to illustrate. For example, I recently saw the teaser of the movie "Hanna" and it inspired me a lot. I didn't know at all what the story was about, but a few seconds were enough to get me started.

DD: Is there a camera you can't live without?
David Shama:
 I shoot analogue, I really love the accidents and the texture of film, shooting film also slows things down a lot so you get to interact much more with your surroundings, to observe. There is something about the imperfection of it that makes it more humane, closer to my vision. As far as the cameras most of the time I use either my Leica M7 or a Hasselblad 503.

DD: What's the best, and the worst thing about photography?
David Shama:
 In my opinion the instantaneity of photography is what makes it the most open to interpretation, it's a very realistic representation of that split second the shutter was released but everything around that instant is left for the observer to imagine. I love that paradox. It means everything and nothing at the same time. It could appear at first as a faithful representation or even a proof in some cases but really doesn't mean anything out of context. So for me as a dreamer it's a source for endless wandering. I guess this could also be the worst thing about it when wrongfully used.

DD: What's lurking in your future?
David Shama:
 Many good things I hope... I have a show on the way and every year brings its load of new interesting projects.