“I take a thought, a story, a theory and turn it into a reality with beautiful locations, clothes, movement. I’m in search of intelligence and beauty when I create my work.” London-based photographer Diana Patient has worked for the press, photographed ballet dancers and fashion spreads, but she is best known for her dreamy, romantic portraits and self-portraits. We had a chat with her about self-portraits, selfies and smizing.
What is the role of the artistic self-portrait in the age of the selfie?
The artistic self-portrait is just that: artistic and informed by art that has come before it and carries on the conversation that Rembrandt through to Cindy Sherman have left behind for us. By representing themselves they have challenged the role of the artist and subject. The selfie is very much about status. It is self-branding and the artistic self-portrait is self-expression. My self-portraits are not so much representative of me but rather I am a vehicle used to explore and challenge the role of the photographer and the model in fashion photography.
Portraiture is your field of choice: what drove you to it rather than to other forms of photography?
I love faces and the slight changes in people’s expressions could occupy me and my camera for hours on end. I’m also interested in people’s identities and who we can be. I think self is something fluid and even more so when a camera is put in front of us. It justifies so many seemingly crazy actions we may want to perform. It liberates.
Some cultures believe photography steals your soul. While it’s true that a good picture will make a person’s soul very visible, do you need to go there to have a good portrait?
I find portrait sessions very emotionally involving. I confront or embrace people’s insecurities and dreams and we work together to reach a shared vision. There is always a certain amount of engagement with someone’s soul for a portrait. I don’t believe anyone can steal it but with more candid photographing you define someone’s soul for them sometimes without their knowledge. You capture your impression of them and say something about them without them knowing. That moment is immortalised and the choice that we usually have to define ourselves is taken away for that photograph.
What is your concept of human beauty?
Beauty is very hard to pin down. As soon as you verbalise what you find beautiful it is easy to quibble with that definition. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. On human beauty, I don’t think physical beauty should be limited and attributed to a few as it is, but then that is not my decision to make: we make that as a culture by our compliments, by our choice of heroes or heroines. I find many things beautiful and am constantly and quickly making decisions for photographs on what I think is beautiful – a thought shining in the eyes, a line of the neck, a crook of a smile – but beauty is something to chase and never to catch. After a session my subjects will often look at their photographs and see another way that they can be beautiful, see their beauty through my lens.
What is the role of fashion in your art?
Fashion allows us to express new sides of ourselves. I wake up everyday and want to explore a new character with my clothes. I love fashion. Who can we be? Is a question I ask a lot and our choice of clothes expresses this. The clothes or lack of them in my photographs tell stories about the subject and create the lines and composition of a shot.
Fashion photography is under fire for its excessive use of Photoshop. What is your take on it?
We have a duty to use Photoshop responsibly. I don’t think people should use it out of fear; the fear that the user’s figure isn’t thin enough or doesn’t have “perfect skin” but rather to add artistic value or express a vision. There are two types of photographs: one that sells a dream and others that show someone’s soul and they can not represent a collective vision.
Do you have a favourite model or somebody (beside yourself) that you’ve photographed multiple times?
I only used to photograph and paint my sister when I was younger and there is something about knowing one person incredibly well. Now I often work with people I know and I like the concept of muses. I am always excited to meet new people and it is something about the way they move and and if they are unaffected that I pick up on and then they become a muse.
Is there anyone you’d like to shoot but haven’t had the chance yet?
I’d love to photograph Ian Mckellen or Lana Del Rey or a Russian lady on the Orient Express. I’ve always had a dream to create a photo essay about a journey on the Orient Express. I have a picture of a lady in a carriage, sitting so still but moving so fast, she is wearing furs as it is cold outside and I think she is Russian. I’m waiting to take that photograph.
Can you smize?
Yes. I much prefer to smile with my eyes even away from the camera.