London-based photographer Gift JR Gwambe is definitely a one to watch. Born in Malawi, his work is often heavily inspired by his African background and, as a fashion portrait photographer, Gift likes to mixes western styling and gender-neutral clothing. We took the chance to ask him a few questions and to dive into his world.
Tell us about your creative background – when did you first start with photography / what really pushed you to do so? Gift: I moved to the UK from Malawi when I was around 7 which was a culture shock but like most kids when moving anywhere you learn to adapt quickly. More of my family members also moved to the UK and my older cousins were really into fashion and music, I think that was the first step of inspiration as they showed me this whole new word both in music and fashion. I took joy in always trying to dress as best and unique as I could. The love for fashion is what drove me into photography.
I was first introduced to a DSLR at school when I was around 15 years olds. I was always drawn to art and anything creative from a young age, so naturally, I choose art as a GCSE because I thought it would be an easy pass. Sadly I’ve never been great at drawing which meant I got bored really quick. So one day I think I must have just been pissing about so much that the teacher gave me a camera and just left me outside to take photos of whatever I wanted. From then I went on to study photography at Coventry City college and then I completed my bachelor’s degree in photography at Birmingham University.
I have a very creative and inspiring group of friends that I grew up with. We all started photography around the same time and I feel we motived each other, as we all wanted to do better and improve. We had days where we would just look at each other’s shoots pick out what we liked and didn’t like, explaining our reasons behind those chooses. Without our little group, I don’t think I would be where I am at the moment.
You are specialized in fashion photography. What attracted you in this specific direction – where did your reference come from? I feel my work is heavily fashioned and portrait forced. I’ve always been very much interested in fashion from a very young age. I’d plan outfits for non-school uniforms in months advance making sure I had the most unique pieces. I feel that’s why I was so naturally gravitated to fashion photography. I drew a lot of inspiration from the great of Peter Lindbergh, Gordon Parks, and newer photographers that are doing amazing work and personally I would love to work with them, Rafael Pavarotti and Nadine Ijewere. My reference to how I build my shoot vary from music, film, fashion I tend to just have a burst of an idea and fixate on that until I have something concrete to execute.
Are there other subjects that you like photographing? I do find myself being drawn to portraiture Photography even when I am shooting I can get lost in trying to capture the subject’s face. I think if I noted in love with fashion I could most likely be a portrait photographer.
You were born in Malawi but you are based in London now. How do the two cities influence your work? When I started my journey my influence where meanly UK based and I shied away from my heritage in the sense of having it in my work. At the time I really didn’t want to be pigeonholed, as I felt that I wanted my work to be judged as other artists and not solely because of my background and infinity, it took some time to get out of that headspace. I’m still growing and improving my craft. Malawi is really pure and beautiful, it’s part of my DNA and I think you can see that in Rawness of my work. I am in works I feel that London has influenced my style and just how I approach everything with an open mind and a thirst for creativity.
Do you prefer working in a studio or outside? Studio any day of the week, I find that I am most confirmable in this space, and also the are no limited in the studio.
Do you work analog or digital? Does postproduction play a role in your photographs? I was trained on analog and I feel all photographers need to be able to shoot on analog. The fact that you only have a limited amount of shots makes you search for that perfect image more and it also teaches you so much more about the craft.
What is the message you want to get across to viewers regarding your work? I want my images to spark ideas, ask equations and peak interest. I want my images to spark a wave of creativity and also just for people to see the words beauty and pain thrown my eyes.
What other work/artist do you find really inspiring right now? Cameron Portland is a London-based artist whose work I find very inspiring and has sparked up some ideas for my own work. I am obsessed with Nadia Lee Cohen’s book Woman from what I’ve seen so far, Harley Weir’s latest project Amazing hair. Also, anything that Rafael Pavarotti does I find inspiring. The list could go on but am just gonna lead it at that.
What is your ultimate goal? As I was able to travel back to Malawi after being away for 10 years, I documented my family and the city’s I visited. I would love to be able to make a book and gallery. I was able to capture images of Malawi’s tribe the Chewa, which can be seen with the panda-like mask.
The mean ultimate goal is to work with big campaign with a good amount of creative freedom, I want to keep growing, learning and just never stop being creative.