Chloe Massey

Image by Chloe Massey.

Meet Chloe: she’s a darkroom-grown photographer, traveller, and winner of our latest Meet Series (in honour of International Women’s Day!). Her inspiring photo series (Heroine) stood out among many other strong submissions. It features various women throughout Cape Town as former monarchs throughout history. Chloe started photographing her younger twin sisters with their grandad’s old 35mm Olympus – since then, she’s developed a vigilant and natural blend of portraiture that gives the professionalism and high-gloss of fashion photography without feeling inaccessible. The subject is still gritty, tangible, real to the audience – you can almost feel the women smiling. We’re so grateful that Chloe brought these women to the fore and can’t wait to see her work in Oh Comely!

Chloe Massey

LAB: Could you say a bit about your winning work, Heroine: what inspired you to make this series? Describe the idea, the process, challenges you encountered along the way, etc. What was the most rewarding part of creating this series?

CM: When I embarked on Heroine, I felt it was inevitable the project would focus on strong women; I have a very close bond to my mother, sisters, and other inspiring women in my life, and ultimately I was fed up with the inequality women face. I have faced challenging experiences as a consequence of my gender, like the monarchs represented in the project. I hope this work is a tribute to every woman who strives, internally or eternally, for happiness and equality.

After deciding to make work that reflects how wonderful women are (as men are), Heroine’s process happened organically. I made a series of instinctive decisions that felt right and led to a series in which narrative, subject, and styling balanced and gave the project its own aesthetic. After digging around for a story to use as a platform for the project, I found an article about Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire, who – like all of the women in the series –  overcame many obstacles and became an advocate for women’s rights.

I began with a conceptual photographic narrative depicting Theodora’s life using my sister Josie, who has been a constant subject throughout my work.  I feel that our closeness helped create honest work. I felt confident I was headed in the right direction and searched the streets for faces to represent the other monarchs I researched. One day I spoke with a friend about South African women artists who are holding interesting conversations surrounding gender equality – I emailed some of their organisations that fight for social and ecological causes and hopped on a plane to Cape Town. One of the most fervent experiences of the trip was when I spoke with women from these organisations – specifically Women Community Action and Rape Crisis. They were so humble about the realities of their suppression but also infectiously positive about the change they were capable of creating.

Chloe Massey

LAB: What draws you to fashion and portraiture? Have those always been your focus or did you start somewhere else?

CM: I started taking pictures after my grandad gave me his 35mm Olympus and used my school’s darkroom to process and print black and white. I had a huge respect for fashion photographers like Penn, Avedon, and Parkinson. I also worked in a vintage shop as a Saturday girl – it’s where my interest in clothes began and built my appreciation for how an image’s styling can change its impact. In more recent years, I’ve been inspired by portrait painting and making more documentary-style work during my travels. This led to my hybrid use of portraiture and ‘fashion’ photography.

Chloe Massey

LAB: There’s an upsurge of emerging photographers and filmmakers who are determined to create despite having limited resources (paying for expensive camera, lens, lighting rigs, for example). What is your point of view? From your perspective, how crucial is the equipment / gear vs. the vision and perspective of the photographer? How have you encountered this question in your own career? Has your perspective changed over time?

CM: Oh, the vision and perspective of the photographer is super important! I used to use my student overdraft to travel and then work in coffee shops once I was back to get out of debt. I’ve been shooting consistently on 120mm film for just over two years now, and that’s been my biggest expense. However, I believe it’s integral to the way I work (it really slows me down –attaching my heavy mamiya to a tripod allows me to interact more freely with the subject), so I just find a way to pay for it. When I’m travelling I usually borrow outfits from vintage shops, buy fabric and make items myself or pay for a tailor. Collaborating with hair and make-up artists who also need to build their portfolios is a wonderful way to work and share ideas on set. There’s always a way to make magic with little money if you use your imagination! I find when I’m in different countries the possibilities are endless because I’m unaware of the limitations I might give myself at home. I am starting to want more equipment but I think this will come in time – the technical side will only help make more powerful imagery but only if the idea feels right.

Chloe Massey

LAB: Name three musicians that inspire you (and one of your favourite songs by each of them).

CM: Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’,  Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ and Donny Hathaway’s ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.’

LAB: What does International Women’s Day mean to you as a female artist? How do you define “empowerment” within your craft?

CM: International Women’s Day is a wonderful way to celebrate the progression of women’s rights and their position in the art world. For me, empowerment is about freedom and confidence to express yourself, free of societal and personal boundaries. To be truly equal, it’s important to base this on one’s humanity instead of one’s gender.

Chloe Massey

LAB: What are you afraid of (as an artist, as a person)? How do you overcome that fear?

CM: I find myself questioning whether I make my work look too polished (mostly in-camera – I do very little post) and if this makes my work less meaningful, if there is a way to communicate raw emotion. However, I have to remind myself that if my process is natural, I can only work to improve the way my images connect and communicate with their audience. I hope to continue challenging my thought processes but also accepting that I have an individual way of seeing and that makes my pictures unique.

LAB: Besides photography, how do you like to spend your time? What are your greatest interests and hobbies? Anything surprising?

CM: My work seeps into all aspects of my life. I try classes as a consequence of projects and end up learning things like Salsa dancing, which leads to great experiences and friendships. To take time for myself I practice yoga, scuba dive and travel as much as I can, where all sorts of wonderfully unexpected experiences are possible.

Chloe Massey

LAB: Name a woman that inspires you and why you admire her.

CM: During my time in South Africa I met with a woman called Nafisa who has been labelled as disabled due to her near-total blindness (something that she has never thought should hold her back from achieving her dreams). She truly empathises with young people, especially young women, who are trying to overcome the same stigmas as she did. As an international ambassador for impaired children, Nafisa is an unstoppable force and an infectiously happy woman. I asked her to give a message to women – she said, “I don’t want to restrict it to women with disabilities because I feel it’s universal:  You are what you believe you are.  Never let others define you, unless you are in a dark place and can’t see what shines in you.  Be brave, crave and strive for a life that is good, rewarding and happy.  Your abilities and brilliance can only be limited by you.” Shortly after she wrote these words, Nafisa gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

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Storyteller | Writer | Singsong Weirdo | Food Whisperer | Jane of All Trades Founder @monologues_the | Upcoming Album @weheartarts