The brand new #HOT 21st issue of Schön! saw us create a whopping four covers, featuring models Tony Ward, Sean O’pry, the gorgeous Cassandra Smith and the sexy smokin’ superstar that is Rihanna. The shoot captured a sultry yet playful side to the singer and we couldn’t wait to talk to the woman behind the cool images: enter Zoe McConnell. McConnell’s knack for capturing women at their quirky best has made her a firm favourite within the industry and amongst the stars and speaking with the model turned photographer, we talk fine art, Madonna and of course, photography
You had a hugely successful modelling career – did you have any aspirations of being a photographer before you were in front of the camera?
Previous to modelling, I had always been keen to capture other people’s image and character, but being a fine art student at the time my medium was a paintbrush and canvas, rather than a camera. It was while on modelling assignments, my interest was really peaked by photography. I was inspired by photo-shoots as a whole and this led to me to pick up a camera and start shooting my model friends and learning as I went, building up a portfolio and developing my style.
Having spent years in front of the camera and watching others model, I had developed the view of how I would like girls to look in my images – it wasn’t just about taking pretty pictures of pretty girls, it was about showing the character and personality of the girls as well as sexiness. I wanted my images to appeal to both men and women.
As an ex-model, did you feel you had to work harder to be taken seriously as a photographer?
This was something I thought long and hard about before I started shooting professionally, definitely a worry – you never know how people will view you. Fortunately, I don’t feel that it has had a massive impact on my photography and I haven’t come up against any negativity. Without my modelling past I wouldn’t be the photographer that I am.
Does being behind the camera make you miss modelling at all?
Not at all. Even though I had some fun times as a model, it didn’t hold my interest and I was always aware it was not a long-term thing. The crazy thing is, I think I have learnt more about modelling and posing by being behind the camera, but I have no plans on putting them into practice!
Having been on the other side of the camera for several years do you find that you have more or less patience with the people that you are shooting?
I would say a lot more! I think it is really important to be able to connect with your subject and have a good gauge on how they are feeling. As a model I think you can often feel detached from a shoot. So many times I have models turn up to my shoots and they have no idea who the client is, if they are getting paid and what they are expected to do. I can empathise with this. There are a lot of insecurities models and celebrities are often toying with and it’s important to help them through it and make sure you are all on the same page – that way you all get the best out of it and awesome images.
What was your first paid photography gig and how did it go?
My first paid photography job was for Maxim magazine. It felt surreal, I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my first printed feature –I spent the whole day looking at it.
You’ve photographed tons of high-profile people such as Rihanna, Rita Ora, The Saturdays etc. Who else would be on the list of your top three people to shoot and why?
It’s hard to pick just three – so many people inspire me visually and in so many different ways, but I would love to work with Daisy Lowe, I think we could get some killer shots. Super cute, but super vamp at the same time…perfect. Madonna is someone I would love to shoot. It’s actually her muscular physique that really interests me, it would be great to light and she makes such graphic body shapes. I’d say my final choice would be Vivienne Westwood – from my teenage years of learning about the punk movement and pogoing around my bedroom to The Sex Pistols with my dad, she is a massive talent and inspiration – I would love the chance to capture her smile in a photo.
How would you describe your photography style in no more than three words?
Fun. Suggestive. Kookiness.
What is the biggest thing you have learnt whilst working for yourself in the creative industry?
The one thing I hadn’t known about at the beginning was the importance of copyright and protecting your images. In the last few years I have had to seek legal advice on numerous occasions after finding my images being used illegally on t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags.
The other thing would be to keep learning, don’t ever get complacent. Don’t stand still as the creative industry won’t wait for you to catch up.
Are there any projects coming up that you can share with us?
I have just got my hands on a Red Epic camera which has huge potential for new and exciting things with both stills and moving image, so 2013 is a year of learning and experimenting.
I’m off to Ibiza in a few days for a celebrity cover shoot and then I have a few cool projects in the pipeline including a trip to Prague, but unfortunately I can’t go into details … typical photographer!
To view more of Zoe McConnell’s work please visit: www.zoemcconnellphotography.com
Words / Ihunna Eberendu
Follow her on Twitter @ihunnamatata