The Analog Profiles: Shola Lawson
by Mary Thomas
I’ve never before met someone so involved with the color pink. That’s the first thing that stood out to me about Shola Lawson’s photographic work. Very rarely does the color occur naturally in the world, aside from flowers and sunsets, and because of this, Shola’s overwhelmingly blushy portfolio took me by surprise; she had to be creating these images quite deliberately, actively seeking out the color everywhere. How did she do it? I had to know. Sitting in a pair of velvet chairs at a coffee shop, we discussed our favorite color.
Why did you start making photos? and why do you continue to?
Shola: In college I took a photography class where we developed everything on transparency slide film, which I thought was fantastic! My teacher encouraged me to become a photo major after she saw some of my work. I was optimistic, but had my heart set on becoming a sign language interpreter at the time and didn’t think that an art degree would be practical. My dad and I purchased my first Nikon N65—which I've recently started shooting with again—and it accompanied me all through my 20s. I took photos of friends at parties and social events, documenting all of my personal relationships and finding a lot of satisfaction through that. It wasn't until a few years ago, when I bought a Pentax k1000 for $10 at a Value Village, that I decided to really push myself and identify as a photographer rather than just a hobbyist.
What ideas are at the root of your philosophies in life and photography? What is most important to you?
Shola: My work is sort of selfish because I shoot a lot of what I would want to see in print and what makes me feel the happiest. Oh, and for practical reasons -- I have a terrible memory! Ha. Keeping a diary has proven too difficult so this is the next best thing. The camera has really connected me to people that I never expected it would. I'm in the middle of completing a project about sailor cats. When I'm out on the dock shooting those with their feline companions there's this exchange that happens. They're letting me peek into their private lives for just a brief moment and it's really special! I try to steer away from shooting things that I hope would land me in a magazine or be picked up by some admirable artist. It just loses its authenticity. When I post photos that I've shot for pleasure it's really exciting to see others respond positively to that!
What sort of mood do you find consistently in your work? And how do you find it?
Shola: The mood strikes as feminine, merry, possibly even virginal. Honestly, it's hard to take myself too seriously! In middle school my room had this floral-print wallpaper and all my furniture was made of white wicker. I loved beauty products so much that I would take two or three showers a day as an excuse to use different shampoos and lotions. I made animation films with my dad's VHS recorder and fell deeply in love with our family cat, Whitney. It's the only time in my life that I didn't have a single care in the world. My fondness for this (amongst other adolescent experiences) is embedded in my work.
What have you learned about yourself through photography?
Shola: When I first started shooting I was so frustrated when I would miss "the shot." I'd either be too intimidated to get close enough or second guess myself regarding timing. I've learned that I need to relax and go with my instincts. Also, maybe "the shot" is really just those few seconds after anyways? I've also come to realize that it's key to make people feel comfortable. I prefer to meet with models prior to a shoot to build a level of trust and set a tone of easiness. It's hard to dive in and start shooting someone smoking weed in their underwear if you've never even met them before.
What does love mean?
Shola: I just saw Call Me by Your Name. It was the first time I had seen anyone visually nail what pure young love looks like. If I could get anywhere close to capturing that feeling with my photography I would be a happy woman. It's hard for me to photograph the people whom I love deeply, like my family. It's almost too personal. I fear I would fail to represent who they are or what they mean to me.
Who has influenced you most and why?
Shola: Reva!! She's so complicated and pretty and probably my favorite thing to shoot because she's always just right there. Sounds weird, but I'm also influenced by people who make me feel jealous. If I'm triggered in that way, I try and take in those feelings and level up. It's important to not let that stop you from moving forward but rather use it to make your art more interesting. I've also been struck by subjects such as toxic friendships, the loss of a pet, and certain established rules of Japan. Some of my favorite publications are Cat People, Apartamento, and most recently the all-female run weed mag, Broccoli.
Shola additionally finds herself inspired by femininity and motivated to challenge creative boundaries. These sentiments combined with a nostalgia for adolescence and a love for the color pink make her work a delight to splash across the eyes. Thanks, Shola, for the reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.
Keep up with Shola's work (and her cat Reva!) on Instagram @shotbyshola