In Conversation with Rosie Matheson

Tapping the thoughts of a young photographer on the up and up


Rosie Matheson is a British portrait photographer who captures the beauty of youth culture. The British Journal of Photography recently included her image Elliott in the Portrait of Britain exhibition which celebrates heritage and diversity.

Photographing several celebrity portraits for the likes of i-D magazine, assisting Zed Nelson, filming music videos and working on her own photographic projects, Rosie is the photographer everyone’s talking about right now. We caught up with her to learn more about her artwork, inspirations and advice.

Hi Rosie, thanks for chatting with us. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a freelance photographer based between Brighton and London. I especially enjoy shooting portraits on my medium format camera. I think the best things about being a freelance photographer is the constant variety of work and getting to be your own boss. Photography to me is about showing new things, telling stories, stimulating thoughts and emotions.

What makes you so drawn to portraiture?

I think it’s just getting to meet such a range of people, it’s exciting. I’m so interested in others and their lives. It’s the task of trying to honestly capture someone in a single frame. Portraiture also forces me to interact with strangers and develop my confidence and just grown in myself as a person too. You always take something away from each shoot and person you meet.

Why do you mainly use film photography?

Simply, I love how it looks.

The whole experience shooting on a film camera is completely different to that of digital. Shooting on film keeps it between just you as the photographer and the subject, usually resulting in the shoot being a whole lot more personal. There’s no one reviewing the screen and making you re-shoot out of ‘the moment’ images over and over, it is what it is and I love that. I just think with the limited frames you have and the costs of each shot, you really consider what you’re shooting and because of this, I feel, the images are a lot more honest and timeless.

What is your favourite camera and film?

My Mamiya 645 or RZ67 and my choice of film is always Kodak Portra 400.

How did you feel when you found out your work was going to be featured in Portrait of Britain and saw your image all around the UK?

Really happy! I actually entered it super last minute and didn’t really think anything would come from it. Fast forward a month and I had completely forgotten I entered. I received an email notifying me Elliott had made it into the winning portraits. It’s really cool that photo has gained so much recognition especially as it was the last frame I shot of him that day and we just captured a special moment. It’s extremely exciting to hear of people seeing it all over the UK and just nice to hear it’s being looked at and taken in.

What impact has this had on you as an artist?

I think, if anything, it’s made me push the documentary side of my photography even more and to get going on some new personal projects.

Do you have a specific process when photographing your subject?

It depends on each shoot. For instance some portrait shoots you might only have three minutes with your subject so there’s not much time to get to know them beforehand whereas others you may have two hours or even longer. I think it’s just important to be understanding and sensitive to your subject. Some people are super comfortable in front of a camera whilst others aren’t. I feel like my job is to, really and truly, make someone feel comfortable and have an enjoyable experience being photographed, that’s what my main aim is. I like to talk to my subject about how I’m trying to shoot them/what I’m trying to achieve so they’re as much involved in the experience as possible.

I don’t direct people too much, I’ll usually suggest where they are positioned and where to look but in general I let people move around naturally until I see something that works and I’ll stop them. I like to keep my equipment mad simple, my camera, light meter and natural light, if possible. I’ll occasionally use an assistant, especially if I’m in a studio (which is rare). It all just depends on the job.

Do you think photography is a competitive field or is it just like any other industry?

Most definitely. It’s a crazy industry and there’s a lot of amazing photographers so it’s important to stand out in your own way. I always tell people to shoot as much as they can to develop their own style and learn what it is exactly you like to shoot. From that, I think it’s then good to shoot as much as you possibly can in order to get better and better and better. There’s always room for improvement. I think it’s also really important to know what jobs are for you and which aren’t. It’s definitely good to learn that you don’t have to say yes to everything.

Who is your biggest inspiration right now and why?

Zed Nelson. He always has been and probably always will be. He was my way into photography and whilst growing up would photograph so much of my world. Even to this day it’s his ever flowing ideas, the way he looks at the world and his personal projects that fascinate me. He’s also the reason I got my first medium format camera after assisting him on his project Hackney — A Tale of Two Cities.

You also create films which have the same raw and personal aesthetic. What interests you about film making?

Moving image is just an extension of what you can do with photography. There are many more layers to film and many more aspects to consider such as sound, different shots, how will I cut these shots together, cutaways, creating an obvious narrative. Film is a longer engagement with a subject or topic and piecing clips together to gain someone’s interest is a big task. Music videos are particularly fun and I like the idea of complimenting a great song with visuals that may exaggerate or promote the message behind the lyrics. I recently received an email from someone informing me that my last music video with my friend and incredible singer Etta Bond ‘Bad4Me’ inspired her latest college photography project and that’s such a cool feeling.

I really like the simplicity and directness of photography whereas film making is definitely something I’m trying to get my head around and actively working on developing those skills.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

I am indeed. One is a collaboration and I’m waiting for the artist to return to London so we can begin! I’m particularly excited about this project as it covers a few different mediums and I’ve been wanting to do something on this subject for so, so long. We have big plans for it, I don’t wanna give it away just yet but yeah I’m very ready to get going on that.

I’m also slowly working on putting my second zine together — full of my favourite portraits and maybe some notes and contact sheets added in too.

Since it’s the beginning of a new academic term, do you have any advice for photographers and filmmakers starting college or university?

I studied Photographic Arts at A-Level and skipped university. So from my own experience my main advice would be:

Get into the darkroom — It’s probably the thing I miss most, having daily access to the darkroom and that personal time and headspace to bring your images to life.

Add Metadata to your images — It’s so easily forgotten yet so easily done. Images are forever being shared on the internet, reblogged, reposted and your credit easily disappears. Adding Metadata just means all your information/credit is attached to the photo info forever.

Trust your gut — As long as you’re shooting something you believe in and love doing it, I believe you’ll get to where you want to be. Take your time, work on it everyday and trust that feeling in your gut!


Keep up with Rosie Matheson’s work on her website, Twitter and Instagram

By Amy Smithers. Originally published at #PHOTOGRAPHY Magazine