Interview With Photographer Ronan Mckenzie

Interview by Rose Miyonga

I first came across Ronan Mckenzie’s photography in December 2015, around the time of her Dalston exhibition A Black Body, and have been a fan ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to share some of her stories and inspirations with us.

Her photographs capture the epitome of ‘London cool’, but also convey a deeper message: the celebration and demystification of the black body. As such she challenges the mainstream representations that fear and fetishise Blackness, refusing to be silenced and exploring the diversity of faces, bodies and opinions that exists.

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Mckenzie has been featured in Dazed and Confused, i-D and Vogue, to name but a few.

She may be young, shockingly young considering the depth and breadth of her work, but don’t be fooled, the 21 year old knows what she’s talking about.

Where were you born? Tell us a little about your childhood

I’m 21, I was born and live in Walthamstow – North East London. I had loads of fun as a kid, there were some tough times, but i have a lot of funny and happy memories; one time my brother took a biscuit without asking from the cupboard so my mum took us all to the police station and got a police officer to tell us off, I never stole anything again.

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When did you first pick up a camera? 

We were always around cameras when we were young, my parents took a lot of photos and videos of us, and my mum always gave us disposable cameras or Polaroids to take on school trips, but I only thought of photography as a career early last year.

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I heard that you dropped out of Central Saint Martin’s after two weeks. What happened? 

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From the ‘A Black Body’ series

It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like myself – I was coming home feeling low and didn’t put any passion into any of my work so I knew there was no point me being there. I was going to try and stick it out until Christmas but I just trusted my instinct and jumped ship after 2 weeks. 

Your December 2015 exhibition ‘A Black Body’ was a wonderful exploration of black identity. What messages were you trying to share?

I just wanted to show black beauty and diversity, that was the main idea. I felt and still feel for the most part that black people were always portrayed as one type of person in the media, and I wanted to create a space full of different black faces, bodies and personalities.

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You’ve been featured in Vogue, Wonderland, Dazed and Confused and many more big fashion publications. Was it hard to get exposure in mainstream magazines? Was it something you sought? 

Well when I first started it was more about getting my work seen by as many people as possible so I would shoot and send it off to small magazines, websites and anyone who would take it. When it came to my exhibition, because I’d been interning and assisting in the fashion industry since I was 16, I had a few friends that helped me get exposure on big platforms like i-D and Dazed. It is difficult to get exposure in mainstream magazines, and now that I know my work and my style, I’m not about just pushing my work to anyone and more about selecting what’s best for me and creating my own platforms..

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What needs to change in the way the fashion industry treats women, and especially women of colour? 

I think this is a very exciting time for women, and all creatives because opportunities are broad, and if you work hard you can achieve. I think with platforms like Gal Dem, ethnic minority women have a safe place to speak openly on their experiences which is amazing. We need that to become mainstream. 

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 You always bring out great depth in your subjects. How do you choose your models? 

I just shoot anyone that catches my eye, it’s difficult to explain but I love faces that for some reason jump out at me. It could be that I see the kindness in their eyes or they just have incredible ears haha, but it just catches my eye.

What do you find beautiful?

A warm soul.

ronanmckenzieWho are some of your mentors? Who inspires you? 

At the moment I’m so inspired by Simone Biles!! 4’9, from a non conventional family, defied all odds and is world champion! That shows true determination and passion!

What are you working on right now? 

I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉 

11. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂 

Follow Ronan on Instagram

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