Naila Ruechel: How the model turned photographer defies stereotypes

Naila Ruechel: How the model turned photographer defies stereotypes
Colour Surge - The mood in this photograph is precisely what I wanted to achieve. Getting two people to be exactly there at the right moment can sometimes be challenging. Here, I think everything works perfectly. Their body language speaks volumes.

Naila Ruechel is interested in photography as a tool for revolution. Through her work, she seeks to expand our perception of beauty by subverting stereotypes, challenging gender bias and celebrating a diverse range of women.

During her career Naila successfully conquered the difficult transition from working in front of, to behind the lens. Her evolution from model to stylist, and stylist to photographer was made possible by her perseverance, grit and determination. At every stage she was the underdog, working twice as hard to prove herself. “The industry is guilty of pigeon holing. People underestimate your abilities and feel the need to keep you in one box.”

Naila Ruechel
Emily - One of my favourite pictures. I love how she is completely swallowed up by the most luscious emerald green. I like to play with elements of the natural world in my work, harnessing the power of nature.

The experience she gained as a model and stylist contributed to her success as a photographer. As a model she acquired the skills to communicate emotion through body language. As a stylist, she discovered the power of wardrobe to make or break a photograph. These learnings made her a stronger and more empathetic photographer. Unlike other image makers, she has unique insight into how to get the most out of the people she collaborates with.

Naila Ruechel
Tess - Often when I shoot indoors, I am thinking, “How can I make it feel like we are outdoors?” Even if it is not immediately obvious in the photographs, it’s what I’m thinking.

From an early age, Naila knew she wanted to spend her life making images. Growing up, her father, a commercial photographer set her assignments shooting everyday objects. She learned how to construct an image and how to think visually. She was surrounded by images. Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Nick Knight were all part of her visual vocabulary.

At fourteen, she started making portraits of her class mates. She observed the transformative affect her photographs had on these young women. They felt empowered, had a renewed confidence and a stronger sense of self. Naila began to understand the power of photography and its ability to engage an audience and change perceptions in a meaningful way.

“Being a woman has shaped my journey as a photographer. I’m not interested in perpetuating racial stereotypes or conforming to the media’s standard of beauty. I want to make work which speaks to and reflects all women.”

Naila Ruechel
Colour Surge - I built a set in the studio that I wanted to feel like being in a jungle or a tropical rainforest complete with moss floors. I spend a lot of time in the flower district in Manhattan and usually get carried away and buy too much. There is just so much beauty in nature, it’s impossible to not want everything and I suppose being Jamaican, tropical plants and flowers are just in my blood.

Naila’s work explores womanhood; she blends her unique perspective on femininity with bold colour and graphic compositions to striking effect. Through her work she aims to bring a more universal representation of beauty into visual culture. In her most recent project ‘Hijabists’ she celebrates the hijab, and the culture of dressing modestly. The work portrays Muslim women in a fresh and modern way, while respecting their traditions.

Naila Ruechel
Roya - This image is from a shoot about modern hijabists. I love the combination of movement with this styling. I work with dancers a lot and try to hire them whenever possible even if the project is not related to dance. Dancers, especially ballerinas have two things I love in models; discipline and stamina!

As a female photographer, she has faced a male dominated industry head on. “Men hire men. There is definitely a brotherhood, which many women are excluded from. Often women photographers get siloed. They suggest women can only shoot certain subject matters specifically relating to women’s issues.

I believe women can contribute to things which are not just inherently female and diversity in gaze is crucial to a more inclusive media landscape.”

Naila’s strength and creativity have allowed her to navigate the challenging world of commercial photography. She has embraced career evolution with courage and conviction, making her a stronger, more versatile image maker. She has passionately focused her work on portraying a more diverse and inclusive representation of women, defying her critics every step of the way.

Advice from Naila

  • Make your work personal. Really investigate why you make images and what you want to say to the world through your work. My work only really started to look and feel the way I wanted it to when I made images that were very personal to me. The lack of diversity in the media was frustrating. Through my work I refuse to conform to these generic standards of beauty, I want to celebrate women of all ethnicities, body sizes, ages and abilities.

  • Evolution is key. As an image-maker it’s vital to keep experimenting and pushing your work forward. Clients are always hunting for new approaches to storytelling. If your work stagnates, then so do you. Experiment, play and research. Bring new influences into your work and don’t be afraid to take risks.

  • Don’t worry about labels, photographers are always pressured to define themselves.  I’ve had many internal battles about jumping between making images for art or commerce. I always worried if I made commercial work, I would be selling out. It felt like you had to pick one or the other. Times are changing, the industry is more fluid and it’s easier to traverse between art and commercial work.

Skrevet av Gemma Fletcher

Canon Professional Services

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