March 22, 2018

Familiar Faces – Iona Wolff’s Red Carpet Polaroid Portraits

Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Stella Gelardi Malfilatre

The walls of ‘We Are Cuts’ on Dean Street, London donned a selection of familiar faces captured on Polaroid film last month. From Alexa Chung to Lady Gaga the intimate close-ups were commissioned by Interview Magazine over the last three years from British photographer Iona Wolff. In her quaint apartment at the heart of London’s Soho we chatted over coffee to find out the stories behind her captures, and where she hopes her photography career will take her next.

So when did you first really get into photography or notice your interest in it?

I grew up in Winchester, and growing up we didn’t have any TV or internet, so the photo albums were actually quite a big thing in our home. My dad would always fill them up so I just loved looking at them. So I think that’s where I first learned about photography. But never thought I could become a photographer!

Do you remember when you picked up your first camera? And which was it?

I was documenting two sisters growing up at home, creating little shoots with them every weekend. I used a pretty rubbish digital camera at first, and then my grandfather had this Polaroid camera and I just remember seeing it in his office one time and thinking it was the most tempting thing ever. I bought some film for it when I was around 10 and started to make some pretty bad shots, tried to do some selfies. I remember cutting them up and getting a bit more familiar with the film. Being very careless and playful. This one time a cleaner chucked away a film by accident because it was in a silver wrapper and she thought it was rubbish! That hurt.

Where did you draw inspiration for the types of photographs you wanted to make, once you started shooting?

I have never had a mad technical interest, never loved kit, and don’t love knowing everything about it. Instead, I spent a lot of time looking through fashion magazines. Whereas every other teenager would rip out the fancy editorial fashion shoots, I went straight to the party pages. I would focus in on people who were warmer, or who had nice details to their outfits. I would cut these pictures out and stick them on my wall – they were always intimate and candid party pictures. This is still my reference for all of my photo shoots today.

All of the images in your show feature famous faces. Can you tell us more about how you got into red carpet hopping?

All of the photos were taken for the Fashion Awards three years in a row from 2015 until last year for Interview Magazine. I waited for the final photocall on the red carpet just before they go into the ceremony. I just waited there and asked if they’d be up for it! When I photographed Kate Moss she said: “only if you’ll give me one!” I think Polaroid can reveal a different side of people – because of the contrast in the film or what light you have to shoot with. It is almost a tie between haunting or playful, which I like.

So that means maybe your photo is hanging on Kate Moss’ fridge now?

Either that, or she lost it in the cab home! My first year I asked David Beckham if I could photograph him and he said: “you shouldn’t waste the film on me, it’s expensive.” [laughs] Another one was fashion designer Molly Goddard. She was really sweet, she told me that it was the only image she liked of herself from that night. There is just something really flattering about Polaroid photos, isn’t there?

All of the celebrity portraits you captured seem natural and unique, how did you encourage them to pose for their Polaroid photograph?

Basically, you’ve got to be a monkey – you know monkey says, monkey do. Usually, you just get a few seconds interaction with each person. For example with Lady Gaga, I literally had to gesture to her with my own body, and then she did a mad gaze – and that was her response! She totally had more ideas of how to pose and was a bit more creative. But even that tiny movement can encourage them to do something just a little bit different. Sometimes the generic poses are beautiful, sometimes that is perfect. I found that I have to really work my own face to get them to react sometimes. It’s not about the perfect image but a feeling.

It must have been nerve-wracking at first. Do you think that the Polaroid camera helps the subject feel more comfortable?

I love the awkwardness of shooting at events and I am just realizing that the nerves don’t come into it anymore. I kind of embrace the tiredness or stress related to it and enjoy it. My first year I only found out that same morning so I didn’t have time to get nervous. When you get to the event the red carpet is such a long walk leading up to The Royal Albert Hall, and I am usually stood in the foyer. We are their first point of a warm welcome so it seems like a bit of a relief for them once they reach us. I try and find an alternative background to the logo press boards if I can, which helps the resulting portrait to feel more private. Gigi Hadid’s people were about to drag her away from me, and she said, “No no no…I love Polaroid I am going to do this” [laughs] So I guess it is a mix of me as a person and the trust that there is in Polaroid as a brand. I must admit the 8 shots does sometimes challenge me, especially on the red carpet, but that is also the beauty of it.

Can you describe what it is like to document these kinds of parties? What do you look for once you are on the hunt for moments to capture?

There’s a real kind of coziness when you are at the end of the red carpet for a full day, you make friends with the security around you, they help you out, if your hands are freezing they help you open up your film packs. That way I think that as a photographer you look and feel more official. Some of my Polaroid photos from the red carpet are actually captured on the way to the bathroom; because even celebrities need to answer the call of nature! Once you are there you just need to relax and have your eye on the ball. I am not told what to document once I am at the party, I have complete freedom and trust. So I just choose people I like to photograph. I look for small details, even if I don’t know who the person is I will still photograph them. I would always be more inspired by the texture of their clothing than how famous that person is.

What’s next for you? Do you see yourself continuing down this route of event photography or trying something else?

Events are great because a lot happens and there is a great spontaneity and there is a lot of freedom, but there are also a lot of expectations to be fulfilled in a really short space of time. Even so, I have learned that I just want to create portraits that feel natural and have a warmth to them. I feel like I need a break from this scene actually, so I am going to Goa for a little while now. I need a complete change of scene and pace, and I want to go and shoot film stills. Have a bit of a break from events and parties in terms of work. Looking forward to seeing what I will create there, and shoot some Polaroid photos – of course!

See more of Iona’s Originals on IG: @ionawolffphoto