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Interview - Toyin Ibidapo

by Penny Martin .

Penny Martin: You are predominantly known as a stills photographer. What prompted you to make a film?

Toyin Ibidapo: A few things: firstly my Radiohead obsession - I'd love to shoot their videos; then, of course, the chance to see my work come to life, the opportunity to show every angle, the movement and fluidity, the full rapture I have with my subjects.

Penny Martin: What is the difference between shooting stills and motion?

Toyin Ibidapo: When you do a still you are creating, hopefully, a lasting image. But sometimes, and especially with boys who aren't animated - who are silent, maybe more reserved, but have presence - it's always when you are not shooting them that they relax a bit more. They move their heads in a certain way or their hands, whilst all the time I'm still watching them. I'll see something that they've done and say "DO THAT AGAIN!" but they don't know what they just did. It was a simple natural reaction. With films, you get everything. I think it's the next natural thing to explore for a photographer.

Penny Martin: Your photography seems quite personal and your method solitary. Yet this project originated out of a collaboration with Kim Jones. What was it like involving another creative in your working process?

Toyin Ibidapo: The thing with Kim was that he got it! He understood where I was coming from. He'd seen my first film project, 'The Cult of Boys' and wanted something similar for his London Fashion Week A/W 2003/04 presentation - a film instead of a catwalk show. The idea was great, and we had an amazing response to the final result, but the process was actually quite stressful! First I wasn't sure I wanted to give my world away to so many people at such a high profile event - but I did. It was a strange feeling, very close to feeling vulnerable. The thing is until then my film work was quite secretive, only a very few people had seen it. Directing and editing the film for a purpose was also different. I had to make sure Kim was happy too. Whereas I would normally keep a closed set, just me and my subject, or the editor, this time I had a whole team to consider. It was difficult opening up and letting people in, especially when I had to work through creative blocks, but the end result was definitely worth it.

Penny Martin: Can you describe the role of the model in your work?

Toyin Ibidapo: I'm obsessed by beautiful boys, boys who are effeminate but don't necessarily know it. Androgyny is intriguing to me. It's an incredibly distinctive look that a lot of straight men can't handle.

The boys I photograph, the chosen ones!, need to be able to project this, to show the world that there's something special about the way they look. They've got to stir up those special feelings, let me observe their teenage years, their puberty, provoke questions. Is he in the prime of his beauty? How will he grow? What will he be like in a couple of years? Will he maintain what he has now?

What takes the most time is finding the right models to photograph. I realise you can't put everyone in front of the camera. You can be beautiful but if you're an arsehole it doesn't work for me. It's important to elicit honest responses, to find people who aren't scared to let you in. Intimacy is something a lot of people find difficult to communicate, which is why I often shoot the same faces again and again. There's something about them that keeps me coming back for more and the trust has been built up.

Penny Martin: In the original film of Kim Jones' Autumn/Winter '03 collection, which this shorter film grew out of, there were girls as well as your customary androgynous boys. Is it different photographing women?

Toyin Ibidapo: If a girl is confident and gutsy, it's not different at all. I can have the same intrigue with girls as I do with boys. It's just I find men more of a challenge.

Penny Martin: It is clear that the fashion garments are secondary to the representation of the male body in your imagery. How do you approach the inclusion of fashion in a shoot?

Toyin Ibidapo: I think it's important to work with the right people editorially, people who won't be afraid to let me shoot freely. Of course I do show the clothes, we always make sure what needs to be featured is there, but put it this way - if he's topless we're both happy!

Penny Martin: The atmosphere and production values of your film work make it reminiscent of music videos. Do you regard film as part of your photographic body of work or as a separate, more commercially oriented endeavour?

Toyin Ibidapo: Both. Music is very important to me. It's another source of inspiration. To be able to close your eyes whilst listening to something that makes you feel a certain way is magical in itself. If I can capture some of that magic in my moving images, then I'm happy. I'd also like to break into music videos, but only where I've got a free reign and can work with the artist to create something that really says something.

Penny Martin: What are your plans for the 'boys' project?

Toyin Ibidapo: My plan was to shoot 100 androgynous and interesting boys. It's taken me about four years so far! When completed, I plan to publish it with the title "The Cult of Boys', and then to exhibit the images alongside my film work.