What inspired the general theme for ‘Layers’ and, further, the makeup used?
JS: The general theme for ‘Layers’ was to do a project that celebrates women of all ages and to explore the layers that are created as they age – the knowledge, memories and experience. These layers are always there, though some more vivid than others. As a make-up artist, I was inspired by the women themselves, and I felt it was my job to let them shine, almost as though they had done it themselves rather than it look like a glossy editorial shoot – I didn’t want any common thread running through the makeup, therefore, keeping them truly individual.
What inspired you to collaborate with photographer Asiko and floral designer Wise to launch this empowering project?
JS: I have been friends with Jo for a long time and find her work endlessly inspiring, and I did the makeup for a set of floral couture pieces that she’d made for various events. We really enjoyed doing these and realised we wanted to do a project together that would be pro-women, plus combine our love of nature. Asiko was the perfect photographer because I love the way he shoots the natural world and women; he is also incredibly calm on set, which I felt was really important in helping everyone feel at ease whilst being photographed. The inspiration for the project grew from a shared view of the adulation of youth in the media, and we wanted to do a story to balance that – to celebrate all women.
You place huge emphasis on celebrating and empowering women. Why is this so important to you?
JS: For me, it’s close to my heart at the moment as I have a daughter that has just turned 13, and I want her to be inspired by the kind of women we have featured in our project; I want her to feel empowered to be herself. I see a lot of really young girls trying to contour their face into a very generic look, and as a make-up artist, I find this a little bland. We must never stop trying to empower women; there are so many in the world who are not empowered due to cultural, religious or domestic factors, and this is a tragedy. I’m sure Asiko has something else to say…
A: The idea of empowering women has come from my personal journey in my relationship with my wife. I have been married for seven years, and I am understanding the advantage of an empowered woman – I am understanding the dynamic and how it has blossomed my partnership with my wife. This has translated in how I see other women and how I feel empowerment of women can help improve the world around me and society. Also coming from Nigeria, where women are often treated like second-class citizens, I am interested in the dialogue of that situation and have a certain empathy towards women in that plight.
Are you considering more projects like this? If so, what would you like to see?
A: I would definitely like to shoot another project, perhaps something a little more technical for me this time but still nature inspired. A few years ago, Jo had me ironing petals so that I could then apply them to a model’s face – so to expand on that sort of idea would really interest me!
Who had the final say in who was chosen? Who was your favourite person to work alongside in this project?
JS: We all had a say, and I think it was really obvious which shots worked – we had a common understanding of what we were trying to portray.
Favourite person? Ooh, that’s tricky – I really enjoyed them all. I enjoyed learning about the women that Asiko and Jo chose to shoot, but if I’m pushed, I would say when Lady Penelope Newall sat on set – that was a favourite moment for me. As soon as the light hit her, she looked utterly striking, and she was so gracious and interested in what we were doing. I think her portrait looks like a classic oil painting, and I love it.
In today’s society, women are still facing challenges around the world. How important is it to show a diverse range of women in this light?
JS: Incredibly important. The women in ‘Layers’ span the generations, are of different backgrounds and will have each faced different challenges, yet what they all have in common is that they are engaged in the world and their place in it. When you are secure of your place in the world, it’s clear to see where you can contribute to those less fortunate than yourself.
Asiko, do you have any thoughts on this?
A: The world I live in reflects a diverse set of women across race, age, size, lifestyle, religion and so that is reflected in my work. For me, it is quite important to reflect the many beautiful women I see in the world around me. A lot of my work revolves around women, and I am interested in exploring the story of womanhood in today’s society.
What inspired the evolving flower wall? What does it portray?
JS: I would love to pass this over to the florist, Jo, to answer…
JW: I love the idea of using flowers as an artist’s medium. Nature’s paintbox – their fleeting beauty that makes way for new growth has always captured my imagination. These qualities inspired me to create the flower wall for ‘Layers.’ I wanted the backdrop to the portraits to change over time, with some elements fading, allowing new layers to grow.
What advice would you give to younger generations today?
JS: Be yourself, find your own voice and know that someone, somewhere will want to listen and be open to listening in return. Life is richer for the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
And finally, how would you describe ‘Layers’ in 80 characters or less?
JS: ‘Layers’ celebrates women & nature through photographic portraiture and floral installation.