All images by Phoebe Jane Barrett. Used with permission.
Phoebe Jane Barrett creates tender photographs. When we look at her work, we don’t see personas or facades, we see authentic humans. Achieving this is no easy feat. And it’s clear she has the skill to connect with people. This is why it came as a surprise when she said, “I definitely lean more towards introversion.” “After a while, I felt the pull to challenge myself and push myself forward, collaborate more and focus on a variety of subjects and genres.” It’s a challenge that paid off as her work is a great example of powerful portraiture.
Whether it’s love, pain, or vulnerability, emotionally driven photography says a lot about a person. For us, it was clear that Phoebe was a deep thinker; someone who likes to explore and ask questions. Still only 23, she has achieved much. She shoots weddings, portraits, and societal issues, all whilst being the editor of an online magazine. It was her drive and creativity that made us certain she would be great to speak with. In this interview she confirmed exactly that, giving intimate insight into her motivations, hurdles, and creative way of thinking.
“… self-portraiture was a way of examining and almost verifying my own existence…”
Phoblographer: Let’s skip the small talk and get to the nitty-gritty. How do you feel about where you’re currently at, creatively speaking? What is working for you and what are the hurdles?
PJB: Right now I have a thousand ideas, it’s just finding the right ways to implement them. I’ve been living in Berlin for the past two years where there’s so much going on creatively so it’s a good source of inspiration. Recently spending more time back in the UK, I’ve been able to focus more on my wedding and couple work which I’m absolutely loving, as well as working on a few ongoing projects with musicians and artists which really keeps me fed creatively.
Phoblographer: When we look at the couple in your personal work, we feel their authentic bond. Who are your subjects and how did you manage to get them (and your other subjects) to be so real in front of the camera?
PJB: The particular couple you’re talking about is lovely Bridget and Ash who I met in Berlin a few months ago. I couldn’t tell you the exact answer to how I get my couples to be real and authentic on camera – I think it depends on a few things. It helps that I can empathize with how uncomfortable it sometimes feels having your photo taken. I’m the worst when it comes to that, so being able to put myself in their shoes usually makes them feel a little more at ease. When I head to a shoot with a couple I’m meeting for the first time, I will spend the first part chatting and getting to know them. If we vibe and have lots in common, that is a massive help and makes the whole shoot more relaxed. My favorite shoots usually turn out to be the ones where the couple were naturally creative and open-minded to trying different things.
“I think photography has always had the incredible power to challenge and redefine societal norms…”
Phoblographer: There’s some self-portraiture in there too. What inspired you to make those pictures and what kind of headspace do you need to be in in order to become the subject?
PJB: Self-portraits were pretty much how I began my journey into photography for a couple of reasons. Firstly, self-portraiture was a way of examining and almost verifying my own existence, I guess as a form of self-analysis and self-reflection. Secondly, I was always there, so it was easier to practice using myself as a subject rather than finding other people to shoot.
Phoblographer: You have done projects that focus on masculinity and gender. What role do you feel photography can play in relation to the complex issues linked to both topics?
PJB: I think photography has always had the incredible power to challenge and redefine societal norms, awareness around these topics is growing and the discussion is becoming more accessible through social media which is a great thing. I think we’re probably only at the very beginning in terms of where we should be on the scale of our progression as a society, but the role photography can play is instrumental.
Phoblographer: Looking at creative fuel, does your best work come out of your most challenging and darker moments, or do you need to be in a stable mindset in order to be firing on all cylinders?
PJB: For me, being in a stable and clear mindset allows me to be fully expressive and create properly, though I think being able to draw from past experiences and emotions is definitely useful. If I’m going through something challenging it usually leaves me with no extra mind space for creativity.
“It’s about giving them something that feels authentically them.”
Phoblographer: You also shoot weddings, couples, and elopements. What’s your opinion on romance and how does it influence the way you are documenting these moments?
PJB: I’d say I’m pretty romantic and very idealistic. I’m into all the cute stuff and I think this definitely shows through my work with couples, I like to portray love full of warmth and feeling, whilst keeping it as authentic as possible. I don’t ask my couples to do anything really posed or forced. It’s mostly just a process of letting things naturally unfold and allowing their natural dynamic to come through, whether they’re a cosy, affectionate couple, funny and silly, or passionate and intense. It’s about giving them something that feels authentically them. I think in the past I have explored the messier side of love through my personal work, but I’d be interested to explore this side more and see where I could go with it.
Phoblographer: When the camera is put away, what can people find you doing?
PJB: Travelling, daydreaming, going to exhibitions and gigs, cooking (and eating lots of) vegan food, dancing around my room to The Doors, ya know, just the usual.
Phoblographer: You’re a photographer, an editor, and a founder of a magazine. It’s fair to say that, at the age of 23, you’ve already achieved more than many will in their whole career. What’s your focus and goal going forward?
PJB: There’s so much I want to do and achieve, it’s really overwhelming to think about! This year my focus has been and still is to go all in with my wedding, couple and elopement work, I’m traveling quite a lot this year for weddings and other projects which is exciting and hope to do this more over the next year!