Arielle Bobb-Willis captures celebrities with a colourful eye
Arielle describes her signature style as a “sweet swelling,” a confectionery which has attracted the attention of many since we last caught up with the photographer.
- Joey Levenson
- 26 October 2021
Back in 2018, we first covered the colourful and whimsical world of Los Angeles-based Arielle Bobb-Willis. Since then, the photographer has gone on to accomplish a lot, to say the least. “Right after our last interview I got the L’uomo Vogue cover,” she gushes. “It was such a beautiful opportunity, and from there everything has been going really well.” This makes Arielle one of the few photographers to have a Vogue cover, of any kind, before even reaching 25. It’s well deserved. “Then, I had my first ever set shoot with Nike in Paris and I was immensely terrified because it was all so new,” Arielle tells us. “But I was also entirely present and intrigued by the idea that this is my life and so grateful to have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them quickly.” We knew at the time that Arielle’s unique eye for colour and shape, and her happy-go-lucky disposition would take her far into the stratosphere of editorial photography, so to see the fruits of her labour pay off is extremely rewarding. “I was a part of The New Black Vanguard book and Aperture show in 2019, and then in 2020 I had a shoot with Valentino and Lady Gaga in Los Angeles,” she adds. “So all good things, all in good timing.”
However, it hasn’t all been an easy climb for Arielle in the ascent of her career. “Now that I'm working on these sets these days, I’ve encountered misogyny, and just people who questioned my direction,” she explains. “I feel like I’ve become a more assertive person, and I’m more aware of not allowing anyone to discredit what I bring to the table.” Needless to say, as a Black woman working in editorial photography, Arielle already faces an incredible breadth of challenges that her other white and male contemporaries do not. To work twice as hard to receive half as much is a tale as old as time for Black women, and Arielle’s approach is to transmute every experience into fuel for her fire. “It’s brought more confidence into my life outside of photography, because I’ve learned to communicate what I need on set which has upped my communication skills off set,” she says. “So it’s all been incredibly helpful and eye opening and mutually beneficial.”
In addition to changing her outlook on life, Arielle’s clientele list has grown impressively large. Now, she’s a photographer to the stars. Of course, with an unending humble nature such as Arielle’s, this was never going to go to her head. Recently, Arielle did all the covers of The New York Times’ music issue, shooting the likes of Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Nas X. “It was all so fun,” she admits. “I was nervous about the celebrities a tiny bit right up until the moment they walked in the room, but then I realised, “Oh! You’re just a person who works super hard, that’s cool”.” Still, Arielle makes time to shoot for herself. “I have to,” she says. “It’s still a therapeutic practice for me.” Creating personal shoots, without any connection to a company or brand, are “super important” for the photographer. “I’ve also gotten more into surrealists, like staring at Max Ernst’s paintings,” she adds. “Our mutual love for the unconscious mind has pushed my improvisation on personal shoots a bit further.”
In the meantime, Arielle is steadfast on keeping herself growing as a person, not just a photographer. “I’ve been shooting and working and traveling and started to accept the beauty of impermanence,” she explains. “I’ve become a more hopeful person all around.” Perhaps, even, it’s this hopeful energy which seeps through into her photos and makes them so pleasingly addictive to the eye. We even try to goad her into telling us which, of the many celebrities she shot, are her favourite. “I didn’t have a favourite, just all of them,” she says with a smile. “I appreciate each for their differences.” As for what’s next, Arielle likes to keep it simple. “I hope to always remain a student,” she muses. “I remain curious and gentle, and hope to always stay on Tumblr.”
Arielle Bobb-Willis: Lil Nas X, New York Times Music Issue 2020 (Copyright © Arielle Bobb-Willis, 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.