“I naturally feel drawn to people,” says London-based photographer Erika Bowes. “I think since my 14-year-old self started seeing models of colour on Tumblr – and having grown up in the North, where you’re surrounded by white kids – I’ve always related more to it.” Having moved from Hawaii to the UK as a youngster, Erika found herself swimming, travelling to Japan (where her mother is from), taking pictures on an underwater film camera and “re-blogging for hours” on the internet. She found herself building connections with the many people online, plus discovering “so many beautiful girls who are now my friends.” This affectionate and devoted take on photography has, in turn, led to an impressive portfolio filled with personal projects and client work ranging from Nylon China, Sicky Mag, Wonderland, and Tank magazine.
As an “internet kid” drawn towards platforms such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, Erika’s fascination with the visual language blossomed. “I used to always take photos of my little Shiba Inu, Hanako, when she was a puppy on the old canon film camera that my mum gave me – the same one she used as a teenager,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I’d then play around on Lightroom and PhotoShop, teaching myself new tricks and trying to recreate colours I’d seen online or in movies. I’ve loved it ever since then.” Citing the 1980’s and 90’s as her most impressionable decades, she also pulls much of her inspiration from old cinema: “I try to capture moments that feel like they could have been taken during this time, or taken on a film set.”
Further influences of Erika’s derive from Pinterest, where she accumulates boards filled with colour and photography, sourced mostly from Christopher Doyle and old Asian cinema. “I’m also obsessed with lighting,” she says. “It’s something I’m experimenting with at the moment – I’m not that great but it’s fun to play with.” When she moved to London, it was then that she realised the importance of building a relationship between with her subjects. “Having a connection to the person I’m shooting always helps me to create the most genuine images,” she says. “I hate shoots when they’ve felt awkward and it really shows in the pictures – I always doubt myself after that.”
Recently, Erika photographed Nora – a personal series that sees a tranquil sequence of posed yet beautifully candid shots of a young woman. Staged in front of a neighbourhood and familiar street locations, the series protrudes with honesty and friendship. Elsewhere, she captured Kasper – a grainy, heavily contrasted and virtuous series that sees a girl posing in front of the lens. “My favourite work usually comes from my travels, as it feels the most natural and sentimental,” she explains. “All the locations are found by walking around and the people in the photographs are usually someone really close to me.” Though her last trip abroad was in December 2018, she has since been slowly (but surely) collating her imagery and working on a zine – a project she hopes will be published in the next couple of weeks.
Additionally, Erika and her artist, designer and photographer friend Yuki Haze founded their own publication, titled Sukeban – which translates as ‘girl boss’ in Japanese. Born out of a trip to Tokyo visiting family in 2016, the two realised the need for for a platform like Sukeban: “We felt that there wasn’t a platform with great representation of POC talent. After months of planning, finding a name (with thanks to Yuki’s mum) and the kind of content we wanted to create, we finally launched Sukeban.” Running mainly off commissions, the magazine covers art, documentary and fashion – and resonates entirely with the young photographer’s ethos. “We focus on pushing work made by POC who don’t necessarily have a strong social presence,” Erika concludes. “Additionally, we aim to give people a place to collaborate without feeling totally alienated from taken you usually see written about online.” A necessary addition to the publishing sphere, indeed.
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