London-based photographer Romany Francesca is keenly aware of the identity politics at play in portrait photography. In her words: “As a society, unknowingly sometimes, we rely on portraiture to inspire our choices and direction as people. Even something like a selfie can influence what is seen to be cool, beautiful or appropriate.”
For Romany, it’s about harnessing that power and channelling it towards making tangible changes that reframe societal and individual conceptions of the kinds of visual identities that deserve to be platformed. “It starts with showing different kinds of role models through the empowerment of others in front of the lens," she tells us. "We definitely live in a generation where we can maximise on resources at an early age to create our own mould that we see fit to show and represent people authentically.”
Romany describes herself as “a very visual person”. Having experimented with a variety of artistic mediums like painting, sculpture and installation art as a means “to visually illustrate history, people and cultures,” Romany found the greatest resonance with photography, and started taking photographs professionally during her time studying media, culture and communication at UAL. She says: “We studied the complexities of how social and cultural demands impact digital media forms, by examining the technological advances we have seen in recent years, as well as policies and practices that drive modern media communications. This really allowed me to analyse media and assess certain areas that I didn’t agree with.”
Now, she shoots with brands like Illustrated People, Asos and Los Angeles Apparel. Beyond commissioned work, Romany’s self-initiated projects are centred on improving representation within the industry for people of colour and people with diverse body types. Her personal portraits embrace a range of visual identities, and all pay close attention to the unique character of her sitters. She describes this approach: “It is very focused on the individual. It would be an injustice to portray them in a way that isn’t true to them. Before starting my shoot, I ensure they feel secure in my dedication to them as a person in front of my lens, encouraging a mutual trust which is very important for the best outcome of my work.”
To this end, Romany’s photographic aesthetic is, “fresh, clean-lined and focused.” Shooting in both analogue and film, her use of natural lighting and minimalist, unpretentious scenery ensures that her sitters remain the focal point of her compositions. She speaks of “capturing them in a pure light where the setting is stripped back – humble, you might say – but in which their presence as a person is enough to make the image full and loud! Allowing them to just be, that is enough.”
In an effort to bring the ethos behind her personal portraiture into greater prominence in the wider industry, Romany founded her own modelling agency, Rare Select Models (RSM). “RSM is a dynamic London-based modelling agency that proudly represents models from varied backgrounds and authentically champions diversity and inclusivity in its visual representation of models within the fashion industry through campaigns, editorials and commercials,” she explains. Founded in 2017, the agency seeks to challenge the exclusivity of beauty standards still held within the intersecting worlds of fashion and photography: “In the age of empowerment, Rare Select Models is on a mission to break the stereotypes and challenge the westernised, conformist criteria by which beauty has traditionally been measured.”
Between her commissioned work, her portraiture and her modelling agency, Romany is keen to “continue creating bigger projects to be appreciated on a larger scope,” and to carry on “creating wider conversations through visual appreciation of photography” that have a real import for representation and diversity. She regards herself as part of a “long overdue wave of exciting change and acceptance”.