Inspired by the spirit of dance and ballet, photographer Ronan McKenzie heads to the studio with a host of talented Stella Kids who put their moves into practice wearing our latest kids’ collection.
The East London raised photographer captures uniquely honest and intimate shots of her subjects, bringing a fresh and modern approach to photography. In this story, Ronan’s images draw attention to the playfulness and happiness of dance, as well as choosing the boldest prints and brightest colours from the collection to illuminate an all-round sense of vibrancy.
Read our Q&A with Ronan to find out more about her background and how she was inspired to create a dance-themed story.
Ronan, what first made you want to become a photographer?
I actually never set out to be photographer, I initially thought I wanted to be a stylist, but after assisting stylists for a few months and being on set I always found myself so much more interested in what the photographer was doing. I wanted to be more in control of the final image in the way that the photographer connects with the subject/sitter and portrays the way they see them through the lens. I love that within my work I’m able to show people how I see things.
Tell us about your first experience with a camera.
I had always sort of been around cameras growing up; my sister had a polaroid when I was little that she would take on school trips, then a bit later on my mum had a 35mm point and shoot film camera which was just standard at the time. I never really thought much about photography until I was near the end of secondary school and started carrying disposables around with me everywhere, then it was only on my foundation that I would say I did a ‘shoot’.
It was with one of my closest friends Lorna Foran – who’s now smashing it – but at the time we were both pretty amateur and I photographed her around her flat in Bethnal Green in London wearing a two piece that I had made myself. I loved that shoot because it was the first time I would say I was aware that I was thinking about what I was doing before I clicked the shutter, even then I didn’t think photography would be a serious career choice but it definitely flicked a switch in my mind about what photography was to me.
There’s a certain intimacy to your portraits. How do you achieve that – does there have to be an element of trust?
Definitely – I think in general when you have your photo taken, you’re trusting that person to truly represent you, and so whoever I’m photographing needs to trust me enough to feel comfortable around me and allow me capture whatever it is about their essence, energy or being that I connect with.
For our Stella Kids story you headed to a ballet school. How did you find out about the school?
I practiced ballet from when I was about two and a half until fifteen, and since I began doing photography I’ve always been drawn in to the idea of exploring dance within my work. Ballet has always fascinated me because of the physical strength and mental discipline that it demands from each dancer, and although I practiced ballet when I was younger, I have always felt that there is a lack of representation of black and other ethnic minority dancers within the UK. I was inspired for this shoot by Instagram accounts such as ‘Brown Girls do Ballet’ and ‘Dance Theatre of Harlem’ who shine a light on young, talented dancers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in the US. Then bringing that idea into London, I went straight to Vestry School of Dance where I practiced at, and Rhea Dillon – who worked on the casting – found a range of dance schools around London that had a great diversity of young dancers.
The students are so talented! How was it working with them?
The girls were amazing, each was so full of energy and a true passion for dancing! Anna Hirst was on hand to lead them through a few exercises and routines, and some of the time was dedicated to freestyle dancing where some of the girls jumped into the splits or did cartwheels.
You chose the boldest and most colourful pieces from our Stella Kids collection to feature in the story. What did you like about the clothes?
Katie Burnett – who styled the piece – and I loved the bright colours and energy that breathes through the colourful collection; they’re fun, young, and great for moving around in. They have an amazing mix-and-match style which means although the colours run similar throughout, changing the way they were draped or layered on each girl really let their personalities shine through.