10 January 2018

Capturing characters and icons with Alexis Chabala

From George Clinton to Shuggie Otis.

[A]lexis Chabala is a photographer with a truly international perspective. Born in Zambia, raised in France, Morocco and Belgium, Alexis learned to see the world through many different lenses from an early age. Transitioning from fine art into photography, he has honed a distinctive approach to portraiture, creating visuals that feel truly in the moment. From George Clinton to Shuggie Otis, he captures music icons with warmth and honesty, and brings raw energy and character to his fashion images. We caught up with him to talk about photographing his heroes and finding inspiration in London.

Hi Alexis, when did you first know photography was your thing?

I was studying fine art in Brussels at the time and really into drawing detailed comic books. We were given our first photography assignment and I quickly discovered that I was quite good at the technical side. I was the only student in the class to expose the entire film correctly, and my images were given good feedback too!

I loved the instantness of taking photographs.. where a comic strip could take me days, even weeks to complete, this was immediate and I was sold.  I borrowed my girlfriend’s dad’s Cannon T70 for the next couple of the years, and moonlighting as a ‘really crap waiter’, I eventually earned enough money to buy my first camera.

A Prince in his own world

Your images draw out a really strong sense of character and emotion from your subjects - how do you put them at ease?

I think it helps that I am naturally a very open and curious person. People and their stories fascinate me so I have always found a way to connect.

I would say I am very confident in what I want to achieve visually and direct in how I communicate this.  So I think this also helps to create a trust.  And if something doesn’t work, then we just try something else… there is never any stress about it. Ultimately, this connection with the subject is vital for me to take a good picture.

George Clinton

Who is your favourite person that you've shot so far?

I have been working on a personal music project with producer Lorayne Crawford for the past 2 years now. “The Influence Project” has allowed me to meet and take the portrait of many of my heroes from Public Enemy’s Chuck D to Leon Ware and The Roots… there are so many!

Out of the 100 artists I have shot so far for the project, my shoot with George Clinton is still one of my favourites, he was so cool!  We spent an entire afternoon with him at the studio followed by his incredible show with Parliament Funkadelic at the Forum.

Anderson .Paak

What would you like to see more of in fashion photography right now?

Continuing diversity.  Although it feels like we are in a better place right now, my concern is that this diversity is only ‘fashionable’ at this moment and will revert back to the way it was before.

How does London influence your work?

London has an energy and creativeness like no other city I know. Being surrounded daily by such a mix of people and cultures, having access to art, exhibitions and live music along with endless opportunities to collaborate, continues to inspire my work. There are so many talented and creative people in London it pushes you to excel and challenge yourself.

Misty Copeland

Who would you most love to shoot that you haven't yet?

I have a very, very long list of people I would like to shoot before I die. From Activist Angela Davis to Actors like Sydney Poitier, all of whom have had a positive influence on me as a Black man.

Right now if I had to name few names, I would say Spike Lee, Obama, Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu.

Ron Jeremy

Who should we be following on Instagram?

@ibkamara who is one of my favourite stylists, @delphinediallo a contemporary artist and photographer @carlota_guerrero are some of my favourites at the moment

Along with myself @Kamunika and my project on Twitter @influence_proj of course!

Thanks Alexis!

Discover more of Alexis’ photography in the gallery below and over on his website