Having dabbled in different art forms growing up, Stephanie Galea’s interest in photography didn’t actually come about until she completed a degree in Chemistry at the University of Malta. “I suddenly felt like I didn’t want to pursue a career in science, and art was always in my life one way or another, also seeing as my mother is a painter,” she explains.
While she figured out what her next step would be, Stephanie enrolled in the foundation Diploma within the Architecture department in Malta, and it was there that she started taking photography seriously. Working hard on her portfolio, she applied at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design (UAL) and got offered a place on the MA Fine Art Photography course. “I haven’t really looked back since,” she says, having moved to London as she completed her course, to assist photographers in the industry such as Louie Banks and Amelia Troubridge, before venturing out on her own.
Speaking of themes she deals with in her work, Stephanie identifies a recurring theme as “women, the female gaze and how it relates to where I’m from,” where she feels a little conflict exists. “When I photograph women it’s not just about the clothing and everything looking ‘pretty’ and seemingly fine. It’s more about the story behind it. I feel like the photography industry is obsessed with sexualising women, but things are changing. It’s about handing women the torch. Everyone should be fine with that.”
With a preferred subject matter of fashion and art, and the ways in which they intersect, Stephanie goes on to explain her creative process, which very much depends on whether she’s working on an assignment or a personal project. “In my fashion work, I could be inspired by a location or by a collection, and then it becomes a theme. I then research imagery and literature associated with the theme and start making a board and move on from there. On the other hand, my fine art projects stem from a feeling I have, things which have made me feel uncomfortable over the years and want to address,” she says.
The fashion photographer and visual artist finds inspiration in “strong women, beautiful places, imagery and literature,” and is also inspired by her past, and the environment in which she was brought up. Asked whether there are any artists she looks up to, she names Viviane Sassen, Harley Weir and Jack Davidson, adding, “their work plays with surrealism and photography in a contemporary way.”
I go on to ask what it is about fashion photography that captures her interest above other forms, and Stephanie explains that it’s mainly got to do with the aggressiveness of fashion, and also the form. “It’s unapologetic, exciting, fast-paced and also beautiful. I am very inspired by the industry, and often pieces or collections would inspire an idea for a shoot too. I feel like it almost happened naturally.”
Apart from her fashion work, Stephanie also pursues fine art photography, and explains that she’s currently working on a few projects which relate to the Maltese culture as well as sex, guilt and religion. “My personal work differs from my fashion work as there is no emphasis on the clothing or designer, especially if it’s a commercial client, there are no guidelines. My work is about my vision and the person I’m photographing and their take on life,” she affirms.
So would she consider her photographs to tell a story, I ask, and if so, what is that story? “My story, possibly? I’m not sure as art is really subjective, but I try to make beautiful imagery with an underlying, possibly not so beautiful, story. My nude work is ‘beautiful’ you could say, but it stems from the stigma surrounding the female body and being brought up in such a religious and conservative country. It’s me trying to tell other women to be unapologetic about who there are,” Stephanie says.
Moving on to whether she feels that art and photography can be a career, Stephanie believes it to be a career “if you’re willing to work hard at it and if you believe in yourself”, asserting that, “art doesn’t just happen, you’re not just ‘inspired’, and even if you are, it takes more than inspiration to start and finish a project.”
Looking back on the highlights of her journey into photography so far, she maintains that every time her work gets published is a highlight, “when I get to work with talented people and when projects come to fruition.” And having had work published on huge industry players like Vogue Italia, Vogue Arabia, Vogue Arabia Man, Tank, I-D, Elle and Nylon, as well as having worked with brands like Dior Homme, Dior Beauty, Dunhill, Kate Spade, Ted Baker and Victor & Rolf, it’s not hard to see why!
Finally, asked what her advice to aspiring photographers would be, Stephanie asserts, “as cliché as it sounds, be yourself and try to get away from the noise. There are lots of things other people are doing and it can be overwhelming. Take time to invest in yourself, keep your mind open and really be aware of what you’re interested in and what you’d like your work to be about.”
This feature originally appeared in The Commercial Courier