No poser: New York’s Shamayim shoots it like it is

Carmen Solomon by Shamayim

Model Carmen Solomon by Shamayim

Fashion photography is an art form that is part of our daily lives – on billboards, in magazines, books and online. These days, it is no longer just about photographing great clothes or posing with hands on hips and looking down at the camera.

Fashion photographers are changing the game by producing work that reflects a certain kind of attitude and creativity. One who has a carved a name for himself worldwide with his distinct style of shooting, mostly focusing on models of colour, is award-winning New York-based photographer, Shamayim.

His body of work includes fashion editorials, beauty as well as advertising, and has been published in high-end magazines and featured in advertising campaigns around the world.

I spoke to him during his Cape Town expedition, where he worked with several local top models.

Shamayim began his career after noticing the lack of diversity in fashion magazines, he says.

“I noticed that a lot of fashion magazines did not have many women of colour in them. And the magazines that did were mostly men’s magazines… and I just hated the way that they were portrayed”

“I didn’t think that they were shown in a very classy or classic way ,” says Shamayim “I just had an inclination to want to change that. Also, I had a girlfriend I was dating at the time who was a model, and I hated her photos because she was such a beautiful girl.

“She was very classy and all her photos looked trashy… it wasn’t really her fault, but she said that photographers never wanted to shoot black models in a glamorous way,” he explains.


“I picked up this little disposable camera and took snapshots of her and she really liked it. That was about 10 years ago. It has been a process ever since then.”

Eli Cruz

Eli Cruz by Shamayim

“I keep getting better and better at it, creating not only test shoots for women of colour, but test shoots in general… iconic and legendary images, but my priority will always be women of colour,” he says.

Shamayim’s pictures, mostly in black and white, display models in various forms of dance-like poses. Shot at dramatic angles, the images are captivating and different from your average portfolio shots.

Shamayim spends most of his time doing international photo shoot expeditions and workshops, working with top modelling agencies, fashion designers and make-up artists in countries including France, United Arab Emirates, England and Egypt.

“I like to concentrate on black and white because it is symbolic to me. I feel like there are two energies in every human being – like low and high vibrations or negatives and positives”

“I really think you can capture that when you take away the colour and just concentrate on the contrast of the negative and the positive. It complements my work more because it captures the struggle between two people.”

“I use the most minimal amount of retouching because I was trained to capture a photograph in the camera, and not after you have taken the photo.

“I fix things you could not fix, like make-up or lighting… I might also sharpen the image a little bit just to show contrast of the shadows, but I am not a big fan of overly retouching,”

The likes of American fashion photographer Steven Meisel and photography duo Mert and Marcus count as some of his biggest influences.

“Outside of them, I don’t really follow too many photographers. I like to create my own style. I do admire many photographers’ work.

“I study film directors – how they light their work and how they direct their cast and actors – more so than photographers.

“English-American film director Christopher Nolan is my favourite film director because he brings realism into his work.

“And, weirdly enough, I like to follow wildlife photographers because they can capture animals in natural poses, being themselves. I like to incorporate that with my models.”

“I want them to be natural, I want them to look fantastic and beautiful, but also I want them to be real,” he explains.

“I would rather see a beautiful woman running through the streets with a gown flowing behind her than just standing with her hands on her hips.

“You can get that from wildlife photography; they are really excellent at capturing motion and natural behaviour,” says Shamayim.

“Cape Town – and South Africa in general – offers an impressive range of diverse model talent,” says Shamayim.

“This is one of the reasons I will be moving to Cape Town soon. South Africa in general has a wonderful pool of where models from all over the world come to build their portfolios.

“I visited almost all the agencies in Cape Town and I was so impressed with the diversity that is represented here. I pride myself in having one of the most diverse portfolios in the industry.

“I shoot men and women from all different cultures. And coming here, I saw that represented in the agencies… which is quite refreshing,” adds Shamayim.

●To see more of Shamayim’s, work see or his Instagram page: Shamayim. 

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on January 6 2016. 


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