Meet the Art Director Fighting Pollution with Fashion Photography

“I like to stand out, and not do what everyone else is doing.”
Stella Morais

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Stella Morais’s photography has a mostly neutral-toned, spare style filled with striking and artistic fashion images. The London-based Brazilian artist quit school at age seventeen and bought her first DSLR camera after saving up her tattoo shop wages. Since then, she’s never looked back.

Stella experiments with a combination of styles, inspired by everything from social media to books, movies, and current events. In this project, Recondition she aimed to make a powerful personal statement about ocean pollution whilst showcasing classic elements of fashion photography.

Each of her shoots is a carefully choreographed collaboration between photographer, model make-up artist and fashion stylist, which Stella says can lead to an incredibly fun and successful day at work when there is a bond between team members.

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We caught a moment together with the in-demand photographer to talk about her creative process, inspiration, and more.

THE PLUS: How did you get started as a photographer and eventually get into this type of photography?
Stella Morais:
I always loved photography. I properly got into it when I was at school. Sadly, my school did not offer a photography lesson at the time so I used my Art and Design classes to learn more about photography; photographer’s research, drawing from a photographer’s works, practicing self-portrait photography. When I was finally able to buy my first DSLR camera, I just began experimenting with landscape photography, portrait photography and used all my mates to play around with fine art photography in which I kept practicing and learning from for a while.

In 2010, I began researching fashion photography. I started doing some art and fashion photography with a team of other creatives, and that’s when I fell in love with fashion photography. I kind of mix a bit of art photography with fashion and I think it works well with my style. I like to stand out, and not do what everyone else is doing.

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TP: How do you build a concept for a photo series?
People always ask me this. My office is filled with magazines, books and posters. I am always flicking through, reading one or two lines from a book, trying to find my next project. I think it all depends on what mood I am in and what is happening around me. We are so very blessed in this day and age with Instagram and Pinterest. Both of these platforms play a huge role in my career.

I am always making boards of things I like – shoots, models, styling, make up, poses, light and so on. Whenever I feel a bit uninspired I always go back to my boards to try and get the juices in my brain flowing.

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TP: Plastic plays an important role throughout this project. Why is that?
Because it is a wake-up call. I created Recondition when David Attenborough opened our eyes to what we are doing with our oceans. I wanted to showcase to the viewers what and how we are killing the outstanding ocean creatures.

Working in fashion you are not always allowed to say what you think because people don’t like to hear or see the truth. So I used this particular project to describe without any words how much damage we are doing to our planet.

TP: What makes a photoshoot stand out for you?
A successful shoot is when I am working with my friends who are super talented human beings. Together we create beautiful images and have the best day ever. I personally think it is very important to have a special bond with your team – it shows in your work.

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TP: Tell us a bit about the various looks your model wears throughout Recondition.
For this particular shoot, I wanted something that was quite minimal and yet striking. Because we had set designer on board with us in this shoot, the styling had to be very simple otherwise everything would just clash. Luckily I was working with my very good friend and super talented fashion stylist Heather Green. We work very well together. She has been on many shoots with me, and now knows what I like and what works with the type of photography I do.

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TP: How much consideration goes into choosing a model for one of your fashion shoots? What is that process like?
The model has probably the most important role in a shoot. I usually go for models that have something different about them. I love diversity and photographing their beauty. Model casting is also one of the most stressful part of putting a shoot together.

Sometimes I know exactly who I want and would suit the story so well but unfortunately, they are not around. I start with a quick email to my modelling booker friends; they send me all the girls they have available. Once I have all the packages, I begin to visualise the whole scenario; location or studio lighting, make up, styling and so on. I pick two models who I think would work perfectly for the story I want to tell.

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TP: There are some interesting elements added into these photos – a smear of white goop on the model’s hairline, a bit of bright painted on eyeshadow in a few frames, a face drawn on the plastic veil. What role do you see these pieces playing?
At the end of the day this was a fashion shoot, therefore I had to implement other fashion techniques into the shoot. Also, to showcase the work of both the make-up artist and hairstylist. It’s a collaboration shoot, so the least I can do is let them be creative, capture it with my camera and turn it into a story.

However, I also put down a few ideas of make-up and hair I would like for the shoot and that I thought would suit the story well. The creatives then do their magic and voila!

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TP: If you were to sum up your photography aesthetic in three words, what would they be?
Unique. Creative. Raw.

TP: Which exciting things are coming up for you?
I am getting many different opportunities because of the unique type of work I put out. I feel so blessed and grateful. I have many projects coming out soon, one of them in particular is a Chanel story coming out in Hunger magazine, which I am super excited about and I cannot wait to share with the world.

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