Intimate Portraits of East London’s Bright Young Things

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Courtesy Lola & Pani, 2020

In their new, studio-based project, photography duo Lola & Pani capture people from across the capital’s art, fashion and music worlds

For the last five years, Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul have been going back to basics. The photography duo – who are known primarily for their relaxed, sun-soaked portraits – are taking a more traditional route in their latest project, swapping the great outdoors for the stark, stripped back interior of their east London studio.

Their new book, Lola & Pani Studio Portraits 2015-2020, sees the pair capture a selection of bright young creatives from across the art, fashion and music worlds. Some are friends, others are friends of friends, but all of them are striking in their individuality. The only unifying quality to all the shots is their location: an unadorned space with a clean, grey backdrop.

Here, Lola & Pani tell us more about this new direction; from the impetus behind it, to the subjects they are most drawn to.

“Our goal for this project was to remove any context of an exterior environment. We wanted to create a space where the image becomes solely about the person in front of the camera. It creates a kind of one-on-one atmosphere, where we can connect with the subject on a more personal level, with fewer distractions. We like the pared-back honesty that portraits have when made in this traditional way. 

“When we’re looking for subjects, we’re attracted to people we feel we can relate to in one way or another. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s very instinctual – we also like someone who doesn’t blink a lot. [Laughs.] We just hope that they feel comfortable and leave with a feeling of self-confidence; like someone took the time to appreciate them for who they are.

“As photographers, our styles compliment each other. Pani (who is originally from Byron Bay in Australia) assisted for many years and went the pretty traditional route, whereas Lola (who is originally from Poland) had a more DIY approach. She’d only worked on personal projects, organising grassroots exhibitions and making zines. We shared very similar aesthetics from the start, though, and over the years have learned so much from each other that we almost share one brain at this point (with four arms).

“We created this photo book as a ‘historical document’. Packing them into a physical object helps bring the photos to life. The shape, texture, and even smell have something special about them, and you also learn a lot about your own work in the process. We are constantly encouraged to consume as much content as possible via our devices and social media. Photo books just are a nice excuse not to do that.

“2020 has certainly been a full-on year, but the first lockdown acted like a bit of mental holiday from ‘freelance constant productivity’. I think freelancers live with a subtle guilt trip that you could always be doing more, but when everything shuts down and there is nothing that can be done you learn to deal with this newfound, seemingly awkward stillness. With that constant productivity mentality, you can lose sight or neglect other important things in your life, connection, community, and friends. So in hindsight, having a break like that was important: it allowed breathing room for a bunch of projects we’d had on the back burner, and we could use that renewed energy to complete this book.”

Lola & Pani Studio Portraits 2015 – 2020 is published by Palm*Studios.