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Regina by Gabriel Moses 180 Studios
Photography by Gabriel Moses

Gabriel Moses’ Debut Exhibition Is a “Salute to Women”

As his first exhibition Regina opens in London, Gabriel Moses talks about drawing on ancestral history and his upcoming collaboration with Robert Pattinson

Lead ImagePhotography by Gabriel Moses

Like all great image-makers, photographer and filmmaker Gabriel Moses paints with light. His images are playful and sumptuous, his palette rich with primary yellows, reds and blues. Opening tomorrow, 180 Studios will present Regina, a survey of Moses’ work thus far. The exhibition – whose title translates into “queen” in Latin – is the artist’s first and includes around 50 photographs, a vinyl release and two short films. “It’s a salute to the women in my life,” Moses says, explaining the story behind the exhibition’s title. “It was always a name that I found interesting because it has its meaning but also just sounds like the name of someone. One of my favourite artists, Potter Payper, used to talk about Regina because it was Queen Elizabeth’s middle name. When you go to Crown Court, your case is called Regina versus Gabriel. Largely it was the Latin meaning I was drawn to.”

Moses’ career was kickstarted when he was 18 years old and asked to direct an ad for Nike. At 22, he was the youngest photographer to shoot the rapper Pa Salieu for the cover of Dazed. Since then, he has gone on to photograph and direct campaigns for Adidas, Manchester United, Moncler and Dior. In his images, one finds connections to works by other artists – a touch of Picasso’s Blue Period, the thick velvet of David Lynch’s nightmare-dreams – but Moses’ colours are all his own, containing a simultaneous depth and brightness, a distinct shadowy allure. Baby’s-breath-pink up against a wall of black, iridescent pearl whites with a metallic under-glow. Like the imagined figures in Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s oil paintings, the models and artists in Moses’ photographs aren’t subjects but rather characters, entry points into riotous, mystical worlds.

“Photographers like Malick Sidibé, when you look at his body of work, people were just turning up to his studio and you’d see these different characters. I love the idea of creating characters,” Moses explains. “When you see Regina, you see people becoming characters. You see Skepta as a character, you see certain models as characters. But it’s just an extension of themselves and my job is to bring that out of them. I loved the way [Sidibé] portrayed everyday people. I’ve always loved that diversity in the casting.”

Self-taught, Moses largely draws from ancestral memory passed down in the form of family photographs. “I look at old family photos of my grandma and I think, what is it that I love about this image?” Moses explains. “The contrast of the image, the textures, the colours, the way in which my grandma was super into coordinating her stuff in a certain way. Or certain tones, even certain Nigerian events. They’d all wear a certain fabric and everyone’s in the same colour. I try to understand, ‘What is it about this texture that I like that gives me that feeling?’” says Moses.

When speaking about his artistic practice, Moses repeatedly refers to the idea of “the one per cents,” the granular details that elevate a work of art. “With every project, I overthink the palette. What tones are we putting together? How do they work together?” says Moses. It’s this precision and attention to detail that gives his images a fresh yet timeless quality. That same meticulousness is reflected in the dazzling extravagance of the American director, cinematographer and choreographer Busby Berkeley’s musicals, another big source of inspiration for Moses. Like Berkeley, Moses is fascinated with movement. “I’ve always liked moments of movement,” he explains. “I see the dance in everything. I see the dance in basketball, I see the dance in football, I see the dance in ballet. I appreciate movement in different disciplines. For example, when Muslims pray and they move at the same time – I’ve always found things like that very interesting.”

 Ijó, one of the two shorts on display, features young dancers from the Leap of Dance Academy in Lagos. “I came across the school a while ago and I was crazy inspired,” Moses explains. “I’ve always wanted to work back home and create something that was timeless in my home country. I  found the discipline of ballet so interesting and so beautiful. When you see the film you see how amazing they are. If I can put a lens on talent like that in Nigeria I jump at the opportunity.” 

When I ask Moses if he has any interest in directing a feature-length film, he tells me he’s currently collaborating with Robert Pattinson on a script. “I’m 24 and I mention that because I’m very keen on learning,” says Moses. “But I’m very excited to step into that direction. It’s a world I approach with relaxed energy, with no pressure.” 

Regina by Gabriel Moses is on show at 180 Studios in London until April 30.