Interview #16 - Raisa Azzam

Raisa Azzam is a female fashion and portrait photographer from Malaysia. You can find more of her on her website (Raisa Fatima) , her Facebook page (Raisa's Sozoryoku) and Instagram

Tell us about yourself

My name is Raisa Azzam and I am a fashion and portrait photographer living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have an obsession with cats and I love taking ugly/funny photos of the people I love, which is ironic with the type of photography that I do!

What’s been happening with you lately?

Life has been a lot of lessons recently! I’ve been discovering myself this year and where photography stands in my life. To be honest, I’ve been stuck in a creative rut for a while, and I’ve got a new change in life coming soon so I’m looking forward to that.

What draws you into photography, specifically shooting portraits?

I remember as a young child, my parents loved taking photographs of us. My mum used to give me disposables to shoot with, then the age of cellphone cameras came in and I became ‘paparazzi’ amongst my friends in high school. Then, I got my first compact camera, then a DSLR, and every single turning point I’ve always, always shot people. I’ve always been drawn to capture the things I love, and I’ve always found the love in the people around me.

Do you remember your first ever shoot?

It was quite a while back in college! I think it was with my good friend Vivien (she was my muse at that time, she was always supportive with my ventures of non-sensical ideas and things I wanted to try) and I asked her to be my model so I could just practice a possible type of photography, which was portraiture.

How’s the photography scene over there in your perspective?

It’s growing. The community is actually pretty small and there’s a lot of space to keep pushing for that creative scene in KL. The pool of talent is actually really good and I think we need to open up the idea of working together more as a community - art is all about sharing and caring!

What are your challenges being a photographer?

The business and networking bit, if I have to be brutally honest with you! I’ve found myself not being the type to always be in crowds and events, but as a growing photographer it’s good to get to know people. And when I say business, it’s because that’s how much I want photography in my life, I’m determined to make it my ambition. I’m a terrible businessman so that needs a lot of work!

How does the environment you’re living in influence your photography?

The environment I grew up in was very interesting because of my family I’d have to say. Both sides of the family and especially my parents, are incredibly artistic, musical and supportive of the creative fields. I was surrounded by beautiful culture when I lived in Tokyo, playing music had a big impact on me and meeting an amazing array of people from international and local waters has played an interesting part in how my photography has been sculpted. If I had to go into detail of how each thing has affected it, this answer would be way too long though!

I am blown away with your work. Tell us how you become interested in doing fashion?

Thank you so much! I started shooting portraits and discovering different photographers and their styles, and I loved the aesthetics and creative freedom that fashion gave. I started posting my portraits up, and a bunch of young entrepreneurs approached me to collaborate with them for shoots, and from there, I began shooting fashion.

Do you have certain aesthetics or method of shooting?

I’ve honestly never thought too deeply upon it because I’ve always been the type to feel with the limited amount of resources that I had available. There are certain styles like shooting with strobes or indoors now, and I always love "golden hour" sunlight. I do a lot of post-processing and Photoshop plays a big part in my photography.

Describe how do your approach your work

The things that I prepare most are locations, checking the weather, getting the model, the fashion, possible concepts and ideas. I feel like my planning process isn’t still up to par with a lot of photographers, so this is something I need to work on.

I’m very impromptu, honestly. I love improvisation because sometimes situations won’t turn out the way you want, so I try to feel the surroundings, the light, the subject and everything and kind of "go with the flow" from there.

If the client needs the photographs as soon as possible, I have certain presets that I made and I’ll tweak the photos after the shoot, and send them to the client. Otherwise, I am very meticulous and like exploring different editing techniques and sometimes, spending long periods of time to get the right edits.

Do you have preferences for choosing subjects or models?

Depending on the shoot, and if it’s for my own portfolio then I can’t say for sure. There is a general type of beauty that I subconsciously look for in my subjects and models, but to pinpoint it to specifics would be difficult.

What are the 3 photos that would represent best of your work and why you chose them?

This photograph was a big turning point in my photography and when I realised how much I could push myself to be better. The photographs I’ve chosen were the best representations of my work in terms of aesthetics, feel, colour and what I enjoy most.

I have to thank my friend, Roshan Menon for dragging me for this shoot. I wouldn’t have gotten these shots if he didn’t push me to go to shoot and this was one of the photographs that made me realise why I was doing photography in the first place!

This photograph is the type of dream concept that I’ve been dying to do. And that’s to shoot subjects in beautiful landscapes and places. I’ve always dreamed of flying to mountains, lakes, caves and many places to capture my subjects in the most beautiful places in the world. I also love deep colours in cooler tones and more neutral plays on warmer tones. I love wide shots, but funny enough I only use a 50mm lens!

Any other works or photographers that you follow?

Yes, I do! My favourite photographer is Annie Leibovitz. She has been my inspiration for the longest time and a lot of my style is derived from her. I'm also in love with Zhang Jingna, Lara Jade, Chen Man, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Norman Jean Roy and the list goes on!

Do you value quality or quantity?

Quality - hands down. I used to be a shutter bug, taking way too many photos! Now over time, all you need is 1-2 shots enough to say everything.

In what ways that camera gears or cellphone apps matter to you in producing the work?

Honestly, I’m a very minimalistic photographer. I’ve been using a 50mm lens most of the time and upgraded from one camera body to another. In terms of quality, it definitely makes a difference, but to say gears making you a better photographer - I’d like to change that perception and say that it’s all about the person and their capabilities as well.

Do you earn enough as a photographer?

I earn maybe a little less then what I should be earning, but that sounds like I’m sitting on my high horse!

Who do you think are the audience of your work?

I honestly have no idea! I’ve been humbled by many encounters where people have seen my work and loved it, and this ranges from friends of friends, people in the circle, social media, family friends, older company, so I can’t say for sure!

How much do you think people will value your work?

This is actually a pretty difficult question to answer! I would like to say that they do believe in my work, which is a really, good feeling. Especially in appreciating my work. I’ve gotten so much support - it’s insane! I really want to thank everyone who has been patient with my growing process.

How do you cope in getting the attention through social media or word of mouth?

This is quite funny. I don’t think I get very much attention at all. Whenever I do though, it really does feel like a blessing to have someone say how much they love your work and I am thankful to be where I am for it.

Any music that you listen to lately? Books that you read? Movies that you just watched recently?

I’m so bad with keeping up to date, and that I really need to work on too! I’ve got my favourite author, Haruki Murakami, I’ve been slowly reading his IQ84 and his daughter's short stories on Medium. I went all emotional with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and I was in love with everything about it! Music wise, whatever my friends and the radio sends my way.

Anything that keeps you excited in the future?

I’m going through a big transitional phase in my life right now, so I’m really looking forward to that change. This year is going to be a big one, and I intend to keep it that way! I’ve been dying to travel so I hope this year I get to step foot at least to a few countries.

Any last words?

To those pursuing photography, please continue to chase that passion. If you've just started shooting and you feel your own work is not up to par with your expectations - keep pushing. The one thing I've learned is that the only way for you to get better, is to just keep shooting. Open up your mind, look at your competition to push yourself harder but not to bring them down. Collaborate and share - don’t be afraid of people stealing ideas, knowing that if it comes from you, it will always speak worlds better than those who don’t understand it. Keep being positive even when you’re stuck in a rut, because once you get through that storm, you’ll see it being worthwhile.