The ILNA Team
A Jiffy w/ Sophia Khalifeh
Sophia Khalifeh is the Lebanese-Dubai based photographer you need to know. Fresh into the world of photography, Khalifeh has nailed the low-ink, nostalgic aesthetic, all whilst highlighting MENA women. Her work is authentic and relatable: two factors that are rarely achieved through still images. We chatted with the emerging creative discussing all things photography in the first instalment of 'A Jiffy With.' A Jiffy With, embraces the new generation of creatives who are championing new ideas across the globe.
Q1: Photographers are usually behind the scenes, but today we’re shining the light on you. Tell us a little about yourself.
Heyyyy :) I’m Sophia <3 Im a 22 year old Lebanese creative born in Boston, Massachusetts, but I grew up in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. At 18 I moved to New York City to study at Parsons, The New School for Design, where I majored in Culture and Media Studies and minored in Fashion Communication. I graduated in May 2020 and have been floating around in Dubai ever since. I currently love to roller skate, watch tarot card readings on Youtube, and make ugly bracelets for my friends.
Q2: Why and how did you decided to pursue a career in photography?
My path to photography was honestly completely unexpected. I spent a lot of time working on sets with magazines and fashion stylists as an assistant/intern while in New York, and didn’t really have any courage to put out my own work. I also loved assisting and observing people at the top of their field. It was incredibly exciting and an amazing learning experience.
At the end of 2019, I really started questioning my path. I was about to graduate from art school but felt disconnected from my creativity and didn’t know if the corporate side of fashion, beauty, and media was truly for me. Then the pandemic happened and the job I had lined up fell apart. For the first time in my life I had 0 plans. So after my graduation ceremony in May 2020 I decided to go home to my parents, (who had just moved to Dubai) and try and figure out my life there.
A few months later my friend Alaa who I knew through instagram was in Dubai and we decided to meet. She asked me to shoot for her glove company and I obviously said yes. I basically haven’t stopped working since then and now that shoot is in Jdeed Magazine. I really decided to take photos because I had all these fashion concepts in my head and didn’t trust anyone to create the visuals in my brain. I didn’t think I would be taking photos but every project I got it was just assumed that I was the photographer so I just went with it. It all happened so naturally.
Q3: What does photography mean to you?
Photography to me is really a beautiful medium to capture the vision in your head into something physical. It’s also the end result of all the people who make that vision real. It’s intimate and incredibly fun. It’s a way for me to have complete control whilst also having no control at all. It is also such a heartwarming feeling to make another woman feel comfortable, beautiful, and seen through my photograph of them. So many lovely contradictions in this medium. There really is nothing you can’t do.
Q4: Your vision as a photographer comes through in every photograph. Your work is unique and immediately identifiable. How have you mastered your craft?
I am absolutely no where near mastering my craft! I literally still can’t tell you much about the differences between cameras or film quality or anything like that. I am constantly learning and trying to push myself to do things that make me uncomfortable with my work. I also am always saving images to reference to for future projects. From there I just take the picture, it’s not very deep.
Q5: What influences your work? & whose work has influenced you?
Women influence my work! I have always been so intrigued by the inner life of women and have found myself only interested in working with them, specifically MENA women. Like I mentioned before too, I am always looking around me for visuals. Whether that’s on instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, or in real life, I save everything and always look through them to keep myself inspired. Artists that I have been really loving recently are Renell Medrano, Zoe Ghertner, Carlota Guerrero, Amber Asaly, and Petra Collins.
Q6: How would you describe your photography style?
I would describe my photography style as fun, flirty, and inspired by the past.
Q7: Is there a particular camera that you often shoot with? Which is it?
There is this vintage Nikon camera from the 90’s that I really love to shoot on. It’s hella annoying though because it’s so slow and I can only take 14 pictures at a time with it. I just started getting into film so I will probably have to update you once I fall in love with a film camera.
Q8: Which is your favourite lens? Why?
I wish I knew anything about lenses ahaha. I still use my younger brother’s EOS DSLR camera that he got in the 9th grade.
Q9: I love how relatable your subjects in photographs are. Do you have a favorite subject to photograph?
I don’t have a favorite subject to shoot but there are a few girls who I’ve worked with a few times just because I love their looks and who they are as people. I just love shooting women! Interesting women, women with personality, women who are kind of weird, who have beautiful energy and who have some sort of edge.
Q10: What is the most difficult part of being a photographer for you?
The most difficult part about being a photographer has nothing to do with anyone else and everything to do with my internal life. As I have gotten more busy with work (hamdillah) it’s also been more difficult to ground myself. It can get very overwhelming when I have 3 projects to edit and or shoot in a week, while also creating new concepts with a brand or person. Staying always inspired and always wanting to one up myself can stress me out. I also don’t just show up and take the photos. I am so involved in every shoot I do. I often build my set at home, I style, I do hair, makeup, everything, especially when I just started. Staying grounded, taking care of myself, and not overwhelming myself with work because of pure excitement are the biggest issues.
Q11: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
I wish I knew a little bit more about cameras before I started. I feel like my work could have been much stronger than it is. But I also really value growth! I can see the improvements and the confidence that has grown as I learn and experiment more.
Q12: Tell us the story behind your favourite picture?
There is this photo I took about a week ago for a project that hasn’t come out yet that I really love so much. It just felt so intimate and angelic. It was one of the first times I felt like a picture I took was strong on its own. It’s also of someone I have worked with multiple times now and who feels like a younger sister. I don’t think I would have been able to take that photo if we hadn’t already had a trust and friendship.
Q13: As creatives, we often pick up techniques that go against “the norm." What are some of your self-taught techniques that you always go back to with your photography?
For me, it’s all about trusting my intuition and the energy I am in when I shoot. I just do whatever I want whenever it comes to me. If I have a very energized or chaotic energy it usually comes out in my work, i will take a lot of invasive photos with weird angles or have my models do something dumb. If I am in a calmer or more reflective energy I feel like my photos a little more cinematic and sensual. Just let your inner world guide you! And make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.
Q14: If you were to give advice to someone about how to become a photographer, what would you say? What would you not say?
Just take the picture. It is literally so simple. The deeper you make it the (1) more pretentious you are and (2) the less natural it feels. I don’t say that to disregard all the important technicalities like lighting, mis en scene, film quality etc... but I truly feel like the more connected you become to your intuition the less serious and more freeing it becomes. It is a beautiful experience to look at something or someone and have them look at you back without knowing how they look like and trusting you anyways. When it feels right just do it, the rest is just ego.
And also remember to be kind! To yourself and to others.