Since graduating from Central Saint Martins, Soloff has captured the likes of Tinashe, Emma Chamberlain, Bretman Rock and Billie Eilish – to name just a few! We caught up with the New York-based creative to discuss overcoming imposter syndrome, the importance of queer representation and to find out what it’s like to capture some of the world’s biggest stars.
First thing’s first, when did you first pick up a camera?
Honestly, starting photography for me was pretty coincidental. Once I began college in America I knew I wanted to engage in some sort of form of art. I saw “basic black and white” photography on a course list and I thought that sounded interesting. I immediately became obsessed with the dark room, it was an escape for me, I became so obsessive spending 10-12 hours at a time printing black and white images. I knew pretty quickly that I wanted this to be my career. I then applied to Central Saint Martins for fine art and there I started to find my voice, using colour for the first time in my photography and shooting incredible queer friends of mine, which led me to where I am today!
Did you always want to be a photographer? Was there ever a time you wanted to be something else?
I was actually a classically trained ballerina, junior and senior year of high school. I was homeschooled so that I could train 12 hours a day. It wasn’t till the end of senior year of high school that I realised I wanted something different, but I always knew I wanted to work in the arts, it just took a bit for me to find out what that meant.
How long did it take for you to find your own image style?
Oh my gosh, it took a bit. As I said earlier I was shooting only black and white imagery for almost two years. I think I was afraid of being critiqued in class about something personal, like my identity as a queer person, so I kind of created classically beautiful images that didn’t feel as personal. It wasn’t till graduating from school that I became more clear in my focus. And it helped being in New York and surrounded by so many incredible and colorful creatives. I started taking portraits on my roof of my friends, who I saw myself a lot in. My work really became a reflection of what I saw myself as, colorful queer and bright.
Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to image-making?
I look to movies a lot for inspiration, I think two films that really inspired me are Chicago, and Cabaret. The way that are able to tell stories visually with color and dynamic movements are so rich and both those films really made me want to become a director and photographer.
You’ve previously mentioned in interviews that it’s really important to give your subjects a voice while photographing them, which is something that’s usually so disregarded. Why is this such an important part of your practice?
Because we often aren’t given the space to tell the truth. In media, we are often led to say something or told we have to be a certain way to fit in a digestible box. I think it’s so important in portraiture to capture people as they are and not who we want them to be. The most beautiful moments are built from honesty. Especially within the queer community, we’ve lived many lives and are constantly told which box we need to tick. Allowing space for everyone’s individual stories is important to me and will always be at the forefront of what I do.
What are your thoughts on queer representation when it comes to producing editorial work? Do you think it’s becoming better? Or do we still have a long way to go until we see more queer creatives behind the scenes as well as in front?
First of all, I absolutely believe that it is just as important to have queer people behind the scenes as in front of the camera. We need to be the ones making decisions, directing, creating, writing. When we have that, I feel like we will have truly made progress. And I do see some improvements of queer representation in the editorial field; I just hope we can keep growing and allow more queer voices to come forward to tell their stories. There is such strength in numbers.
I loved what you said in your Vogue interview about “your perspective is incredibly powerful” and when you start championing it, that’s when you start to break down walls. Imposter Syndrome is such a real thing for creatives. Have you ever felt like an outsider in the industry, and how did you overcome that?
Absolutely! I was probably feeling imposter syndrome during that interview with Vogue! But I try and remind myself that my perspective is powerful, as is everyone’s, and to focus on the work and not the noise surrounding it.
You’ve photographed some incredible people, including Billie Eilish, Emma Chamberlin, Tommy Dorfman and Gigi Hadid (to name just a few!) What advice would you give to those hoping to one day follow in your footsteps?
It’s corny, but please be yourself. I have only gotten this far because I have stayed steadfast in my style and interest. I remind myself that you don’t get booked for one job is the reason you get booked for another. You are wonderful the way you are!
You’ve done so much already, but what is your dream project?
I want to direct a Selena Gomez music video! A bit random but it’s been a goal of mine since I was little.
Finally, what’s next for you?
So much! I wish I could say, but I just wrapped a big music video and have a couple of amazing cover stories coming up. I cannot wait to share!