As a former model, Lenni understands what it’s like to be in front of the camera and be subjected to somebody else’s instructions. As a photographer, she offers her models the freedom to be themselves in order to capture the natural beauty of her subjects.
BackYard Opera: So, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Lenni Mattanja: I was scouted when I was 16 years old and started traveling for work. It was when I was living with other models [while on assignments] that I noticed how beautiful the girls were in their natural state. I was more fascinated with them sitting on the couch and eating chips than when they were wearing makeup and styled. I already had a camera for my travels, even though I didn’t take any pictures of scenery or notable architecture, and so I just started taking photographs of the girls in the house. It was a match made in heaven really, because we were all friends and they were already comfortable around me and I think that is why I could take photos that both the model and I liked. Once I started taking more pictures, I realised how much I enjoyed it and so did the girls, and it kind of just snowballed from there.
BYO: How do you determine your subjects?
LM: I guess every photographer would say this, but I always look for something unique. If you see a picture of a model and they stand out from the rest, it just clicks and you feel connected with them simply from a photograph. It’s not my intention to shoot only girls, there are just more girls in the industry. I do shoot boys occasionally, but I find that there are a lot of beautiful girls.
BYO: Why do you take photos?
LM: Because I was surprised by how much I liked it, by the results and reactions. I’ve tried to be creative before through writing and drawing but never liked what I did.
BYO: Your subjects are mainly people, do you ever venture out to other subjects?
LM: For the moment, I mostly do portraits, very natural portraits. I think other forms of photography are brilliant and I respect it all very much, however, I’m still very much in love with making a beautiful picture of a person and my satisfaction is drawn from my subject looking at their photograph and saying, “oh yeah, that’s exactly who I am.”
BYO: You’ve been a model and now you’re a photographer, which do you prefer, being in front or behind the lens?
LM: I wouldn’t have been a photographer if I wasn’t a model. My experience as a model has helped me very much with my photography skills. Plus it gave me a great opportunity to travel and meet people, I wouldn’t even be in Australia if I didn’t model. It’s impossible to choose between the two.
BYO: Which is more difficult?
LM: I love being a photographer and I find it’s hard to see the challenges when you’re very passionate about something. When I was modeling, the most difficult part was fitting into every single box that everyone wanted you to be in. It was tricky being your own person and I guess that’s why a lot of models quit the profession at a young age, because they don’t want to live up to the standards of those boxes anymore.
BYO: You’re currently working on your own publication, ‘Sudden’. Can you please elaborate and explain where the name came from?
LM: I thought it was a funny name because the idea for the magazine came very suddenly, even though the process itself wasn’t as quick. I wanted to create something for myself and I’d never done anything like this before. It’s also an ode to my boyfriend whose last name is Sutton. He’s incredibly supportive and has helped me since the very beginning.
BYO: What story is this publication telling?
LM: I wanted to create something that separated me from the thousands of magazines out there that featured models in a styled and structured way. How I was going to achieve this difference, I wasn’t so sure. I just knew that I wanted something that focused on who the model truly was and explore their natural beauty. I wanted to emphasize that you don’t need the flash, the bright lipstick or to fit in the confined categories that everybody else wanted you to be in.
BYO: Would you say that the models you’ve featured on your publication are truly being themselves?
LM: I really hope so! Because of my experience as a model, I try to create an atmosphere during the shoots where the girls can be themselves. I encourage them to move naturally and in that way, give the creativity back to them so they can make more decisions in the shoot than anybody else.
BYO: What is your take on this Instagram culture that allows anyone to be a ‘photographer’?
LM: I think it’s a skill to be able to create a good picture with a smart phone. It’s not something I can do myself. This social media culture is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It gives such a great opportunity to put your work out there and give it some exposure. Tools like Instagram are a great way to get people excited about photography.
Stay tuned, we will be featuring Lenni's publications 'Sudden' in a few days ...