RENATA KAVEH & HER SURREALIST EYE

 

[We’ve always considered ourselves fortunate to collaborate and explore with  beautiful people. This is the world we inhabit — magical, intangible, chaotic and felt. Wønder, our editorial space, was designed to share the extraordinary depth of creativity and passion of our circle of friends — with whom we work, play, and linger for hours and days. In these interviews, we are not going for lifestyle, we are going for life.]

In Renata’s loft on the East side of Toronto, we entered a photoshoot in the middle of COVID that would require closeness, humanity and laughter. Renata navigated us through the process as smoothly as she navigated her studio — moving lightly but with her own inner clarity, presence and sense of self. That’s Renata.

Inspired by beauty, enthralled by form, Renata Kaveh is an internationally published fashion photographer and art director based out of Toronto. Wrapped in surrealism, she strives to transcend elegance by creating the classic reference of tomorrow. She has worked for international brands such as Nike, Puma, Vogue, Elle, Forbes and I.D. among others.

 

Multi-color tulle dress
What creative pilgrimages have you gone on?
My mother took my sister and I to Spain when I was 25. We went to The Dalí Museum in Barcelona and it was probably one of the most defining experiences of my life. I felt an incredible sense of wonder. I enjoyed the feeling of uncomfortableness and strangeness. The experience influenced my personal and photographic style. As a dark romanticist with a sense of humour, there is always a mischievousness and playfulness that informs my work.
How do you generate ideas for your projects, what kind of visual or sensory references do you typically seek out for inspiration?
Since adolescence, part of my inspiration has always come from film. My fashion icons presented themselves through my obsession with cinema. Ginger Rothstein in "Casino", Sylvia in "La Dolce Vita", Elvira Hancock in "Scarface", Mia Wallace in "Pulp Fiction", Madeline and Helen in "Death Becomes Her"...these female film characters all helped me understand that fashion could be a medium to express mood, personality and to communicate feelings.
Legs sitting on couch
Renata Kaveh explores self and isolation in her most recent photographic series
How does your daily life influence your work?
Living in a city I would describe as diverse, low key and unassuming makes me so incredibly proud. Toronto nurtures a special breed of artist: equal parts passion and humility. I credit collaborator and friend Dwayne Kennedy for co-creating my best work. He is a daily influence and muse and we are regularly bouncing ideas off each other. I feel lucky to be able to work and create with him.
Woman in suit partying at night
What has it meant to create over the pandemic? How have the constraints of space and interruption affected your creative process and work?
During the 3 month lockdown, I tried staying grounded by remaining creative in other ways by painting and sculpting. That still didn't feel enough, so I started shooting a surrealist self portrait series that grew out of a sense of isolation and listlessness. Since our industry has opened up, I find the exchange between myself and my subject a challenge with my mask. Not being able to mirror back my emotions has changed the photographs I take. I've been exploring this disconnect and learning a lot from it.
You cite Man Ray, Raoul Ubac and Eli Lotar as influences in your newest body of work. How does surrealism inform your practice and your own understanding of reality?
I've always been attracted to the dark and bizarre themes in surrealism. There is no definitive truth. It's in the perversion and distortion of reality where all the best and worst of humans exist. To be able to play and explore that world of fantasy has allowed me to expand my own reality. I've learned it's important to keep yourself open to a constantly shifting and changing world, especially now. I don't want to be delusional but I want to be optimistic.
We are all influenced by certain images in our childhood or adult memory that shape and accompany the works we do. They become points of reference in our personal psyche. Which are yours?
I understood from a young age that my mother had style; a distinctive appearance that separated her from most other adults I saw. She was and continues to be naturally beautiful, but her presentation to the world has always been filled with a graceful intention. My earliest style memory is of her floating around her bedroom in a marabou feather trimmed robe with matching boudoir slippers and wild raven hair listening to Umm Kulthum while she put on mascara. It was my first taste of glamour and I remember obsessing over every detail of her beauty ritual. It's this early inspiration that illuminates my work and my life.
Monochrome portrait of woman in dress
How did your background / culture / family inform your photography?
Growing up in Canada in the 80's I often felt different. We moved around a lot up until I was 12 and I was always "the new kid". I didn't look like most of the other kids so that sucked too. I had to find creative ways to make friends fast, or at the very least avoid my bullies. Those experiences affect my work and style today. I am forever seeking out those who are different. As a photographer we don't have a lot of time with a model or subject and it helps to be able to break the ice quickly. Being able to find a connection with a stranger in a short time frame is something I think I'm pretty good at and proud of. A trust and confidence is formed and I think it makes for great photographs.
What is a constant ritual / routine / space you carve for yourself in your life?
I'm not much for routine, but if anything I love a nice bath when I can steal away some time for myself.
Women sitting on sculptural furniture
Expansiveness is never ending curiosity, self awareness and empathy for others.
What new experiences are you longing for?
At present I am not interested in new experiences as I am in being able to have the old experiences I took for granted. I'm feeling very nostalgic for the simple everyday human interactions before the pandemic. Being in a sweaty bar pushing through people to get a drink, real hugging without the anxiety, a comedy show...
Who gives you hope?
The new generation of young women. Girls like Malala and Greta Thunberg. I found this quote by her inspiring, "We live in a post-truth society today, and that we don't care, that we have lost empathy. We have stopped thinking long-term and sustainable. And that's something that goes much deeper than just climate crisis deniers." She gives me hope that there still continues to be a desire for truth. In this modern era, truth is harder to seek as we are inundated with conspiracy, infotainment, and constant distraction. Media literacy is so important. Facts are important.
Woman in orange shirt
If you were to sit at a table with the most inspiring people, who would you be sitting with?
I'd need a big table.

Quentin Tarantino, Shirin Neshat, Bill Mahr, Rumi, Helen Keller, Naomi Klein, Man Ray, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Bourdain, Dali, Naomi Campbell, The Rolling Stones, and Marilyn Monroe.
What are you sure about today and how are you living it?
Three things:
1. The French have a lovely saying "Le petit plaisir", defined as simple indulgence that brings great pleasure. While I don't believe in pursuing pleasure above all else, I think the intentional savouring and maximizing of simple pleasures makes for a good life – like playing with my niece and nephew, moments of connection with friends, a ping pong game, a good dirty martini makes for good living.

2. Staying present and in the moment is key, and allowing room for spontaneity – good or bad – makes for richer experiences and better stories.

3. Having a sense of humour is important and I find myself often in the company of funny people; the fastest way to my heart is to make me laugh. Laughing has always been medicine for me even in my darkest times.

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