interview: photographer fabiola jean-louis – magic & the machine

January 14, 2014

It’s believed that there lies a fine line between genius and insanity. But what is the case when reality and fantasy stumble upon one another, uniting the ultimate contrasts? Perhaps, creativity? In all my adventures and stumbles upon wonderful artists, I’ve never came across any like photographer, Fabiola jean-Louis. Somehow she’s found a connection between the Victorian era and whimsical urban legends like unicorns and Black fairies. Oddly enough, the two unique cultures mesh well together; not to mention the beautiful people she uses as her subjects to create what I like to call, Afro Magic, her being the Alchemist. In our interview below, Fabiola gives me a deeper understanding of her creative process and provision. Get ready to dive into a an exotic and beautiful mind!

By Tip Jordan, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Tip: Your photography is very exotic & whimsical, what makes you want to create such unique artistry? Is there a story behind your photographs?

Fabiola Jean-Louis:
I have always been into mythology, mystical creatures, fairy tales, whatever you’d like to call it, as much as I love the magical world. I rarely came across images that depicted people of color in that way. There is always a story behind my images and many times, it has to do with an alternative world; perhaps a reality I wish was or I think could be. (*side note: I do believe in magic.)

I don’t only shoot my Black folks but I wanted to start off with a series that lended to our place in folklore and magic…This will one day become a book – a compilation of my work featuring black magical creatures.

I am also inspired by folklore and understanding that much of the stories are culturally intertwined among different cultures. My own Haitian culture also influenced me since, it was my first experience with stories and magic. It was an amazing experience for me as a child. Later as a teenager I spent many years on the New York Goth scene which played a large role in me diving head first into the world of fairies and so on. Interestingly, I am also very inspired by the Victorian era (pre Industrial) as well as the post industrial…The mad Scientist! Therefore, the genre of “Steampunk” really influences my work, the old and the new. Did I make any sense?

Tip: Yes, you made perfect sense. It’s incredible that you brought up Steampunk. Another artist who I am working with has mentioned Steampunk to me and today is the first time I’ve ever heard of it. What exactly is Steampunk?

Fabiola Jean-Louis:
Interesting name right? Steampunk is a combination of – or mimics the Victorian era and the post industrial. This would include the style of dress and social events i.e. science (use of steam…railroad), and so on.

Tip: Pretty cool. I was looking through some of your images and your photography is very Poetic. I am very much a whimsical & mystique writer when I write poetry. I think the best art comes when its subconsciously created. Is that how your create your finish products?

Fabiola Jean-Louis:
Yes. My work is always dancing about in my mind I’m sure, but it usually takes something I see like a movie (‘The Fountain’ for instance), or a song I hear to really bring it to my attention. I already tend to see the world in a very magical and whimsical way when I’m looking beyond all of the roughness of reality. Once I have an idea of what I’d like to capture, I set off to sketch it out in my notebook first as the conceptual part of the process. I do this to see if my idea is even possible then, I experiment by doing test shots with myself. Once I know it will work, I begin the costume design which takes me anywhere from one to two weeks. By the time of the shooting day, I have a good idea of how to pose my model and what I’d like to happen. The real magic is not in the photography for me, rather the post production: the photoshop and compositing. This is where I start the process all over again and start to formulate what I like the image to say with colors, finish, and textures. This part can take me up to 24 – 48 hrs to complete.

Tip: Wow, that’s amazing! Your process is very intricate and it shows in the finished products that you take your time.

Fabiola Jean-Louis:
Thank you Tip, it is a long process just to get one shot but I love that everything in the frame aside from the subject, is made by me.

Tip: I enjoy to see such talent & creativity appreciated by the Artists themselves. How do you come about choosing the person to model for you. Is there a specific preference? I only ask because I don’t see men in your photographs.

Fabiola Jean- Louis:
Interesting you say that. I was just working on conceptualizing a piece for a male subject. The thing is, I am a woman. I feel very comfortable as such and know how to do it well however, that might be for me therefore, it feels like I’m home when conceptualizing a piece for a woman. My recent idea to finally break out of that comfort occurred out of my desire to be limitless in my creativity. To this, I feel one part of it would be to include male subjects. When it comes to choosing my model, I actually work on the concept first i.e. the character I want to shoot: the ‘Queen of Butterflies’, ‘A Fairy’ etc. Once I have the concept down, I look for a face that may help me bring that character to life.

Tip: What a wonderful space you’re in within yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and broaden your horizons! I am extremely excited for you & wish you all the best on your future endeavors. I’m sure the world will be hearing more of you soon!

View more of Fabiola Jean-Louis’ photography here and here!

* Tip Jordan’s website: