Nadja Amahn on Her Portrait Work and Fostering Diversity Online

Nadja Amahn on Her Portrait Work and Fostering Diversity Online

2000 1125 Danielle Wrobleski

I’ve been following the work of Nadja Amahn for several months now and have absolutely fallen in love with her portraits. Documenting her life and subjects on the streets of Los Angeles, her photos featuring soft colors and classic black and white often look as if they were shot in the 1960s or 70s. I love how they feel as if they’re decades old yet somehow modern at the same time. Recently I discovered that beyond her stunning portraiture, she also runs the Black With Film feature page on Instagram and knew immediately I had to talk with her. I’m so grateful she took the time to chat and I hope you check out more of the important work she is doing.

Thank you for taking the time to talk! Could you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Nadja Amahn. I am a freelance film photographer in Los Angeles. I’ve been at it for two years now, navigating LA’s creative scene. I focus mainly on portraiture and fashion photography, while slowly leaning into video.

That’s awesome! And what originally got you into film photography?

I’ve always had a point and shoot and Polaroid camera that I played around with that belonged to my grandpa. I just love the emotions and textures film captures. It’s always a fun mystery. It’s also a more conscious way of shooting. You have to take time to think and compose a shot before firing. I love a creative challenge.

I completely agree. It always feels like the excitement of opening Christmas presents. You’re not exactly sure what you’re gonna get but can’t wait to see what it is! So what got you into shooting portraits specifically?

I didn’t think of myself as a portrait photographer when I started; I was actually opposed to it! I was very much into street photography for print work, and it took a friend telling me that most of my catalog was portraiture before I started to believe it. After I began posting regularly on social media, people started to hit me up with fun and creative ideas they wanted to try out. I then realized I could combine my love for street photography and also have a dynamic subject to capture. So I really started to enjoy creating visual scenarios and storytelling, and nothing portrays intimate emotion quite like humans. I love to work with urban settings so it’s relatable and warm.

Sometimes we just need some help from our friends to recognize what we’re meant to do. Since you mentioned you love the storytelling aspect of shooting portraits, would you be able to walk us through the steps of how you plan and execute a photoshoot from start to finish?

Oh wow, to be honest I don’t know what story I’m telling until I get out there with the model as it always revolves around them and showing their true selves. The theme at least usually depends on the clothing that’s chosen by them or guided by me. Or if they want to represent something specific about themselves we focus there. I love to keep it loose and see what happens. I’m very much an on-the-fly type of person for casual shoots. I like to say they are more of a hangout, where me and the model stroll through a neighborhood chatting and finding good spots. Along the way we get to know each other and I focus on capturing certain aspects of them through my lens, very candidly and naturally. The people in my photos are the story. For my creative projects with a set vision and I have a private journal where I write my ideas/sketches and plan it out. It’s a sort of movie storyboard.

I love that your process is so organic. What would be your biggest source of inspiration then with photography? Would you say it’s the people you work with?

My biggest source of inspiration comes from my family. I always loved the vintage photos they had hanging around the house and loved that me shooting film almost brought those memories into my images. I do take a lot from the models I shoot, specifically the Black people I work with. I find myself gravitating towards telling the story of my people, documenting our lives, and creating memories. I feel it’s a part of my mission to represent the underrepresented. That’s also why I started the Instagram page Black With Film.

That’s perfect you bring that up! I was going to bring up the Black With Film page a few questions from now but I’ll skip ahead a bit and jump to that. I love that you created and run that page. Diversity and inclusion is a real struggle in this community, and it’s so important to have pages that focus on artists of color. Could you tell us the story behind creating the Black With Film page?

As a photographer we are very familiar with feature pages, there are a ton! While they are amazing, I found myself feeling a little lost and disconnected from the works I was seeing. There were a lot of repetitive reposts and not much diversity on these bigger pages. I lost interest. I’ve been on my film journey for a while but still felt like there wasn’t a niche group for me and what I represent. For months I had waited for someone else to create a page like Black With Film but it didn’t happen, I thought especially with BLM protests happening that it would.

I have a background in social media marketing, so one day I sat down and genuinely looked for Black artists like me, put a little board together and just thought, “Hey, you have it planned out, the next step is just to post!” As soon as I started the page, feedback from Black film photographers started flooding in and I could tell there was a bit of relief and joy for others finally having a place to call home and somewhere they can look for relatable inspiration. There are artists of all levels from hobbyists to full out professional photographers, but it’s a place where we can all find one another and make connections. I call it a community, and I hope to see it continue to grow. I also hope it allows the outside world to realize our talents and creativity.

When I first discovered the Black With Film page I was so excited! Just like you, I was feeling disenchanted with regular feature pages and the same posts and people being shared over and over. I was so happy to discover all the wonderful talent you spotlight. There’s so many amazing artists out there, and I’m so proud of the community you’re building. Do you feel like running the Black With Film page has changed you or your art at all?

Thank you, that means a lot and I hope to see more pages like this start to emerge. Black With Film is a massive force of inspiration and motivation. I get to look at beautiful works all day and study them, so it has refined my definition of a good photo. It has allowed me the knowledge to understand a photographer and their process, and appreciate them all the more. It allows me and all others to step into their lives and feel the emotions they are depicting. It’s very much now like an emotional tie to the community, home & family!

It’s incredible the emotional connections were able to build through these communities. What would you say has surprised you most with running the page?

The only thing that has surprised me about the page is that I have now put myself in a position to uphold a safe space for my community. I didn’t fully realize how many non-POC would feel entitled to a Black space, and I ran into a few online altercations having to defend the page and what it stands for. In a way it opened my eyes even more to the way this world works and only put more drive behind me protecting it. As it continues, I filter it out and keep the space glowing, I feel like a silent mother working diligently to keep the BS out of the household and it’s worth it!

That makes me sad to hear that there’s people who’ve attacked the page. But even more reason why it’s so important to have these spaces. I’d like to pivot back a bit to some of your personal photography work. Related to your work with portraiture I adore your self portraits. What got you into self portraits and what has been the biggest thing you’ve learned through them?

Well in this generation selfies have been a thing for a while! On a creative whim I decided to experiment with selfies on film. And then I thought film expressed more than just the typical selfie. It showed a bit more emotion and detail so I decided to focus on documenting my time in the house during quarantine. Very candid moments, when I’m stressed or overly excited I pull out my camera and take some photos and develop right then. So the whole process became a sort of therapy.

Do you know what it is about film that captures more than a phone selfie does?

I really think that the unique textures are what draw me in and that natural misty glow. I remember realizing all of my old family photos were made out of film and I always wanted to capture that essence in my photography, and film does about 50 percent of that work. It’s a lot more of a slow and manual process that requires more thinking, planning and thought-out creativity, which I enjoy. It is its own medium of art.

Switching gears a bit, I noticed you’ve recently started a youtube channel which I absolutely love. It makes me so happy to see more female film shooters on there. What are your aspirations with the channel? Any projects in particular you’re hoping to do?

YouTube has been my new venture. I’ve been enjoying the way that video tells a visual story and how it can still say a lot even without sound. So I’ve been into documenting my time shooting out and about just kind of sharing another side of me and my art that you can’t really see just through the photos alone. I hope to dive deeper into my lifestyle and habits that I’ve adopted over the years. I am a self-proclaimed vegan chef, an outdoor enthusiast, a woman on a deep self love and spiritual journey, and I would love to share more about those things on a deeper scale as I feel many can relate.

I’ve really enjoyed the videos you have created so far, and I definitely think people would love to learn more about your life and art. I can’t wait to see what you create. As we’re winding down, what’s next on the horizon for you? Any big projects you have lined up?

Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to watch. Going forward I plan to put some more fire behind the Black With Film page, I see so much potential there. So most of my current time is going towards getting that started, we’ll be opening the website in a few weeks and that should be really exciting. I have some cool and funky creative ideas that have been put on the back burner as I’m getting the YouTube channel started, but hopefully I’ll be regularly back behind the lens soon.

Before I let you go, where can everyone find your work and is there anything else you would like to add?

My home base is my website. You can most easily access me on Instagram, I also have TikTok as well for fun behind-the-scenes shenanigans! Both accounts are under my name Nadja Amahn. You can also check out the @blackwithfilm page. I just want to say thank you for allowing me the platform to come and speak about my work and my process. I think it’s amazing what you’re doing, representing women in this male dominated field. Thanks for this experience!

Check out more of Nadja’s work on her website, Instagram, and the Black With Film Instagram page.

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Danielle Wrobleski

Frequently buried in too many cameras, Danielle is the poster child for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Accidentally tripping into film photography several years ago, it now consumes her life with over 40 cameras in her collection. Located in the Midwest, when she’s not messing around with cameras you can find her hiking, cuddling cats, or doing watercolor illustrations.

All stories by:Danielle Wrobleski

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Danielle Wrobleski

Frequently buried in too many cameras, Danielle is the poster child for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Accidentally tripping into film photography several years ago, it now consumes her life with over 40 cameras in her collection. Located in the Midwest, when she’s not messing around with cameras you can find her hiking, cuddling cats, or doing watercolor illustrations.

All stories by:Danielle Wrobleski