Style, the sky & self-expression: A conversation with Rovel Hagos

ROVEL HAGOS is one of those people who just needs an outlet. His inherent style is a well-developed personal taste that he understands to the point that he can extend it beyond himself. It doesn’t matter if he is styling and photographing friends, models or even bands like Cub Sport. He’s got a style that, even when he is behind the camera, is just as present as if he were in the photo. His bold use of colour, shapes and patterns framed and staged in bright urban landscapes (think large blocks of yellow and red) take on a surreal quality – everything within the borders of the photo is his choice, he curated it and he did it in a singular way.

Rovel Hagos’ style is what people want in on and he’s letting us all have a peak with his upcoming exhibition ‘Touch The Sky’ on the 25th of November at Cupo in Brisbane. It’ll be a collection of photos featuring model Soraya Page, the big bold beautiful sky and the shockingly bright outfits that Rovel makes a reality. It’s an exhibition that strays away from traditional style shows; it’s about what Rovel is about, with artists Keelan Mak, Lorenzo and Imani performing. Ultimately, it’s an event held with an intent that it is a celebration of youthful self-expression.

To get to know him better, we delved into the mind of Hagos to get some first hand knowledge about what goes on behind his shoots, and what we can expect from his show.

Image by Rovel Hagos

PURPLE SNEAKERS: You are a Brisbane-based photographer and stylist and you are about to put on your first exhibition of your work on the 25th of November called ‘Touch The Sky’, what made you want to put on this exhibition?

ROVEL HAGOS: I worked on this project called ‘Touch The Sky’ with this beautiful model called Soraya Page. We did a body of work that was different colours and different outfits and the use of the sky as a background. After I completed that whole thing, I designed a book, like a photo book that will come out probably December or January. I couldn’t stop imagining those photos in big frames in a gallery, I’ve always wanted to have my own gallery show. So this was the perfect time for it to happen.

Do you think there is a difference between a person interacting with pages from a book and an actual gallery space? Does that change your work?

Definitely, when I shoot my work, I have a bunch of magazines and books with me, and while the model is changing I am going through a bunch of photos to get inspired, to have the thought in the back of my mind to what I am trying to achieve. So yeah, definitely the photos being present in the gallery than the book, people get connected more in a gallery.

What books and magazines do you normally go to for influences?

I go through a lot of magazines like Rolling Stone from back in the day, I get Jean Basquiat’s book of work, that’s one of my favourites. I go through that every time because I feel very connected to his work and how he uses colour.

How would you describe his work?

It’s very hard to describe his work, he was very revolutionary for his time. He spoke to the youth, and he was the only one at that time, at that age doing what he was doing at that stage. That is very inspiring, him being so young. Everything I document is based on youth, youth fashion and just being fierce and expressing self. That’s what he stood up for.

You do dress a lot of young people across a lot of subcultures, I feel like there is an element of sportswear in there but then some the patterns seem like disco but all brought together by the colour.

It’s all brought together by colour, I put everything together. Sometimes I mix it with like 90s/80s sports looks which is different to how it looks now. Sports looks are used as a style in the street, street style. Adidas was used in the 90s and I kinda love that look. I love skiing outfits, because of the colours and when you put them together they make the model look fierce. One of my favourite things is how the model’s body is positioned. I go deep into that and how I can make this model look fierce, and how her body can present that fierceness. Basically, that’s how my styles comes.

I think a perfect example is your picture of Vanessa Elisha in the yellow coat, sky behind her and she’s creating an almost awkward shape but it is the outline against the sky.

Exactly.

“Sky might fall but I am not worried at all” @vanessaelisha 💛✨💃🏽

A post shared by 🦅Rovel 🦅 (@rovelhg) on

I do like how you set everything against the sky, so the colour is popping.

That brings such a fierce look into it.

Along with the clothes, you often bring the textures of the landscape around the models that are brightly coloured. But they move from just being part of the world to just your background, and you often focus just on the colour and ignore the rest – it makes it very much your image.

It does, one of the things about that is the sky. It’s always there, the first thing you wake up to is the sky, and when you are going to sleep, the last thing you watch is the sky and so like, as a kid I had a deep attachment to that, to the sky, And now just looking at the sky is one of my favourite things to do, so that’s why when I use like the sky as a backdrop, it’s not even a second thought. It’s automatic, it just happens, and that’s why I named it Touch The Sky, because it’s heavily influenced by how the sky makes me feel in a sense, [and how] putting colours in the sky makes me feel.

It’s just there.

It’s just there. It’s such a happy feeling, brightens up your day, such a positive feeling.

The sky is there and you can put any colours you want against them. I do find it interesting when you do use patterns, to break up, it kinda breaks up the colour. Often it will be many shots that are one or two colours contrasting but every so often, you will have a very detailed patterned shirt. Is there something specific in those choices?

I do use a lot of colours, a lot of similar colours and put them together. [I like] playing with colour blocking but at times I like to completely switch it up with patterns and that is a direct influence of Jimi Hendrix’s style back in the day, and one of my favourite influences of my work, Solange Knowles. Those patterns and stuff are a direct influence of her. My personal style is a lot of patterns, so that is kind of where it comes from.

Where do you source the clothing, if I may ask?

Originally, I am a designer. So half of my outfits I have used, I have designed myself and half of them, I do a lot of thrift shopping. One of my favourite parts of everything about my work is, people would expect me to enjoy the photography part more, but it is the last thing I enjoy. One of the things I enjoy the most is putting outfits together and seeing how I can colour block it and choose the best model for it. The styling part is my favourite part of everything, so basically I do a lot thrift shopping. Sometimes I will go to 10-15 thrift shops in a day and find all of those pieces together and then go home and put them all together. My closets are full of thrift shop clothing.

In that, do you put an outfit together and then find the model or do you find the model and dress them?

Usually, most of the models are my friends, that’s why my work feels more intimate. It feels just as if the models resemble me and my style, and they just feel it because it is such a friendly environment. Most of the people I have used have been my friends or people I have had relationships with, prior to me asking to shoot them. Usually, I have a bunch of outfits set up, this will go with this one, and I try to see how they look in it and I picture their body type and shape to see how it will fit on them. Understanding different shapes of bodies is an important part of it, different outfits look different on different bodies.

That was going to be my next question, you can’t always just throw something on someone, it’s got to fit them and be comfortable.

Comfort is one of the most important things. If the model isn’t comfortable, and you can see it in their face, in their confidence, in the way they are posing – for me personally, part of my work, part of me is left in that model so when I style them the way I want to style them, they have to feel comfortable in it. Before everything, they have to feel comfortable. So I do a lot of BTS, to show them how it looks, and most of the time they feel really comfortable. At first they have no idea what to expect, and then when they see the outfits, it builds up this confidence like, “I could rock more outfits like this.” I just watch their confidence elevate after you have shot the photo and styled them.

Style is inherently self-expression. Style is confidence. Someone with style is someone who is singular therefore, being in control of your style is being a little more ‘you’. Your photos are very identifiable, even across your different styles and backgrounds and outfits, you can tell you’ve curated that image, you are in it- even though you don’t appear in all of your images, it’s your style following through. It’s interesting how you will dress everyone differently. I do like how across men, women and all people – there doesn’t seem to be a heavy gender bias.

Definitely not.

Not in colours or the shapes, people will just be dressed – is that a conscious choice?

That’s a very conscious choice. A lot of stylists and photographers at the moment are sexualising too much, but that’s not really my thing. I’m not uncomfortable but I’m not entirely comfortable with shooting a woman like to sexualise or anything, I just style them the way I imagine how I would style them. Most of my outfits, even when I style most men in my work, most of the outfits have been females.

It’s always better clothing.

I always tell my friends, the people I hang out with, if you want to find the best outfits, go to the female section, feel confident enough to go the female section because you will find amazing pieces.

‘Cause you don’t know the difference between men’s and women’s pants.

Yeah, when you wear it, no one will have any idea that they are female’s pants.

Yeah, in their construction there are two things – the side the buttons are on and where the crotch part ends. That’s it.

It’s usually covered with a shirt, barely see it. Most of my outfits, the coats are female coats, the tops etc, and I just find ways to put it together on males and females. Everything was gender based when I was growing up, everyone was like what’s this and that – this is women’s clothes. I kinda wanna fight against that part.

Even if you put a woman’s shirt on a dude, it fits to his shape.

Exactly, if you have the taste and the eye to put this outfit together on a model, and you understand every aspect of it, how it fits this person, I think any outfits can look good.

Clothing is built for shapes, it’s not gendered – it’s shapes. I go with, some men have rounder hips, so they fit traditional women’s pants ’cause they fit the shape. It’s nice to see that your work is focused on youth. In 2017 there is even a colour called millennial pink because more men than ever are wearing that shade of pink, because we are hitting a point that men do care more about getting dressed up. Have you noticed the change in the past? That men are more engaged?

Especially in the past two years, style has changed so much – males are more comfortable in wearing whatever that makes them feel good, instead of what is perceived to be the standard of society, and people are just expressing themselves. It’s beautiful to see. That’s what my work is about, self-expression, and however you like.Eeverything I am doing is to embody self-expression.

The clothing you use covers a range of styles and decades, do you have any direct influences?

I don’t say I have one generation that influences my style, but each generation has a different influence on me. I’m very close to the 90s and the early 00s styles. A lot of the way the models appear, if you have seen those early 2000s and 90s album covers and things of that nature, they are more upfront to the camera, just fierce. I kinda love those looks, early Missy Elliot, I’m a huge fan of her style and how she expresses herself and in her videos. Diana Ross, I find myself going in that direction – there is a lot of connection between Diana Ross and Solange and the way they present their style and their colours. And Prince, he’s been a huge influence on my work, that not giving a fuck that comes from him. When I’m going to anything, people like Jimi Hendrix – they are in the back of my mind.

From those influences, it seems like they all know how to channel femininity in a way, thinking of Jimi, Prince – they are noted for channelling their version of femininity while still holding their version of masculinity. They take away that stoic, aggressive, boringness of it all. They know how to use colour, it never took away their masculinity.

Yeah exactly.

You just styled Cub Sport’s latest video clip ‘Chasin’’, well done – they got all made up, it was beautiful. How was that experience?

That experience was amazing. I’ve been working with Cub Sport for the past 2-3 months, I did a few of those tour posters and they asked me style their music video. I’m heavily interested in music videos so when they asked me to do it, I was happy to. It was just really beautiful [and] really easy to style. I’d styled them before so I understood their body shape and everything. They wanted colourful looks with flared pants, so I kinda based their looks on early 70s and what it embodied. I’m actually styling the next video (for Good Guys Go) which is in a week. It’s already begun, with the 70s BMW.

They are really going all out these days.

They are really killing it.

I think they found their direction.

They found their direction and people are gravitating towards their music heavy.

They’ve properly struck out on their own; putting out their album, they really care, it’s how they want.

Yeah, I’m styling ‘Good Guys Go’. It’s pretty interesting styling that and then my exhibition is not far away on the 25th.

Do you have any plans for more music videos?

I might be directing a Gill Bates video, he’s my cousin – I will definitely be doing more music videos. That’s the direction I want to go: I want to be able to shoot them myself. Most of my photography is directly influenced from music videos; how they would style themselves, present themselves, have their swagger. That’s how I developed this taste for my outfits. I definitely see myself directing music videos in the future.

It’d be beautiful, especially if you got control of the shooting

That’s why I took my time, shooting and getting better at that. And then, because once you have the eye for it, it’s a lot easier, you can see how they would pose in a music video and stuff.

You do have to develop a personal style.

It’s the hardest part

You’ve got to learn how to dress yourself first and then you can dress other people.

That’s the hardest part, understanding your own style to the point you can put it on other people and it will look good. Feeling comfortable in your own skin and the outfits, is the first thing before you can style anybody.

I definitely agree. Do you have a favourite music video?

I have a lot, one of them- the reason I love this music video, is because it relates so much to my exhibition ‘Touch The Sky’. ‘Find Me’ by Buddy. I love this video because it is him, floating in the sky in a car. He’s singing about wanting to fly himself. I really love that, that’s what the sky means to me; to kind of get away from people, to find myself and the sky is just there.

Tell me more about the exhibition

The gallery space is huge, it’s not the way people are expecting. The venue is huge, there is music – Keelan Mak, Imani and Lorenzo are all performing and a special guest might be performing. I actually went to high school with Lorenzo and Keelan, we grew up together. It’s just going to be such a good vibe and meeting a lot of creatives and musicians. Everyone should definitely come.

Rovel Hagos’ first exhibition is on the 25th of November at Cupo/17 Maclachlan Street, Fortitude Valley in Brisbane and will feature live performances from Lorenzo, Imani Sharp and Keelan Makget your tickets here for what will be one of the most well-styled functions of the week.

Main image of Rovel Hagos shot by James Hornsby

INTERVIEW BY LLOYD CRACKETT 

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