“Our aesthetic is rooted in the concept of constructing imagery. We are not documentary photographers – our focus is not to capture a moment, but rather to create one through the tools and skills at our disposal. We create and then convey narratives to our audience.” This is how The Seppis describe their work, a style that has become their signature.
Seema Allie (30) and Taariq September (31) are a Capetonian duo that has more than a decade of shooting experience behind them –as individuals and as a team.
Last year, they took a leap into the world of freelancing. “It was an uphill battle to stop myself from being sucked into the corporate world,” says September of his career before freelancing.
Allie agrees: “I started working in the corporate world soon after graduation; it was a four-year journey with many ups and downs. I would never trade the time I spent there, I really learnt a lot about myself through this process. But my biggest lesson is that I will never work for a corporate again”.
The move to freelancing also allowed them to focus on their collaborative work – a pursuit that has always run alongside their individual projects. “When we were both studying, we helped each other with the conceptualisation and execution of projects. This flowed over into all aspects of our creative process,” says Allie.
“For a long time we attempted to maintain separate ownership of what we produced but eventually came to the realisation that by holding on to this notion of ownership and separateness we were significantly stunting our growth. Once we fully submitted to something bigger than the sum of our parts we realised the full extent of the untapped potential we had to make work together,” she added.
Married for almost five years, the two have struck an essential balance between working alone and as a team. “We still take time for personal expression as this is very important to both of us. It is important because it allows us to renew ourselves and then come back together.”
Inspiration for their artistic expression comes from movies, music videos and artists they admire. “We definitely draw inspiration from photographers we look up to, people like Ren Hang, Eugenio Reucenco, Juno Calypso, Cindy Sherman, Evelyn Benicova, Zanele Muholi and Tim Walker.”
Their aim is not to dictate anything to the viewer, emphasising the personal nature of what they do. “Unless it is commissioned, we create work for ourselves out of a constant need to process certain thoughts or emotions,” they say. “Therefore, what we produce is a very personal expression of something we have chosen to transform into a visual expression.
The Seppis consider themselves storytellers, and “the tools we use to tell those stories just happen to be a light and a camera”.
“Ultimately we just hope that what we create – the stories we choose to tell – move people, even it if is purely through the visual pleasure of seeing a beautiful image.”
The creative process behind these stories and images can be rigorous. It starts with mood boarding to determine the art direction by assembling reference images that will guide them. “Following this, we have a production meeting to crystalise the concept and flesh out final details of the shoot. It is also required of us to choose the team, ensure they are all informed and that everything runs smoothly on shoot day,” say The Seppis.
“The most important part of the process is to hold a space for the other creatives we have involved to allow them to also express themselves. This is helped by making sure that there is room for things to happen organically on set,” they add.
Working collaboratively takes a lot of careful planning, but comes with its perks. “We fully trust one another and we constantly strive to push each other’s creative boundaries. We are also capable of recognising each other’s strengths and weaknesses and then bolster one another where needed.”
And while they have managed to find a working groove that allows for freedom of movement and the open exchange of ideas and concerns, they acknowledge that effective communication is sometimes a challenge, particularly on set.
“As with most couples, we argue, get frustrated and we can lose our tempers – which is not an option on set where we have to remain professional. We made a decision early on that if we get frustrated with one another on set to table the discussion until the shoot is complete and then have a debriefing session to iron out issues.”
Even so, they would not give up on working together. “I think if I was working on my own, my work would be incomplete,” Allie says. “Taariq challenges me creatively by challenging my perception of beauty and life on a daily basis. I feel the need to control everything, but Taariq really helps me with this by keeping me grounded and holding the space for me when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed.”
For September, it is Allie that keeps his work gentle. “Without Seema, my work would most likely be very harsh. She helps me with the art of restraint. Seema’s belief in me inspires me to keep pushing through challenges.”
A lot of their recent work has been collaborative, working with designers and stylists, creative directors and makeup artists.
“Collaborations are really the primary vehicles we use to put our work out there. We are very specific about the platforms as well as the people we choose to collaborate with – their vision needs to align with ours,” says the duo.
They prefer to shoot people as their “aesthetic lends itself easily to fashion photography”. Their recent collaborations, such as their ongoing work with local clothing brand Simon Deporres and artwork for rapper Dope Saint Jude’s EP launch, are beautiful cases in point.
“Another is our recent collaboration with art director, makeup artist and production designer Mehnaaz Maleta, who is a young and extremely talented individual. Our aesthetics and creative processes align seamlessly.”
Their work is not limited to photography; they have also shot and directed a fashion film for designer Quaid Stephen Heneke when he appeared in his drag alter ego, Queezy.
They count their recent shoot for Elle Decoration’s Africa issue a highlight. “It was the first shoot we did for print in a local magazine and it was a full spread. It was such a privilege and we are really proud of the result,” says Seema.
Another milestone was moving into their new studio, one of their favourite locations to shoot. “We love to construct narratives and to control the external factions like lighting, props and set,” they say. Being in their own space means the “freedom to create and expand on our personal vision”, says September.
The Seppis have their eye on shooting fashion stories in the next few months as summer rolls in. “Season is coming, but we will also be placing a lot of emphasis and effort into producing personal work that we will be looking to turn into an exhibition at some point.”
The two are also planning a working trip to Europe for the middle of next year.
And looking back? Is there anything they wish they knew before embarking on this journey together? “We wish we knew that turning a passion into something profitable, that we can make a living from, requires the same approach as a start-up or any other entrepreneurial venture and should be approached as such from the get-go,” they say. “Building a brand is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week thing.”