Hollie Fernando’s dreamlike imagery pays homage to classical paintings

The Brighton-based photographer draws inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelite era for her striking images, using analogue film and a meticulous darkroom process to create her own fantastical worlds

There is a distinctly dreamlike quality that imbues Hollie Fernando’s photography. Inspired by the rich colour palettes, lighting styles and symbolic features traditionally seen in classical paintings, her images of people and places feel both delicate and powerful at the same time.

The Brighton-based photographer discovered her creative streak from a young age, whether making fairy houses in her garden or cooking mud pies with her siblings, but her first introduction to photography came from being in front of the camera.

All images courtesy of Open Doors Gallery unless specified

“Growing up, my dad would be constantly documenting us – taking photos and home videos,” says Fernando. “We have loads of physical photo albums and hundreds of hours of tape footage, and I’m sure this would have directly contributed to the way I wanted to document the world.”

Fernando’s dad gave her her first film camera when she was 15, and she spent the following months begging her parents to let her move schools so that she could study photography properly. “Once I was in the darkroom at my new school, it was game over for everything else. I practically lived in there, I even ate lunch in there so I didn’t have to stop printing,” she says.

“I was completely fascinated by the way I could conjure up and tell my own stories, which at the time mainly featured my little siblings and cousins in the woods behind our house being weird fairy tree folk. And, like everyone, I became addicted to the feeling you get when seeing your film photos back for the first time.”

Fernando opted to study photography at uni, but dropped out a year into her degree, choosing to learn the ropes by assisting instead. Her decision seems to have paid off: alongside her personal projects she has worked on commissions for adidas, Rolling Stone and, most recently, an editorial piece for Highsnobiety to mark Gucci and the North Face’s coveted new range of outdoor wear.

While she is now more likely to be shooting famous musicians or actors than her siblings, Fernando stills takes the same relaxed approach in order get the best out of her subjects. “I think as I grew up shooting my siblings and having them constantly at my disposal, I learnt the lesson of when someone wasn’t in the mood to be photographed quite quickly,” she explains.

“I also hate being photographed myself, so I am constantly trying to make sure my subjects are comfortable and having a good time, as I’m so aware how awful it can be as an experience if you don’t like it. On a shoot, I involve lots of chats, laughs, breaks and food but ultimately, I always try to work together with whoever I’m shooting, so that we are collaboratively creating something meaningful to both of us.”

Since picking up her first film camera, Fernando is still a diehard analogue fan, and hand prints most of her work in the dark room to create the ethereal aesthetic she has become well known for.

“I am obsessed with the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and would say they were my ultimate creative influence,” she says. “I definitely find huge amounts of inspiration in the symbolism, allegories and colours of that time.”

Beyond her client work, Fernando has recently ventured into new pastures, including releasing her first photo book as part of Setanta Books and Open Doors Gallery’s pandemic-born collaboration, which is celebrating the work of emerging and unpublished photographic artists.

As for what’s next for Fernando? “I want to do more exhibitions and photobooks, so watch this space,” she says.