Marta Lamovsek is not someone you would easily forget. If you’ve met her, or if you’ve been lucky to be photographed by her, you would have had the unique experience of looking at yourself through a lens that frames your inner warrior.
Known for her vividly beautiful portraits, Marta’s ICONBOOTH is an installation that came to life in 2018. It fits right at home in the diverse and ever-changing culture of the United Arab Emirates, utilizing the unique elements that come from decades of artisanal creativity to create a style of her own.
The subjects in her photographs are donned in colorful garments and patterns, as well as jewelry and headpieces that Marta finds on her strolls through souqs and Dubai’s Satwa markets.
Nearly two decades ago at the age of 22, she saw a stunning portrait of a woman on the wall of a restaurant. This brought on what she calls her lightbulb moment. She took that newfound inspiration and bought herself a camera, shooting photos for the first time in her life with intention.
“I don’t really think things through. Inspiration comes to me out of nowhere. My intuition is very strong,” she says. “The first negative I developed, there was like 36 faces, and maybe a cat.”
Growing up she was naturally more inclined to drawing portraiture, but after moving to London in 2009 to pursue a postgraduate course at Central Saint Martins, she worked predominantly in publishing and fashion photography, still finding her way to who she was becoming.
“Fashion allowed me to be a storyteller. It gave me that creativity and ability to envision stories,” she says. “But that only happens, unfortunately, when I create the story and I have my own direction and I build the whole thing. When I do these for clients…its another story and I realized that it’s not for me.”
While in London, she would roam the streets and ask strangers if she could take their picture. Her unique ability to make the most camera-shy strangers comfortable is her secret ingredient and is a skill that she developed intrinsically over years by photographing hundreds of people.
Born in Yugoslavia and raised there well into her teens, Marta remembers a country that no longer exists and says that she feels as though she is a tourist every time she visits Slovenia now.
“I feel like I have a certain identity crisis,” she says, “People ask me, how come you’re so inspired by and attached to this Middle Eastern culture that is not yours?”
A surprise turn of events brought her to the UAE five years ago. Following a trip to Dubai for a project, Marta felt like she found the perfect dream set for her photoshoots. Entranced by the diversity and culture, she would wander the souqs for hours, collecting garments, jewelry, and props that she now uses for her portraits.
“People say it’s cultural appropriation, but if only they knew how much I love these places,” she says. “I go to more humble places in Dubai, have a karak there, and talk to people who work there about their work and life and family in Pakistan. I don’t put myself in that position – I naturally gravitate to that and it fills my heart.”
There is a transformative element in her work. She is fuelled by the challenge of bringing out the inner beauty of someone who walks into her studio guarded, wearing plain clothes, and with their best camera smile on.
“There is an element in my photography that is mine, and that is the need to bring a person’s spirit, honesty, and grace out, even when they have a mask on for society to showcase the best version of themselves,” she says.
“In my space, I have this desire to strip a person of that and just bring out the pure soul.”
The characters she creates take on an aura of spiritual warriors. “Somebody looks at the photograph, looks at themselves, and thinks oh, I didn’t know I’m so beautiful,” she says. “When I bring a person into this spiritual place, I have a feeling that I have a healer in me that has not come out yet, but it is somehow showing through the work that I do.”
Right now, Marta loves and lives for the work that she does, but she believes that it is necessary to go through stages of doing what you don’t love and having faith that you will come upon your most authentic self.
During this recent pandemic, Marta says she went into “pandemic paranoia” driven by an uncertainty about how she could continue doing her job. Eventually, she was able to sit with her work and imagine new elements she wants to bring to the ICONBOOTH, massively transforming something that is already transforming the way we look at ourselves. Find Marta: http://martalamovsek.com/