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The power of color 

The fashion photographer and visual artist, Lea Colombo, on intuition, returning home and tuning into new energy through intense color.

Lea Colombo (she/her) has found her rhythm. Best known for her saturated, color-drenched fashion imagery, the self-taught photographer, director and multidisciplinary artist has been on an impressive career trajectory since moving to Paris after high school, a run of personal projects and big-name commissions from the likes of Dazed & Confused and i-D taking her across the globe and back again on a constant cycle. Settling for a period in London, thoughts quickly turned to priorities and a return to her home city of Cape Town. ‘London just didn’t resonate with me anymore, so I decided last year just to take time out and allow myself the space to come to Cape Town, it’s been a very creative place for me, and it’s really held that energy.’

Now working between image-making and sculpture, speaking from her newly acquired studio space, we come back time and again to intuition. Trusting her instincts intensely, an ability to tap into something higher, deeper, sits at the core of her body of work. Whether her celebrated series of intimate, palette-rich self-portraits, Colours of my body, or the incredible floral photograms she created for a capsule COS collection, Lea’s output connects us to color’s primal power and its remarkable ability to shift our mood and that of those around us. ‘Colors are the living language of light, the hallmark of conscious reality. Everything we look at is color.’

 ‘Colors are the living language of light, the hallmark of conscious reality. Everything we look at is color.’

‘I didn’t take the traditional art school route; life has been my study in a sense. I didn’t enjoy school but I had an amazing art teacher who opened me up to photography and I’d always had an interest in fashion so it was very clear to me what I wanted, and needed, to do. After high school I ended up in Paris. I was doing little jobs here and there but saw a gap with backstage photography. I started shooting for Dazed & Confused which meant I’d spend the whole month travelling for fashion weeks. That to me was the biggest school, I’d end up in scenarios backstage, terrible lighting, two minutes to capture amazing images, so you have to be really creative. It was a challenge and a push, it was about making things work with few resources, you don’t always need all the equipment and for everything to be perfect to create a powerful image and that’s exciting.’

‘I’ve always had a very playful sense. I would never limit myself to one way of seeing or thinking with anything in life. I would always push myself, try different things, add new layers. I always ask myself - what can I bring into my practice that can further the vision, create new energy?’

‘The work in the darkroom is a very specific visual identity where I work with light, color, shape and form to create photograms and that’s what I used for this specific collection for COS which is really exciting. I love that element of being in the dark and just shaping and creating all these beautiful visuals.'

‘I gravitate towards color, it holds such a strong and powerful healing energy in lots of different ways and for lots of different reasons. It’s fun to be open to that and see how you’re naturally drawn to certain colors and what that might mean intuitively or in the body. These are all things that we’re seeing and feeling, consciously and subconsciously, but perhaps we’re not always listening to it. I’m really interested in its relationship to energy, how we’re all made up of energy centers and chakras and how they’re all based on colors. I think if people were to embrace color, they’d understand how it can raise their vibrations, their frequency.’

‘COS came to me and were really interested in all my floral prints and colors, so our conversation started there. I curated a few specific designs and put together a selection that would be applied to both men’s and women’s, which I thought was amazing. COS is usually quite minimal so I was really excited by the direction we were taking and so was the team. It’s coming back to what we were talking about around color and people’s reactions, it was this immediate “wow”.’

‘With the collection and the color palette, it’s a whole exchange of energy. It can amplify, excite. You’re going to stand out and there’s power in that, I’m excited to see and hear how people react and I’m excited to wear it myself. I hope that people walk into the store and see it and it’ll be this beautiful tipping point. Like that moment when you wake up and decide to get out of the other side of the bed, drink your coffee from a different cup, maybe when people walk into the store, they’ll challenge themselves to try something new.’

‘It’s about the land. We’re below Table Mountain and then there’s Lion’s Head so there’s all this beautiful landscape, and I think that’s why rock and stone have now started to enter my practice which is really exciting. The quality of light, the ability to just go and jump straight into the ocean. We’re all so ingrained in this 9-5 life, in Cape Town we're surrounded by constant reminders that there are these other elements that are essential to our happiness and wellbeing.’

‘I’ve always loved stone and gemstones. The Red Jasper stone I’ve been working with is solid, harder than steel. It’s been very physical work but it’s amazing because you have to be so present and so focused because of the machines and materials you’re using. I try not to have any expectations with my sculpture, just to listen and trust, to see where it goes with no restrictions.’

‘We suddenly had all this time to be creative, to try new things because none of us had anywhere we needed to be. So I started photographing myself and playing with light and color. I couldn’t go to the darkroom so I had to create something powerful and beautiful with what I had around me at home. I photographed myself every day and that’s when this whole body of work, Colours of my Body, began to evolve.'

If you had asked me before if I would ever photograph myself I would have said absolutely no way, but it needed to happen. It was part of a process around acceptance and love as well as all these deeper questions around the masculine and the feminine, diving into that polarity that we have within ourselves. I don’t see me, I see the body and shape and form. It was a really beautiful exercise.’

‘The best advice I’ve received is to trust in oneself and the journey, to trust that you are where you are meant to be in any one given moment in time. To understand that everyone is on their own path and there’s no right or wrong and no point in comparing yourself to others.’

‘With the collection, the color palette, it’s a whole exchange of energy. You’re going to stand out and there’s power in that.’


What was the last book you read?
The Way of the White Clouds by Anagarika Govinda, it’s really beautiful, set in Tibet

If you could catch a flight to anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
Kenya or Ethiopia, they’ve been on my mind.

Last great film you saw?
C’mon C’mon by Mike Mills.

What’s your most treasured possession?
I carry this blue lapis lazuli stone everywhere with me.

How would your friends describe you?
Colorful! Vibrant. They all call me Colombo Colors.

Words by Lena Dystant
Photography by Lea Colombo

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