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March - Raya.

Raya has been a fashion photographer for eight years and is based in New York. In her images the accent is on light. She is very fond of inventing photographic situations inspired by fairy tales and films. "A photographer is nothing without good equipment. I have my personal assistant, a Hasselblad camera, and together we are a perfect team". Her major clients include Lolita Lempicka, Vuarnet Perfume, Daniel Hechter, Club Med, Harper's Bazaar, Elle etc.

Art has always played an important role in Raya's life. When she was young she enjoyed painting and drawing and, before she ever considered becoming a professional photographer, she collected Harcourt postcards. Although she now says that she would have liked to have been an architect - she often draws plans of her future loft - she spent her first wages on a camera (as she didn't have enough money for a video camera!). Having realised that she wasn't going to make a living by taking only artistic photographs, she extended her subject matter to include fashion. "In 1998," she says, "I dropped the small jobs to take up photography full-time."

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Since then, Raya's career has gone from strength to strength, although she has had no formal photographic education. "I started photography without even knowing what the 'aperture' was," she says, "but gradually I learned how to control the light, how to have the "fashion eye", how to direct a whole team, and especially how to find a team which suited me." And for Raya, working with a good team is one key factor in her success: "For a good photograph, the clothes, the background, the hairstyle, the make-up and the light all have to work together - in short, it's a team task."

Raya also feels that it is important to follow a theme for each image she shoots: "I think that people like the ideas and the stories in my photographs - I really enjoy making the models beautiful. I also like working with animals - they're a lot of fun, except when you need them to keep still!"

Remaining on the subject of animals, Raya considers that some of her best shots have included animals: "I am particularly happy with my series of photos with a chicken we called Brigitte, who was great fun to work with. Brigitte responded best to my make-up girl, Kim, whom she even allowed to put jewelled nail varnish on her - a true 'luxury' hen! That photograph won me the fashion photograph prize at Cannes in 2005."

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Raya's clients already include many top fashion magazines, including Harper's Bazaar and Icon, with which she is very proud to have worked, and cosmetics and clothing brands, such as Lolita Lempicka, Daniel Hechter and Vuarnet. Despite the impressive client line-up, however, she feels that she can "still do 100 times better" and says: "It's great when people like my photographs, but for me it is still not enough. I want to get to the top and then it will be easier for me to have access to the magazines that have big budgets to really do what I want to do with top models and haute couture."

 Vogue Italia, in particular, should take note, as one of Raya's goals is one day to work with the magazine: "It seems to me that the photographers (that Vogue Italy uses) are more artistic than elsewhere and that they really enjoy themselves. I'm also thinking of doing more advertisements with prestigious brands as I find advertising interesting."

In the meantime, Raya has recently moved to New York, where, as well as canvassing all the advertising agencies to get herself known, she held an exhibition in a large gallery in Times Square, the proceeds from which went to UNICEF. "It is important to use your talent for good causes too," she says.

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Admiring fashion photographers Vincent Peters, Dominique Isserman and Ellen Von Unwerth, Raya approaches every shoot as an adventure and gives each 100% concentration, so much so that she says: "…when I get home I need to sleep for at least two days." Her determination to produce the best possible work also extends to the quality of the equipment she uses: "For me, Hasselblad is the leader in professional camera equipment. I was impressed when I saw a film about Hasselblad and saw the Hasselblad cameras on the moon. It is also a brand which knows how to maintain a modern image with its photographers and at the moment, no technology is more advanced. I didn't like the very old medium format cameras and really wanted modern equipment as simple to use as 35mm, but with the quality of medium format. Hasselblad were the first to provide that and I love the easy flexibility (of their digital camera systems)."

She continues: "I use a Hasselblad H2D, which I love - it's as simple to use as a '24x36'. What's more, it's my first digital system and it's a real pleasure not to have to wait for polaroids anymore before adjusting the lighting. I have no patience, so like to work quickly - I want to see the result straight away. I can adjust my lighting very quickly and busy myself with the model quietly so I am comfortable, the client is okay and I can do all the final post-production the same evening. The client can also head off with a CD and send their choice by email to me. If the client is abroad during the shoot, I can send the photographs to him. No more wasting time running to the laboratory, stressing all night waiting for the results, and then running them over to the client. In short, all that is in the past; the only problem now is that, having used the Hasselblad digital camera, I never want to go back to working with film again."

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Thanks to having a 'tremendous' husband and a good baby-sitter, Raya manages to successfully combine her photographic career with her family life - she has two daughters, aged seven and nine. For her, photography is a major part of her life and she offers the following advice to young people who are considering professional photography as their own career: "Believe in yourself, don't give up and have confidence, aim very high and always to want to do better. Of 30 closed doors, there will be one which will open."

In her dreams, Raya sees "(shoots for) more fantastic brands, more advertising work, more book exhibitions, a superb photo studio, a wonderful loft, a great yellow Hummer car," and then says: "Okay, I'll stop being delirious. I'll be satisfied with Vogue Italia and to be proud of my work and my life!"