Celebrating the female form.

Together with Freunde von Freunden we meet Akila Berjaoui, whose photos of sun-drenched beaches, Bondi girls, and light-dappled water recall a photographic aesthetic which to this point, has mainly been the domain of men.
Text: Angela Briggs
Photos: Isabella Moore

Mirror of the soul.

On a crystal clear day in Sydney, Akila Berjaoui gave us a personal tour in her Mercedes-Benz 1969 250 CE of her favourite spots surrounding her home in the suburb of Bronte.

Handsomely rugged cliffs overhang the beachside town and Tamarama beach seems to perfectly embody Akila’s persona. It was here we learn more about her life, passions and dreams for the future.

Heart in hand: Akila Berjaoui photographs the riverside of Sydney

Between Australia and Lebanon.

Let’s start at the beginning. You grew up living between Australia and Lebanon, what were your early years like?

I was born in Tweed Heads, a town in Northern NSW, Australia. I am really close to my mum. She is Australian and my father is Lebanese and Turkish. We spent my childhood in Beirut and the summer holidays were spent in Northern NSW where my grandparents lived.

Akila Berjaoui is grown up multicultural an open for any inspirations.
With the S-Class of Mercedes-Benz Akila Berjaouis is rambling through the town of the upholding sun.

In love with Sydney.

Having lived in Sydney for the past ten years now, what is it about Sydney you love?

Recently, I have fallen back in love with Sydney. I am so lucky to live in Bronte and near the beach. It’s peaceful and beautiful, with nature as far as the eye can see. I love the endless sunshine and for me the ocean screams freedom, it’s my place to escape.

Beach, friends and party.

How do you spend your downtime?

My time is spent with lots of sunshine, water, delicious food and friends. We spend our days at the beach, and at night I love a good house party with lots of dancing and music. I had always dreamed of owning an old-school Mercedes and when I returned from New York, I bought a black 1969 250 CE, so now I drive down to visit my family on the South Coast in the Bega Valley as much as I can.

The apartment of Akila Berjaoui has its own individual charm.

It represents me and my aesthetic perfectly. I enjoy checking out the surrounding beaches and national parks.

A classy way to get around.

Do you have a favourite local drive?

I love taking the drive along the coastal road from Sydney to Wollongong. It is an absolutely stunning journey that takes just under one and a half hours. It is so relaxing and breathtaking to take in the natural scenery.

According to Akila Berjaoui, the vehicles of Mercedes-Benz are what everybody like.

What do you love about Mercedes-Benz?

They’re pretty sexy wouldn’t you say? Who doesn’t love them? For me they represent a very classy way to get around. I particularly love the vintage SL series. Very sleek and chic.

Akila Berjaoui sits comfortable in her S-Class of Mercedes-Benz and let blandish herself by the vintage-leather flavor.

Conveniently vintage.

The best thing about your car?

For me it is the crafted interior with the old school leather that gets me. I love the smell and it is so comfortable.

Favourite driving song right now?

“Wolf Like Me” by the American band TV on the Radio’s album “Return to Cookie Mountain.” It’s a killer track.

The passion.

Tell us about another kind of journey – the one into photography.

In high school I took photography as a fun elective. I ended up getting an A for that class, however, my teacher prefaced the mark with, “You have zero idea how to use an analogue camera, however you take exceptionally good photos.” At university I took a couple of photography classes and again the composition came naturally, but the technical side was still a bit of a struggle.

What Akila Berjaoui learned at university, helped her a lot by handling the camera – but the sense of aesthetic she had before.

The catalyst behind photography as a profession came about after a photographer booked for a Russh magazine shoot failed to show up. I had my Polaroid camera with me and I ended up shooting that day. Luckily, everyone really liked the shots I took and before I knew it I was on a plane to Asia and began shooting in over five different countries. I knew I had found something that I truly loved and I knew I was lucky to have found my passion.

The experiments of the women in the 1950s and 1970s concerning their handle of sexuality inspire Akila Berjaoui.

The feminine essence.

Describe your work and aesthetic to us.

It’s hard to describe, I prefer to shoot with women, because as a woman myself, the dynamic created during a shoot is more intimate and authentic. My photographs are quite sensual and I want them to be about the girls and capturing their essence. I draw a lot of inspiration from the 50s, 60s and 70s. People were much more experimental and I love the way women were exploring their bodies.

Henrick Purienne shares Akilas passion for mastering xeroxing of the femaleness.

Role models.

Who inspires you creatively?

Slim Aarons, Ellen von Unwerth, Juergen Teller, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber und my friend Henrik Purienne. I love how Henrik shoots women.

Another favourite is Peter Beard; his work for Pirelli is amazing. These photographers are all standouts, everything about their work melts my heart.

Be true to yourself.

Share your biggest lessons with us?

My biggest lessons have been to remain artistically detached at times and set clear-cut goals. I have to constantly deliver images to sell a product and make an image look really good, and sometimes people have different ideas of what looks good.

For Akila Berjaoui it is very important to remain faithful to her style and because of this she cancels unsuitable jobs.

I have always remained true to myself and selective of my collaborations so aesthetically the work resonates with me as much as possible.

Girls, cheetahs and lions.

What locations would you like to shoot next?

There are still so many Mediterranean islands that I would love to explore. Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily. I’m looking forward to going back to Capri as well. I will also shoot in the Greek Islands and the south of France. My ultimate location is Africa.

Palms, cheetahs and lions – Akila Berjaoui wants to combine all these elements in her photographs for future.

I have dreams of shooting campaigns inspired by Peter Beard’s work for Pirelli. I want to shoot images of girls, cheetahs and lions. I want to shoot campaigns for animals and create images that send a strong message of the importance of walking side by side with nature.

Animal protection is very important for Akila Berjaoui – with her donation of 20 percent of her earning she wants to protect sharks of declining.

Make a difference.

Are animal rights a passion of yours?

I’m just sucker for animals, I love all animals. They don’t have a voice to protect themselves and they’re dying because of us. Their life is in our hands and we have killed off so many species already.

A hundred million sharks every year are killed – this is a disgrace and I want to make a difference. Moving forward, I am committed to donating 20 percent of the profit from the sale of my prints to animal conservation.

A look forward.

And finally, let’s pretend we have a crystal ball. What do you foresee in your future?

Ok, that’s easy. I will be working and living on a big property. There will be animals everywhere, we will have a pool straight out of Slim Aarons’ book. I will be living with my love. We will have a couple of children and a beautiful home with incredible art all over the walls. There will be lion cubs everywhere because we’re absolutely going to have a lion park. I will be shooting incredible campaigns and beautiful stories for all the brands I mentioned. And I will be a hard-core animal activist.

In the future Akila Berjaoui dream is to desire only the best of the best – but the wish of driving a S-Class of Mercedes-Benz is also fulfilled.

Family holidays will be spent along the Mediterranean coast and I will be publishing books of my favourite images. Half the proceeds will go to animal conservation funds. That will be my life: nature, beaches, photography, animals and lots of fun.

Thank you for a wonderful afternoon Akila. We wish you all the very best for your upcoming projects and adventures.

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