Posted 14 March 2023
Mention Deye Sarr
Interview by Frankie Faccion

For photographer, designer and model Deye Sarr, self-teaching is the way

Photographer and designer Deye Sarr has crafted a career from learning on her own terms. An avid student of YouTube, she has benefitted from the platform’s plethora of tutorials, using trial and error to hone her skills. Taking influence from sound, pop culture and her experiences growing up in LA and Dakar, Deye’s photography practice is inspired by experimenting with colour and different disciplines. Her practice is also testament to the opportunities that arise from engaging with multiple disciplines, having landed her first modelling gig through Karlie Kloss’ coding camp. Here, she tells us about switching between modelling and photography on Lazy Oaf’s latest campaign shoot – and why a desire to teach yourself can be just as valuable as formal training.

Deye Sarr

Deye Sarr

Job Title

Photographer, Junior Designer and Model



Selected Clients

Pinterest, Adidas, Lazy Oaf

Place of Study

BA Computer Science, Pace University (2019–2023)
CertHe Vocal Performance, Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (2022–2023)


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance photographer and model.

I also work remotely as a contracted freelance junior designer working with a creative agency called PHNTM based out of LA. Most of my work is internal facing and includes pulling images for inspiration that inform our designs and creative treatments as a team, as well as designing graphics.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I mainly draw from my experiences of growing up in LA and Dakar. But I also get inspiration from the everyday: pop culture, social media and design platforms.

When shooting, I mainly pay attention to how I might be able to use colour in an interesting way, capturing small details that add to the overall composition.

A lot of my work is inspired by songs and the visuals that pop into my head when I’m listening to them. For one of the recent shoots I did with my friend Dara (below), I wanted to capture glossy and glittery textures with motion blur after listening to Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry and Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I’m self-taught. I learnt through watching YouTube videos and figuring out what I liked to do through trial and error. Formal training can be helpful, but I think a willingness to learn and the desire to refine your creative process is paramount!

“Formal training can be helpful, but a willingness to learn and the desire to refine your creative process is paramount.”

Which resources have you found most helpful to your photography practice as a self-taught creative?
Social media platforms like YouTube have been helpful in the way that they’ve allowed me to observe other photographers who also use the same equipment as me and are constantly finding new ways to get creative without necessarily breaking the bank.

Julia Trotti sparked my interest in macro photography and regularly compares lenses and camera bodies at different price points to show the kind of results you can get out of each. She’s the reason why I bought the macro lens that became my favourite for beauty portraiture, the Tokina Fírin 100mm Macro for Sony!

Serr inspires me with his eye for color and the fact that he was one of the first photographers on YouTube that I felt I could relate to as a university student with a similar budget. I think his film emulations and his cinematography are super-creative and it’s interesting to see the process behind them!

Willem Verbeeck is always a joy to watch because you can tell he has a profound sense of curiosity that drives the images he makes. He’s also always sharing helpful info for those who are looking to shoot film or to learn lighting setups!

Also, Samba inspires me with the mesmerising way he colorgrades his short films and the unique feel he’s curated for his videos. It’s always amazing to see a fellow Senegalese creative succeed and it’s been a pleasure to be able to follow his progression as a filmmaker!

Model Iyare, photographed by Deye
Iyare, photographed by Deye

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
My favourite project to work on this past year was modelling with Pinterest (below). It was a fun set and they made me feel really comfortable and looked after as a curve model.

Can you tell us about your experience participating in the Lazy Oaf campaign shoot?
I learned a lot about collaborating with other creatives and the process of shooting clothing.

It was different to other shoots I’ve been on because I was modelling at the same time as I was doing photography. In the past I’d do one or the other for the entirety of the shoot day, so it was interesting to switch between both disciplines on-set. It was super-fun to see the other creatives in their elements and to photograph them!

“On the Lazy Oaf shoot, I was modelling at the same time as doing photography, so it was interesting to switch between disciplines on-set.”

Lazyoaf campaign BTS 01

BTS of the Lazy Oaf campaign shoot

Lazyoaf BTS deye sarr

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I feel like I’m still finding my footing in regards to turning my passions into my main source of income. I’m still figuring out my niche and becoming more technically skilled.

I started doing photography when I was 15 on a starter DSLR and I’ve been engaged in a continual process of refining my editing, tastes and techniques ever since.

I landed my first modelling job when I was 19 (below). I got the opportunity [after being discovered] through Kode With Klossy, a coding camp run by [model] Karlie Kloss. I auditioned, and was lucky enough to be chosen for the opportunity!

Deye Sarr Photographer creativelivesinprogress 06

Deye for the Adidas X Karlie Kloss Collection

Deye Sarr Photographer creativelivesinprogress 05

Deye Sarr Photographer creativelivesinprogress 04

How did you go about landing your first commission?
My first paid job in both photography and modelling was for Adidas. I got the job through being in the Kode With Klossy program, which allowed me to audition for Karlie’s campaign with Adidas. I modelled and shot my materials for the campaign over a three-day period in March 2021 where I received creative direction and feedback through WhatsApp due to the fact that quarantine had just been lifted and we couldn’t shoot with a crew due to social distancing!

The campaign launched in August 2021 and I’d actually consider that my first DIY experience, now that I think back! From then, I continued to learn as much about modelling and photography as I could and I avidly sought out opportunities using social media that I felt would allow me to grow in both arenas.

I look back on that experience with a lot of fondness. It was literally just me on a beach with my camera and tripod, having fun and taking photos of myself.

After that opportunity, I worked on developing a solid portfolio and started pitching myself through emails and job boards! The process included a lot of trial and error, but eventually I got the hang of it based on the responses and feedback I received from the places I applied to.

“After my first opportunity, I worked on developing a solid portfolio and started pitching myself through emails and job boards.”

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Giving myself grace when I’m not immediately perfect at some aspects of my job. I have to remind myself that I’m self-taught and what matters is putting my best into every project I take part in.

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The Alchemist
by Paulho Coelho is a book that that taught me the value of forging my own path and not getting discouraged.

The How by Yrsa Daley Ward is also a book that helped me examine my own motivations and vision for my life as an artist!

The platform has been extremely helpful for me in terms of finding and collecting design inspiration.

BTS image of Deye on the Lazy Oaf shoot

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Social media is a tool to connect you with other creatives. It helps people and opportunities find you!

Using social media has allowed me to find other creatives who inspire me and follow their journeys. It has motivated my creative practice in part by giving me an audience to share my work with.

“Social media has motivated my creative practice in part by giving me an audience to share my work with.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’ve been freelancing as a designer for a year to support my personal projects and some of my advice as a freelancer would be to always keep track of your invoices and consistently update your portfolio.

Most importantly, implement self-care practices. Set your schedule up in a way that is kind to yourself to avoid burnout!

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Where you can, take on projects that are reflective of your values and creative vision. Don’t settle for less if you don’t have to.

Have there been any courses, programmes, initiatives or access schemes you would recommend to get into your sector?
I’m new to London, so Creative Lives in Progress has been extremely helpful for me in terms of finding out about opportunities!

Another helpful account that’s mostly centred around opportunities in New York but also a few global ones is Pick Up The Flow NYC on Instagram.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Network! Go to events happening in your field. Also, get a relevant education for what you want to do – nobody can take your skills and knowledge away from you!

Mention Deye Sarr
Interview by Frankie Faccion