In life it is very important to have people alongside of you, supporting what you’re doing and offering you friendship. As artists our work can often be solitary, we spend hours upon hours alone while we work and even though we may not be lonely it is important to keep people close. There will always be a need for someone who is willing to offer us a hand in life and in the 21st century these people don’t always need to be within our town. The internet makes people extremely available and connections can be made through any social media form.
Meghan Walker and I “met” through Instagram over one of my images. From then on we’ve connected even further through our photography, supporting each other and helping when the other needs it. I am honored to call her a friend and I couldn’t imagine anyone better for this months First Friday Feature. Continue reading below to find out more about her and her photography.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself, what makes you tick?
I started my journey in Fantasy/Conceptual photography about 3 years ago. I have always had a very overactive imagination but I lack any kind of ability to draw, so I decided to try an art form that felt a little more attainable to bring my ideas to life. I picked up a camera and decided to start learning photography and Photoshop. It was a great adventure because I was completely starting from scratch and had so many skills that I needed to learn. I think the thing that keeps me constantly going is that I get bored easily if I feel like I’ve exhausted a resource, so I am always seeking out ways to learn new things.
2. What got you started in photography?
I had seen a few images online of conceptual and fantasy work and started brainstorming images that I could create, too. It wasn’t until a friend came over and introduced me to some of her favorite artists that I was able to see that there were artists out there with a similar vision and that everything I wanted to create could be done. I promptly bought a used DSLR and subscribed to Adobe so I could learn Photoshop and basically learned everything one step at a time. For those interested in learning Photoshop, that’s the biggest advice I can give: learn things one step at a time. When I wanted to start including fantasy elements to my photos, I looked on YouTube how to do that specific thing and followed along in tutorials. Eventually, you just pick up tricks and now I rarely need to look for tutorials. I remember feeling so intimidated by everything you can do in Photoshop, and I’ve still only scratched the surface.
3. Describe your workflow, what is unique about your process? What do you enjoy most when creating an image?
Once I start seeing potential images in my mind, I start by drawing them down (horribly) in a small scrapbook that I keep in my purse. I write words next to the image like “mood”, “props” and “color” and start a small list of what I will need to buy and make myself and then whether I could model for it myself or reach out to another person to be my model. Then, I begin the crafting phase, which can take a few weeks to a few months, and finally, when everything is ready to go, I either set out into my favorite locations to shoot the image by myself, or I go with my model. I usually take over 100 pictures in order to give myself a lot of material to composite with, and I rarely create more than one image from the entire session. My favorite part about the creation process is the editing part. I like feeling like I can lose myself in a dimly lit room with soft music and spend hours working on an image. It’s the closest I’ve been able to get to meditating successfully.
4. What camera equipment do you use? DO you have a favorite lens?
I have a pretty short list. I use the Nikon D610 camera body and the Sigma Art 35mm lens for my fantasy shots and a 70-200mm lens for weddings and portraits. I also have a Vanguard tripod and a wireless remote for my shutter release. My favorite lens? I don’t know if I could choose. My 35mm has been my trusty friend for over 2 years before I got my 70-200, so I’ll say that one.
5. Is there a certain theme you try and express in your work? Why do you feel a need to share that?
I think I explore a variety of themes but I tend to stick to a very similar editing style. I need to play equally in whimsy and darkness, so sometimes my work can be melancholy with a touch of horror or it can be light and dreamy, but they’re always edited with drama in mind. I’m a sucker for deep shadows and “pops” of color. The themes that I explore usually stem from romanticized history or my heritage. My family is very interested in genealogy and we’ve got our lineage traced back as early as 1420, so I have always found a lot of my sense of “self” in where my family comes from. That comes through in my art sometimes.
6. Out of your images, which is your personal favorite and why?
It changes so often! I think my personal favorite is “Of Fog and Mist: Where the Gods Speak” because it is probably my best composite. I took that image in a wintery forest, but the background that was original was really boring. There was no snow on the trees, the light was really flat… everything about the image was fairly uninspiring (except the model. He is always incredible.) Then, about a year later, a friend sent me a text saying they had found this gorgeous little pine tree forest about 45 minutes from my home, but warned me that the light might not be great by the time I got there. I flung my camera bag into my car and swiftly went to the location and I felt like I walked into an actual magical wonderland. The sunlight was casting huge rays through the trees and the snow had freshly fallen so they were glittering in the rays. The snow was up to my knees and I hobbled around frantically taking as many photos as I could before the light eventually disappeared. I was in absolute heaven. When I got home, I composited my friend out of his boring forest background and into this magical scene and he fit *perfectly*. Of course, my boyfriend helped me figure out shadow angles, but you would never guess that he wasn’t actually part of that forest to begin with. When the image was finished, I just felt really proud of it and I genuinely liked the way it looked. It’s probably the first time I’ve finished an image and said “there’s nothing I can think of that would have made this better” which NEVER happens.
7. Where do you find your inspiration? What stories compel you to create?
I’d say 99% of the time, I come up with my image ideas while listening to music. I tend to “visualize” a song without actually listening to the words just based on how the song makes me feel, so I come up with mental music videos that often have nothing to do with what the song is about! There is a band called The Birthday Massacre that is probably my biggest musical inspiration. They have a wonderful way of making my mind transport into another dimension where I start to see images and, before I know it, I’ve come up with 5 new pictures from a single song.
8. Who has been your biggest role model and/or mentor during your journey?
The person whose art has inspired me more than any other is Kindra Nikole. I was introduced to her work a few years ago by a friend and, while we poured over image after image, I said “that’s it. That’s what I want to do.” She really inspired me to start exploring fantasy photography as an art form. In terms of mentor, I’d honestly say that my boyfriend is an invaluable resource that I use all the time. He’s an amazing painter and knows a lot about light, anatomy, and perspective (which I struggle with when compositing) so I will often pull him into the room and say “does this look weird?” when working on something. His response is always honest and he’s more than willing to help me learn, even though I can be a very impatient student.
9. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Even though it’s not directly related to my art, the piece of advice that I have always remembered was when my dad told me as a child to never settle. Never settle for anything other than what you really want to have. I’m reminded of those words in most of life’s situations, and sometimes I’ll remember them when I need them most.
10. What would you tell your younger self, the you who just started photography?
Remember to keep “you” in the image. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen another photographer’s work and said “Wow, their style is really cool. Maybe I should try to edit closer to that way” and I try it for a few images and then get frustrated that it doesn’t look similar to theirs AND it doesn’t feel like my own work anymore. It would be a sad world indeed if everyone’s art all looked the same and, as much as I may admire someone else’s editing style, there is someone out there that admires mine.