Photographers are never far from this blog. I love the insights you can glean from talking with these talented souls, and the different perspective they can give to something as seemingly simple as a photograph. It was my intense pleasure to talk with Kitty from Pirate Photography recently about her magnificent work, as well as her intriguing process and fabulous raft of experience with some truly dynamic individuals. You only need to glimpse Kitty’s work to know she is a special photographer with a very different and refreshing skew on what makes a beautiful picture. She has worked with some of the most interesting models in the industry today, and continues to produce new and different pieces of brilliance. I hope I can introduce those who are not aware of Kitty’s work to the wonderful world of Pirate Photography. You won’t be sorry you check it out.
Q: Welcome Kitty, fantastic to have you feature on my blog and can’t wait to talk about your craft. So what first drew you to photography? Was taking pictures something you found yourself doing as a child, or was it an outlet you discovered later on?
Kitty: Thank you for having me! Photography was something I only really began thinking about when I was 18, before that I would occasionally use my parent’s compact camera to take really bad photos, but hadn’t ever considered photography to be art. I was really into punk, wrote terrible poetry and dressed rather weirdly, and I spent a lot of my time online as I was living away from home for the first time at university. Through MySpace I discovered Masuimi Max and developed a major girl crush. I had always thought of models as only being able to look like normal fashion models, but then finally here was a model that looked like my friends, crazy hair, tattoos, and piercings. I realised that there was a whole separate part of the industry involving bad ass alt girls and I wanted to be a part of it. I got my first SLR just before I turned 19, it had a fixed lens, and the manual modes didn’t work properly, but I immediately started photographing my friends and had lots of fun, so joined modelmayhem to meet ‘real’ models.
Q: Can you remember the first set of pictures, or the first single picture you took that you were really pleased with?
Kitty: I do. It was a photograph of a singer from my home town, we were shooting in the spare room in my parents’ house, and I was playing around with using a lamp as lighting. I had the lamp in one hand, and was using my camera on a tripod with the other, and I knew as soon as I took it I finally had taken a good photo. Now when I look back, while I still like the photo, I do cringe because I was still using the camera on auto, and I don’t really feel like I can call it a good photo that I actually took, because other than me waving a lamp around, the camera did all the work. I think the first shot I took since I switched to all manual, and using a proper SLR was a bondage fashion shot I took of Black Lotus, it was the first time I’d ever been in a studio and used lighting, the first time I’d shot bondage, and everything just clicked. I still love that shot and it is one other people seem to like as well.
Q: Photographers to me are an interesting bunch. A very misunderstood profession and taken for granted far too regularly. What do you think it takes to be a photographer?
K: I think it definitely takes some good people skills. You need to be able to communicate with people, both online and in person. This is the thing I most struggle with, I can be really awkward, and I’m partially deaf, but generally you know pretty quickly whether or not you have clicked with a model. I spend a lot of time talking to models online before we shoot which makes things a lot easier. I think it takes a combination of training and practice, with having a natural eye for ‘the shot’. All the training in the world cannot make someone artistic or creative, but without the knowledge you cannot express what your creativity is wanting to. Someone can pick up the technical side of any art form with enough practice, but if they aren’t naturally artistic, their work will forever just be good, and not elicit emotion.
Q: What training have you had in the art of photography? Do you think the majority of your work is driven by experience, or those first few lessons you learnt starting out?
K: I had no training, by the time I got into photography I was already at university, so I had no way to get lessons. I read a lot online, and studied other photographers’ work who I admired so I could try and figure out their techniques. It has taken a lot of practice, with few hits and a whole lot of misses before I really got to grips with my camera, but I am relatively confident that I have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing now haha! I think.
Q: Your photography excels at capturing your subject matter, and there is a definite relationship you create between audience and model. What do you look for when deciding on a person to photograph? Do you look for people to fit specific ideas or themes you have, or do you let the model/subject speak to you primarily?
K: Thank you so much! Generally I look for models that have a certain emotion about them. There are a lot of models who can pose, but not so many who can express real feelings through their eyes and their expressions. I don’t like fake tan, so if a model obviously fake tans I am inclined to not work with them, other than that, I have no real preferences for how a model looks. Fake tan just never looks even, photographs well, or looks natural. I choose a theme to fit a model I want to shoot with, but also pick models to shoot themes I want to shoot, it entirely depends on which I happen upon first. More often than not it is the model who inspires me. Certain looks lend themselves to different concepts, and by choosing a model first, I know they will fit what we shoot. If I have the concept first, I often struggle to find a model who I feel would work with it well, so it gets pushed aside for a long time. I would rather wait a long time to shoot a theme, than force it with someone who I am not sure about. I work with some models over and over again because they click well this my aesthetic, and the way that I shoot, but I am trying to find more models to collaborate with regularly.
Q: I’m always interested in an artist’s process. How do your ideas come to you, what are some of your inspirations? Also, once you’ve got an idea in your head, where do you go next?
K: Music, art and movies are the things that tend to inspire me. I love sci-fi and horror, not the gore and obvious shocks involved in them, but the subtlety, and the psychology behind it, so my conceptual work often focuses on that. It will be pretty, but also eerie or slightly creepy. I spend a lot of time looking at art and different things from a piece of art could inspire me, whether it is a use of colour, or light. Lyrics and music will often make me think of a theme when I am listening to them, or I will think of a particular model and want them to convey a certain emotion. I got rather lax with acting out these inspirations in my work last year, mostly because I wanted to shoot more fashion and I felt that I couldn’t experiment within that, but I’ve realised how wrong I was about that. The fashion photographers that I admire the most are those that are telling stories, as well as showcasing clothing and beauty. If I have a specific idea I want to cast a model for I tend to mention it on social networks first, rather than go right to modelmayhem. Often I will have a particular model in mind right away, so I hope that it catches their eye, or I message them about it. I can’t draw (seriously, even stick men are wonky when I sketch!) so I try to explain a concept verbally instead. A lot of the time I will have a specific shot in mind, so I will aim to shoot that first, and then experiment based around that. A good example would be the ‘Sleep’ series I shot with an anonymous model, I had one particular shot in mind, once we had that we experimented, and I ended up loving the later shots even more than the one I actually had intended for us to shoot.
Q: You’ve exquisitely photographed many ladies in your previous work. What is it about the female form that inspires so much, and lends itself to your wonderful brand of photography?
K: Every woman is so different. Two women who could have the same dress size and be the same height, can still have completely different bodies. I love the stories that the female body can tell, the little scars that give hints of someone’s past, the birthmarks and freckles that make people unique. I think my love of individuality is why I do so little Photoshop. Removing a scar or a mole removes that hint of the real person in front of me.
I have photographed men, but I just don’t find them as inspiring. The light doesn’t reflect from them in the same way, and I think the way that I shoot is innately feminine, without my meaning it to be. My personal fashion is a sort of glam girly goth, and that is often manifested in the styling and themes. I think in terms of fashion, there are just so many more options for women, I wish there was more for men, I very much disagree with the boundaries that have been set by society in that women can wear certain things, and men cannot. If I were to shoot men, I would want to shoot androgynous men in what are deemed female fashions.
I initially never intended for there to be so much nudity in my work. Actually, to begin with I wouldn’t shoot nudity at all. For the first year I shot, I only shot implied nudity at the very most, and I was a bit unsure of that. Then on maybe my second or third shoot with Jessica Abidde she wanted to pose nude, and it didn’t even occur to me that I was shooting a first for me. Since then it’s been a game of seeing if anyone was going to keep their clothes on! I don’t tend to suggest nudity to models unless we have worked together before or know each other well, I don’t tend to think it is my place to ask people to share themselves so openly like that, so I prefer that nudity is always the models suggestion.
Q: I’ve noticed that nature as a location plays a regular part in some of your work? Why do you choose to shoot in forests and in and around trees etc? Is it a necessity at times, or do you like the contrast of intense female beauty against the backdrop of nature’s beauty?
K: It comes from both necessity, and a love of nature. I live in a tiny, and I really do mean tiny, one bedroom flat. There is no way to shoot in my flat unless the model stands in the bathtub against the wall above it, and well, I just don’t think that is professional haha! So instead, I explore the world outside. Nature tends to be the quieter place, a forest or woodland is often relatively isolated, so you can avoid intrusion from the general public. I had a phase of shooting models in grungy, urban areas when I lived in Grimsby, but it felt too repetitive to me. Buildings and structures do not tend to change over time, whereas a forest is constantly changing, constantly evolving, the seasons and the weather have so much impact upon nature, and I like that the same area can look so different each time you visit. Because I don’t have an indoor area to shoot in, I don’t have any lighting, which then restricts my shooting indoors when I’m presented with that option. I don’t tend to travel for shoots because my preference is to shoot outdoors, and I know the areas where I live, but sometimes I will risk it if a model convinces me they have somewhere interesting to shoot, or that their home lends itself to natural light. I enjoy the lines and curves of the female form when mixed in with nature. In winter when there are no leaves, and the forests are stark, a nude figure emphasises this, when it is summer, and the surroundings are lush, a smiling face fits. I wish I had more time and money so that I could explore more different locations, but it is not a luxury I currently have.
Q: Were there any photographers that inspired you as you progressed with your career? Or work from individuals that particularly spoke to you?
K: I am very lucky, and have been able to speak to some photographers who I really admire, and some have even helped me and critiqued my work. I adore the work of Steve Diet Goedde, I think there is no one else like him, and the way that he shoots, with very little artificial light, and on film, is something I aspire to. Corwin Prescott is a fantastic, and I think genuinely creative photographer. I am a big fan of motion in photography, and he often utilises that in his erotica, so I love seeing how he uses light and motion. Steve Prue is completely different to Corwin Prescott or Steve Diet Goedde, he focuses on colour and crazy lighting, and he uses diptychs and different points of focus to tie them together. Thanks to Zivity.com I have been able to speak to both Corwin and Steve Prue. I owe a lot to Zivity.com, being on a site with such amazing photographers has really pushed me to work harder and be more creative, and get better.
I also really enjoy the work of Chip Willis, Photos by Vance, Sita Mae and so many more. In terms of more famous photographers, I like Helmut Newton and Ellen Von Unwerth a lot, I love fashion magazines, particularly LOVE magazine. I tend to prefer photographers who have a certain rawness to their work, and don’t focus on retouching and editing, I love seeing work that I know has been composed in camera, rather than with digital trickery.
to be continued..