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Interview with photographer Katie Silvester

Monday 30 January 2017

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London based photographer Katie Silvester’s work ranges from everyday shots with friends, to fashion editorials, as well as documenting her travels. She has produced work for the likes of Sunday Girl Magazine, Lazy Oaf, The Whitepepper, and Urban Outfitters. Her personal work and commissioned shoots alike have a relaxed vibe and a sense of intimacy, as well a playful, informal feel, capturing her models as they are. Katie is currently on a roadtrip around Europe, which she is documenting on the Instagram Diary of a Road Trip. As fans of her work, we asked Katie to tell us more about what photography means to her, her focus on the human subject, and her photographic dreams for the future.

What does photography mean to you, and what compels you to take photos?

In life I can be a bit of an “all or nothing” kind of person, but photography always remains a constant for me. I actually start to get a little grumpy and agitated if I don’t take pictures for too long. Photographs have always played a huge role in my life. I grew up flipping through my Granddad’s photo albums, and the sentiment struck home even at such a young age. Maybe because my memory is so terrible, I love being able to look back on those images and remind myself of specific moments.

What do you think makes a great photograph?

Something that makes you feel. It’s all subjective, which makes it mighty hard to truly define. But if I take a picture that makes me feel something, I tend to be pleased with it. And if I see someone else’s work that hits me somewhere, then I’m much more likely to delve deeper.

How would you describe your work? What is it about and what do you want to explore?

Now that I have finished studying, it’s hard to find a balance between personal work and commissioned work. And how I can make commissioned work feel like personal work. And if there is a lack of one, to not let it influence the other. It’s not easy. As long as taking photographs continues to make me feel good and explore myself, I’ll always be willing to use it as a tool to meet new people, try new things and go to new places. I guess I see my work at the moment as a passport.

You focus on people, be it in portraits or fashion shoots. How do you make people feel comfortable behind the camera?

99.9 percent of my work revolves around people. The older I get, I think the more and more shy I get. When I am behind my camera, I am always the same person. I can focus, I am confident, and I can get stuff done. I’d like to think that somehow this gets across to the person I am shooting, and everything comes together. Nobody wants to feel uncomfortable when they are in front of a camera. I’m normally just pretty honest, and tell them how amazing they look. A little goes a long way.

What draws you to the human subject? What do you aim to capture in each portrait? 

My first ever photography project at school was ‘Urban Decay.’ It got me hook, line and sinker. Developing my own film, printing my own pictures in the darkroom; I couldn’t get enough. But whilst I fell in love with the process I didn’t love the images themselves. From that project onwards, my work has always concentrated on people. I started with shooting my friends. For years actually that was all I shot. After I started expanding into the fashion industry, if I worked with a girl and fell in love, I would go back and shoot her again, and again. Year after year. Maybe it’s like the old familiarity of shooting my friends at school and college. But once a person is comfortable enough to smile and to mean it, to forget the camera and itch their nose, to show their inhibitions, then I know we can get a good picture together.

“By nature I’m generally one of those glass-half-full kind of people, and I like to think my photography reflects that in some way. I’m interested to see how my work will evolve as I grow older, as youth and light are probably the strongest themes in my work.”

How do you maintain your own style and vision when responding to a brief? What’s your creative process?

That’s actually one of the things I find hardest, not having full control. I started out styling most of my own shoots and then working with two of my best friends. But it’s all about being able to work in a team, and about finding people you enjoy working with. Those who push you just hard enough, not too hard, but outside of your comfort zone. The best shoots are the ones that don’t feel at all like work. If everybody is happy that’s the easiest way to have constant control and good images.

Which project or commission are you most proud of?

Commission wise I would definitely have to say my heart skipped a beat when Urban Outfitters got in touch with me. I’m just hoping I can do some bigger and better things with them further down the line. But out of all the projects I have done, I’d have to say documenting the road trip my boyfriend and I went on across the US a couple years ago was one of the most exciting things I have done. I still look back on those photos and all I do is wish I was there again, taking twice as long and three times as many pictures. Each time I go through those albums I find another picture that gets right at me that I didn’t consciously notice before. The project that keeps on giving.

You’re currently roadtripping across Europe, which must be amazing. What has this experience been like as a photographer? Have you been completing projects while travelling?

I am so beyond lucky to be spending so much time on the road, and to do it with someone so special makes it all the more worthwhile. I want to take pictures of everything and everywhere. We have only done three countries so far, as everywhere we go, we fall in love with and stay for twice as long as expected. I have worked on a couple of really amazing projects since I have been here, mainly thanks to posting on Instagram and lovely people getting in touch with me. My insanely talented photographer friend, Kimbra Audrey, came to join us for a few weeks. Every time we see each other she teaches me more about the art of self-portraits, which has been really exciting to explore as we travel around. Although I have loved documenting the journey, being away from London for so long has really made me miss the more orchestrated and fashion aspect of my work. It’s only going to make me more driven as the months on the road go by, and to get back into the swing of things once I return.

Is there something you want to say with your photography?

That’s a hard one, because I always feel like I want to say more. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? But sometimes I guess I’m not always sure what I want to say with it, or the importance of the picture until I get my films back from the lab. By nature I’m generally one of those glass-half-full kind of people, and I like to think my photography reflects that in some way. I’m interested to see how my work will evolve as I grow older, as youth and light are probably the strongest themes in my work.

What’s your dream project?

These days, either the most casual, impromptu shoot, or a real project I can stick my claws into and nurture over a longer period are the ones that I love most. But it’s always the dream to be able to make a living from what you love right? I would really love to try out something with amazing production, and a huge team somewhere super dreamy and remote would be a first for me. I’m always down to try new things, work with new people, and try new things.

Check out more of Katie’s work on Instagram and at: katiesilvester.com.