Photography & Styling by Angela Marklew
Hair & Makeup by Chelsea Allen
Model: Sacha Edwards & Angelina Bordeaux
We are excited to present the next installment of The Handsome Project. Each month we’ll showcase an amazing young photographer who blows our minds, shoots our stuff and is all together fantastic. Read on to see the rest of Angela’s WAH photoshoot and interview…
How did you get to here? (What’s your photographer history?)
In my previous life I was a scientist (studying chemistry and working in a government lab). I took a semester off between dropping out of university and enrolling in college and that’s when I took my first “Introduction to Photography” class at night school – it was once a week for 12 weeks. I learned the very basics on a Pentax K1000. Once I started college, my workload was so intense that photography really took a back seat and for the next three years my life was consumed with science. I got a job with the Canadian government right out of college but quickly realized that “school” science (where you do something new every day and you use archaic methods of experimentation) was very different to “real-life” science (where you do the same repetitive thing every day on very expensive equipment). Working in the field of chemistry was just not satisfying and that’s when I picked up photography again. I took a couple of printing (darkroom) classes as well as a studio lighting class. At the same time, I was also learning some alternate Polaroid processes. I started showing my work in small galleries in Ontario and Quebec. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to move to Los Angeles that I really considered photography as a career.
Are you a self-taught photographer or did you have a mentor/teacher that showed you the ropes?
I never went to art school. I never had any real formal education in photography. Once I moved to Los Angeles I assisted a photographer for 8 months and I learned a lot about photography, but not only that – watching him work made me aware of how you produce a shoot, how you deal with people in a professional way, and how you deal with unexpected problems. He also really pushed me to start photographing people. That assisting stint ended when I left LA to travel across North America for 3 months. During that time, I took his advice and turned the camera on people (which was a completely new subject for me, as I’ve always been painfully shy). And now I photograph people almost exclusively. I still don’t know all the technical terminology but that’s not really my style. I work in a more intuitive way.
How did you come up with the concept behind your Handsome Project shoot?
This shoot was actually born from disaster. I had spent a couple weeks planning a shoot with a model I really wanted to work with (who was also going to style the shoot) – I had the whole team together and we were going to go on a day trip to take photos at various places in the California desert. I had planned out this whole “road trip” kind of story and was going to mix film and Polaroid with digital images. The day before the shoot I contacted the model’s agency to confirm and that’s when everything started to go wrong. The short version is that neither her agent nor I were able to get a hold of her and by mid-afternoon, we decided I should try and find a replacement. I called all of my favourite models and no one was available. Sadly, I realized I had to abandon my idea.
The next day I had a test scheduled with a new model, Sacha. As I was going through the wardrobe she brought, I had the idea to do something very bohemian/gypsy inspired with a lot of layering and to use the swimsuits I had from We Are Handsome as clothing rather than traditional swimwear. After that realization hit, the rest just fell into place. So I guess the moral of this story is that while pre-visualizing a shoot and then turning the idea into a reality is great (and something I love doing) – there is also something to be said for having absolutely no plan and having to think on your feet and improvise – which, in this case, produced some of my favourite work to date.
What keeps you enthused in the photography industry?
Being able to wake up every day and have a job that allows me to be creative. Not knowing what the coming months or years will bring other than the fact that I’ll still be taking photos and getting to work with interesting and creative people.
Describe your approach in three words.
Make it work.
Black & white or colour?
I think it depends on the subject matter, as well as the mood you are trying to convey. I love black & white but I am also drawn to colour film stocks from the 1960s and 1970s. Before I go into a shoot I almost always know if the final images should be colour or black & white.
Do you prefer film or digital? Why?
I don’t have a definitive answer. I love digital due to the cost-effectiveness, the ease of checking and correcting exposure, and the ability for quick turnaround times. But I will always have a soft spot for film. I began taking pictures using film and I think it made me a more careful photographer – in terms of composing shots and not over-shooting. But really, I love everything about film – the way it feels and smells when you wind it into the camera, that heavy thud of the shutter on my Pentax, and the feeling you get when you hold the prints in your hands. There’s just something about creating a tangible thing – something you can actually hold – that will always appeal to me. For most people, digital photos are simply bits of data that stay on a hard drive or get posted on the internet. I often print my digital photos – to give them life outside of my computer and satisfy my need to actually produce something physical.
I shoot with a Canon 5D, a Pentax K1000, some old Polaroids, a medium format Mamiya (although not as often as I’d like to), and my mobile phone. My favourite camera is whatever I have with me when I need to shoot.
Describe your photographic approach.
Someone once told me that if I think of every subject (even the less than inspiring ones) as if it were my favourite thing to shoot, I’m already half way there to making the shoot look great. Since then, I always try to think about this advice before getting to set. Most of the time it’s easy – I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of creative control over my work.
I also generally know what I want the final images to look like before going into the shoot – which cuts down on a lot of the guesswork. (Although as I previously mentioned sometimes the best work comes out of the most disastrous situations!) That way, once I’m on set, things are very chill and it’s like hanging out with your best friends for the day.
I don’t have just one – and the list grows as I discover more photographers. Right now I’m obsessing over Gregory Crewdson, Frank Ockenfels 3, and Yu Tsai.
For me, there is no answer to this question. It seems like I discover my new favourite photograph every day (as I look through books, magazine, blogs, etc). The things that influence and inspire me are always changing – not in a drastic way, but it happens over time. I have a binder of images I tear out of magazines and every so often when I go through it I’ll see a photo and wonder why I ever saved it. I think it’s important to allow your aesthetic tastes to change. After all, it only makes sense that as you grow as an individual (and a photographer) and experience more of the world, you’ll be influenced and inspired by different things.
What turns you on?
Beautiful light, interesting faces, and adventurous people.
What turns you off?
Arrogant and vapid individuals.
How do you decide on locations & subjects for your shoots?
I don’t have a formula I follow – but there are generally three things that will spark a shoot idea. Sometimes I’ll find a location and immediately think that it would be the perfect backdrop for a fashion shoot. I then build the shoot around the location. Other times, I’ll have an idea about a story I want to tell (not in a narrative sense, but more a story about a feeling) and that becomes my starting point. I then find the right model, hair/makeup, wardrobe, and location to express the original concept. Lastly, I am constantly finding models that inspire me visually – in that case, I build the story around the model.
If you could take your photography in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead? What new things would you try?
I would definitely embark on larger, more elaborate productions (providing no budgetary restraints). I would also start creating short fashion films (which is something I’ve been thinking about).
Best advice you’ve ever received.
Years ago I went to see Matthew Rolston speak once and he said “if you want to take a beautiful picture, take a picture of something beautiful”.
What is the one quality you think is needed for a photographer to be great?
I think there are a lot of qualities a photographer has to possess in order to be “great” (not to be confused with simply being successful) but the most important, in my opinion, will always be an “eye”. A really great photographer will have a point of view and the ability to really “see the ordinary” (in the words of David Bailey). With the advent of digital photography, the medium has become more accessible to the masses. Now, more than ever, that “eye” is essential to becoming a really great photographer. Because at the end of the day, great photographers succeed in showing the viewer how they see the world.
Where to next?
I’d love to travel and shoot for major publications like Vogue, Elle, i-D, etc. I really want to incorporate (non-domestic) animals into my shoots. I’ll also continue to explore the world of cinematography.
We would like to send a big thankyou Angela’s way for putting together this Project. What you see here is a mix of two distinct shoots that Angela did, these shots were our faves from the lot! If you are vibing on Angela’s style, check out her portfolio, blog, Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr.