We recently had a chat to UK based photographer Linda Blacker , she is a young, she is talented and she has a great story.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you found yourself falling into the Wonderland that is photography.
Hello! I am a 23 year old fine art photographer based in the UK, close to London. I don’t have the traditional story of picking up a camera from a young age, but instead I was always in love with painting and drawing ever since I can remember! However, purely out of interest and curiosity, I decided to take photography at college as a fourth A Level, and so I began experimenting with this new art form. I always had this set idea, to pursue what I enjoyed and what I loved, before what would bring me money. On starting my A Levels, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, by the end of my A Levels, I had an interest in film, but photography was still very much on my mind.
It wasn’t really until I left college in pursuit of a career in film directing that a whole new world of photography accidentally opened up to me. I believe that college didn’t really open my eyes to what photography could be, but jumping in head first into the industry truly did. I briefly worked on a feature film as a runner, and the director had an interest in photography himself. He allowed me to use his camera on set and shoot some stills for him. From this, a few actors asked me to shoot their head shots, and a few more little jobs came up. It was from this point that I switched from film to photography, I knew photography was the career for me! I quickly set up a small photography business and began on my new career pursuit. My outlook was quite different back then, I wanted a successful local photography business. I started in wedding photography and family portraits, I also assisted a stills photographer from TV and film to learn the basics, perhaps an area which could bring together my two interests. It soon became apparent that I really did not enjoy wedding photography, and I didn’t want to photograph family portraits. I felt no passion for it at all. I assisted the stills photographer just 3 times and I soon realised that I didn’t want to pick up their techniques rather than developing my own from scratch. That very stills photographer told me I should go back to college, that I wasn’t ready for the photography world yet.
This was a massive turning point for me, I refused to have another photographer tell me what I was capable of. It was at this point that I allowed my ideas to come naturally. I swicthed from wanting to photograph simple things before me, to wanting to create the scenes what I photographed. It was time to step outside the box and realise what freedom we as photographers truly have when creating our work. Earlier on I didn’t have the full technical understanding that I do today, but I still had big ideas. So I decided, ideas first, technical skills later. I took the view that so many photographers were technically able, for me the idea and creativity is what truly defines an artist and allows them to stand apart from the rest. This was when I really fell in love with photography, I found such excitement in creating my own pieces on my own terms without the worry of ‘how’ stopping me from even trying.
So, I took action. I began organising my own photo shoots once, or twice a week with friends as models and began truly learning what photography was to me, and had fun! Constant trial and error. Constant mistakes and unsuccessful results. Everyday I thought about photography and planned what I could do and experiment with next. Over this first year I had developed a style, a style that people started to identify as my own. I wanted to tell stories, not just make women look beautiful. I wanted characters! I wanted someone to look at my work and be absorbed in a literal story within the image. Three years later, after many terrible photographs executed quite poorly, (but at the time I thought they were brilliant of course, but they still haunt me when I come across them online) and hours upon hours experimenting with lighting in the studio, pushing for photography work, working with many different models, make up artists and hair stylists, constantly putting my work out online for people to see and react to, I am so happy with my style, so happy with my knowledge of how to shoot in my way, how to edit in my way and I really feel like my work is mine. That being said, I am sure my style is still developing and this photography adventure has only really just begun!
I first discovered your work through the Alice in Wonderland shoot you did with several YouTubers. Is it difficult working with so many big personalities at once? How did you like working with them? Is it different from working with traditional models, or just like working with any other client?
The Alice in Wonderland Youtuber shoot was quite a different style of shooting for me. I was used to creating fine art pieces with models that I could craft into who ever I wanted without worrying about their real life identity. In other areas of my work, for a portrait session for example, I was used to capturing the personality of the subject before me. In this shoot I had to bring the character and the personality of the subject together – As the appeal of this shoot was that people wanted to see their favourite YouTubers as these characters, not just characters by themselves. This was the only challenge, but I feel it was successful (I hope!) and the Youtubers were a pleasure to work with and all really excited to be a part of the shoot
How much of the end result comes directly from you? For example, from concept to post-production, is it mostly done by your hands? Do you enjoy costuming and set design in the same way as photography?
For my Fine Art work, I like to be in control of the entire piece. From the costume, to the set, I style the characters and I am even very precise about the position I want the model to be in. The ideas behind the images and the concept is so very important to me, as well as how I bring it together on a small budget. The idea comes first, and then I have to organise and bring together everything needed to create the piece. I will explain what I am looking for to the hair and make up artists, and they will bring that part of the shoot to life, and I always welcome their own creative twist as they are excellent at what they do. I don’t believe I should stifle another’s creativity, I advise what I would like, but they know about hair and make up and they know how to get to what I envisage in their style. I work with the same hair and make up team on many of my shoots. (My sister & Michelle Blacker & Ashleigh Bunce are the make up artists & John May is the wig maker/hair stylist.) They really understand my vision, and always execute their jobs so well and add their own touch to the hair and make up which really brings my character to life!
When the idea first comes to me, as dramatic as it sounds, it is usually as a visual image, and as I plan the piece, every aspect of the shoot develops and evolves all before the shoot. Costumes are put together, sets created an props ordered, models cast and make up and hair planned. So I already have this set image in my mind, so the actual photo shoot is really one of the final stages of bringing a piece together and often quite quick!
In keeping with the above question, would you say you find yourself more connected to the work when you’re working more hands on? As a photographer myself, I know that this is something I have always found to be true, though it has not been shared by many of my photographer friends. Is your passion more in keeping with process than the end result or is it fairly even?
I personally think so, it is just how I work with my photography. I have to create the piece from start to finish, because it isn’t just about shooting the subject in front of me, its about creating something from my mind, an idea that I love and bringing it all together into a final photograph.
However, I feel every photographer has their own methods and opinion. A photographer may feel very connected to an image even if it was created by a team of people, which is also admirable!
What would you say is your favourite fairytale or fantasy?
In all honesty, I am not sure. I love so many. I have just begun a series of fairytale photo shoots. Perhaps by the end of this series I will know, but I do have a great love for Snow White and Alice in Wonderland! I have Sleeping Beauty & Cinderella coming up, which should be great fun too!
You say in your About Me description that you really want viewers of your work to experience a powerful sense of escapism. Do you find that you experience this same sense while working on your photographs? While brainstorming concepts?
When I first have the idea for the shoot, I am usually reading, or listening to music so I am already experiencing that wonderful feeling of escapism, and I then just hope to carry it through to the final image. I think when I sit back and look at the final image, that’s when I really get absorbed into the little world in front of me.
What sorts of sources do you find yourself going to for inspiration?
Music really is my greatest inspiration, I think music has a way of conjuring up visual imagery in the mind – I recently shot a series called Inner Torment that was inspired by Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ – The idea literally came to me after listening to the song as its such a powerful piece of music. I think with music as an inspiration you will always have an individual result, where as looking to film you already have a visual in front of you so it can be harder to be unique.
I also saw in your Snow White shoot from a couple of years ago that you featured yourself as Snow White. Do you enjoy being both in front of and behind the camera in one shoot? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
No way. Haha! I modelled for my photo shoot once, and from then on I realised modelling should be done by the models – It is also very difficult to model and photograph yourself, I really commend photographers who are able to so often create wonderful self portraits. I definitely am not at peace in front of the camera!
Would you consider yourself to be a bit controlling in terms of how your work develops from start to finish? Personally, I have more of a feeling of accomplishment when I have produced every little detail of a photograph on my own. Is it similar for you? Would you consider letting others work for you on the production aspects is more helpful to the end product?
Yes, I really am. When it comes to my Fine Art pieces I can create what I want, as they are not for a client, or for a brief, they are separate pieces of art and I am entirely free to create what I want. I am truly proud of having an idea, and bringing it to life. I always want to create the concept, the set and style the characters, and the post production – But I love working with the make up artists & hair stylists as having a character in make up and with amazing hair/wig can really take the character up a level – So for me that is the perfect amount of people involved. However, moving away from my Fine Art pieces some clients may require more involvement, which I completely understand. I do not like to shoot another persons concept, I find if the vision comes from me, then shooting the piece comes more naturally, but I understand that clients require a degree of involvement and it is my job to get them the results they desire!
Photographer: Linda Blacker
Interview by Darcy Richardson – Shoot The Frame