1 2 x 1 2: Twelve Interviews. A Dozen Answers.
The summer heat right now reminds me of an amazing (sweaty) fashionshoot I was part of last year at Kyle La Mere‘s studio. Kyle had just moved his studio, IshootRockstars, into a small loft in the Pilsen artists corridor and agreed to style and shoot new designs and models for my t-shirt company, Good Night TV. There was no A/C, blazing hot lights, greasy takeout and lukewarm drinks, but the shoot was perfect. And even though none of us were, Kyle made us all look and feel like rockstars that night. He’s an amazing talent and even awesomer human being. I’m honored to have found myself in front of Kyle lens on many occasions and I will always stand behind his work.
1) Let me start with some major congratulations: Refinery29 just named you one of “Chicago’s Hottest 30 Under 30” and you just released VISITORS, your first-ever book of photography. You’re at the top of your game! Where do you go from here?
KLM: Haha… thanks! The VISITORS book was exactly what I had envisioned it to become when the project was started. It was a two year process from the start to delivering the book and it felt great to have the book as a stamp on the end. Where do I go from here? It’s a great question. I have some pretty big plans this summer which I’m really excited about. I am excited to be working on a year long project with Berlin nightclub photographing and capturing the vibe of such a historic Chicago nightclub. We’re hoping to turn that into a book next year.
2) You’re a busy dude! And you just returned from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! What took you to Africa?
KLM: I did! What a sensational place Ethiopia is. My Ethiopia trip was conceived and executed so fast. I was having a chat with my good friend, Paul Chadha who started the Awassa Children’s Project about 10 years ago. The Awassa Children’s Center houses/educates over 80 children orphaned by the HIV/Aids epidemic. He had just returned from Ethiopia and was telling me all about the center. He expressed the need for professional photos of the center and the children. The center makes 50% of its income based off donations and with nothing really visually to show for, it made it a bit tougher to raise awareness. I told Paul that I would go on the next flight possible…. Less than 7 days later I was on a plane to Addis Ababa. My vision for the trip was simple from the start: capture childhood as it should be—happy & free. The kids couldn’t have made it any easier for me to photograph. They were little angels with so much happiness and hope. They forever changed me.
I always wanted to travel to another country and shoot for something that had impact and weight. In fact, I thought about photographing kids in Africa before I met Paul and learned about the Children’s Center. So, when that project landed in my lap, I said to myself, wow… this is the exact project I have always dreamed of. And there might be a returning visit to Ethiopia next month where I plan to continue shooting and volunteering at the Children’s Center.
3) Incredible. You’ve been part some pretty amazing shoots—everything from a fashionshoot of transgender social workers for the Broadway Youth Center to the Chicago Bears Training Camp—and now Ethiopia. How do you capture the essence of such a wide range of subjects? Are there shoots you leave off your website? If so, how come? How do you decide what to show and what to classify as “something I did to pay rent”? 😉
KLM: I like to think of myself as a very open minded person. I always accept everyone for who they are. It’s important to be open minded about meeting new people and experiences. I am heavily influenced by the people around me. Shooting different topics/subjects is really important in the creative field. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to connect with who you’re shooting and the message you want to send. And as any creative will tell you, there are always a few gigs you take for the “money.” The reason why I don’t show those shoots is that I want to show the work that really interests me and show what type of work I’m really passionate about. Your passion is everything. You have to have a passion for the subjects that interest you. Music and Fashion go hand in hand. They are those escape type shoots. It’s like being a child again and playing pretend or dress up.
4) So true. Clients will always ask for more of what you show them and what’s in your portfolio or on your website. So it’s critical to include the types of project you want to do more of! Speaking of passion and doing work you love, you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer but actually studied graphic design at The Illinois Institute of Art. When did you realize you should change directions? What triggered it for you? And how do you know you made the right decision?
KLM: Around the summer of 2006, I bought my Rebel XT (which I still use and love). I was designing CDs and posters for bands and didn’t really know any photographers in the city at the time. I started shooting so I could design around it. I had my first band shoot with some good friends of mine and it was one of those “ah-ha” moments. The photos turned out really well and it just kind of snowballed from there. I kept getting asked to shoot more than design which is a great thing because I wasn’t a really good designer. I quickly started developing a passion for photography. Not so much because of the art of taking/making a photo, but because I realized this career could really connect me to other people. I was so attracted to that aspect that from that point on I went full force with it. Photography in the last five years has completely changed my life. How I communicate, collaborate and experience life, is all due to a piece of plastic with a button on it. It’s quite amazing.
5) Hell yeah! I know so many people who’ve change directions after receiving their degrees—especially artists and designers! What advice do you have for people looking to make the transition from “academically-trained” to pursuing something new they’re more passionate about?
KLM: When you have that intuition and passion for something, changing your career can easily be accomplished. It all depends on you and how serious you are about making that change. I am still very young in this profession. I barely quit my job as a graphic designer a year ago so that I could take my work to the next level. When I was at my 9-to-5, I never thought I would ever have a chance to leave. It was hard to keep myself motivated sometimes, but at the end of day, life is terribly short and if not now… then—never.
6) I agree 100%. Ditching your day job (and the perception of security it offers) takes conviction. In a sense, your studio name is a declaration of purpose. Does a name like IshootRockstars limit you to just rockstars? How do reconcile that for clients who don’t consider themselves “rockstars”?
KLM The cheesy motto I use is that “anyone and everyone can be a rockstar.” I didn’t want to go by my personal name when I started shooting professionally. IshootRockstars is basically an homage to that dream of being in a rock band. I’ve always loved how musicians can be whatever they want to be under their band name. It’s their alter ego. That’s how I try to view ISR and my photography. I don’t know where I’ll end up in my career or what it will become, but the name will stay with me. Plus, it’s fun and easy to remember.
7) And ISR isn’t just you by yourself. Tell me about your relationship/friendship with Elizabeth Neish: how did you meet, when did you decide to start working together, how do you compliment/push each other? What are the pros (cons?) to working so closely with a partner as you develop your body of work and expand your studio?
KLM: Elizabeth and I met at the very beginning of 2008 at group photographers shoot. We instantly hit it off and have been working together ever since. Our styles and interests are very similar. She’s really, really talented so I usually just tell her what the concept is and just let her run free. It’s important to have a great, trusting, creative relationship. You have to be able to trust someone and let them do what they are good at. The pros are that Elizabeth always knows what I’m looking for. I can focus on other things during the shoot without having to see what she’s doing. The con for us is that potential clients sometimes want to hire us but want to get their own make-up artist. I sometimes have to turn down a shoot if Elizabeth cannot be involved. It’s hard trying to tell people that ISR isn’t just me. In my mind, without Elizabeth’s touch, the photo just isn’t as strong as it could be. We love working together and want to make that happen as much as possible.
8) When I saw your portfolios for the first time, I was immediately reminded of David LaChapelle‘s (the vibrant colors, the outlandish vignettes, the conceptual styling) besides having “La” last names in common, what attracts you to DLC’s work? Who/what else inspires/influences you?
KLM: Yeah, it’s pretty simple to see he is a huge influence of mine. Besides his outlandish concepts—that are nearly impossible to replicate—the one thing that inspired me was his use of color. DLC is a true artist. The way he boldly uses color is sometimes more controversial than the subject matter he is shooting. There are a few other photogs I follow but my biggest inspiration comes from everything around me. Mainly the people I encounter in life. I get so much motivation in my career when I see someone completely killing it in another creative or for that matter, non-creative field.
9) Speaking of other creative fields, I know you’ve art directed film and video projects before, but have you ever considered directing a movie or documentary? Your images have so much energy in them as it is!
KLM: I love video. It’s something I am looking to get more into. I like more of the directing side of things. Last year I co-directed & art directed a music video for my friends, Ornery Little Darlings. I loved shooting it. Video is a grueling process. I have seen many friends shoot videos and the stress level is pretty crazy. I think that will slowly and naturally develop, but nothing for the immediate future is planned. I am in heavy pursuit of tracking down Billy Corgan. He’s next on my list of people I want to shoot and work with. We are Facebook friends so that’s a legitimate start, right??
10) Ha! I really want to collaborate with a few stars myself (John Leguizamo and Simone Legno), and decided to reach out via Twitter… We’ll see what happens, right? But sticking with the media for a second, do you have a preference when it comes to digital versus film?
KLM: I obviously shoot mainly digital based on the demand of the market. We’re in a digital era and most shoots need a quick turn around. I separate digital and film. I so wish I was shooting more film. I used to shoot film a lot but time and money have become a factor. Film for me will always be for personal exploration. Film to me should always be dirty, raw and real. I love that about film. Digital and film I think will always exist together in photography—kind of like how digital music and vinyl co-exist.
11) I know you just moved into the EP Theater and probably have a ton of unpacking to do. But before I let you go, what’s your advice for the people just getting started in photography? What’s the best way to promote/position/market yourself as an up-and-coming photographer? How does someone start landing gigs?
KLM: Shoot a lot for yourself. Create your own shoots. If you want to shoot bands, start contacting them and shoot. If you want to shoot fashion, look up a local fashion designer or jewelry designer and find a model. Just keep building that portfolio and keep practicing. Zack Arias spoke in Chicago last summer and stressed, no matter how big you become as a photographer, you’re always going to have to do pro bono work. It’s great because it keeps you creating. The other side to promote yourself is networking. If you hate meeting people, this isn’t a career for you. You have to be able to communicate as a photographer so it’s important you open yourself to meeting new people. You never know where that next gig might come from.
12) In a word, what’s it all about?
Follow Kyle La Mere @kylelamere