Kalliope Amorphous | New York / Rhode Island

Hello Kalliope, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
I come from a family of artists on both sides, so I have always been very creative. I started working with photography about eight years ago and never looked back. It’s the one thing that combines all of the things I love in one medium. 

I started working with photography because I wanted to see if I could make the emotions and ideas in my mind visible in photographs. From day one, I approached the camera as an artist first. I learned to photograph intuitively and to view the camera as something capable of manifesting the invisible. Photography became my primary medium because I feel that there is no other medium that is capable of as much synchronicity and magic.

You submitted some work of your self-portrait series. How did it come up that you started shooting yourself?
I started using myself as the model in my photographs because it was convenient. I was the one who was always there at two in the morning when I had an idea. Once I started with self-portraits, I also started to see the cathartic value of being both the subject and object of what I want to express. 

When I was younger, I was a model, so I had experience being creative in front of the camera. Being creative in front of and behind the camera at the same time was new to me, but it came naturally and I really loved the level of creative control that it allowed. It’s important for me to be able to work in solitude, so self-portraits became the bulk of my work.

The visual expression of your series is very unique. How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I don’t really plan out my photographs too much other than the concept. My process would probably be considered chaotic. It is very performative and emotional rather than pre-planned and I think that this sort of approach comes through in the mood of the finished photograph. My process essentially involves my asking a question in the form of gesture and receiving the answer in the photograph. I always compare my process to the Japanese art of Butoh dance, because it is very much a dance that is summoning something deeper than myself. The difference is my process finishes in a photograph. 

So, my compositions are usually very spontaneous. I tend toward creating a base for my compositions that creates the mood of a viewer looking in on a secret moment, or compositions that are evocative of pictorialism. My compositions and all of the elements that I use in my process are always reaching for something timeless in the finished image. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your workflow?
I have two residences, so it’s different depending on which state I’m in. When I am in New York, I do a lot of street photography and so it’s a very different kind of workflow. I spend a lot of time taking photographs of the daily hustle and bustle as well as the quiet beauty of the city. It’s a quiet, daily chronicling of memories of a city that means so much to me. Street photography is spontaneous, so my workflow is very simple. I live my life, I capture the beautiful or interesting moments in it, and I don’t spend too much time editing.

When I am in my other residence in Rhode Island, my workflow is different. I have a very large studio and office in my home, so I incorporate a lot more staging. I have closets of backdrops, props, handmade lighting and filters. So, even though the subject of the photograph may be loosely planned, I tend to plan out the “stage” or the experimental effect more intricately. I also tend to spend more time editing my self-portraits and experimental work, because over the past few years I have really come to appreciate the possibilities of filters and textures. 

Before you became a visual artist you were a poet. Did poetry influence the way you work as a photographer?
Photography is visual poetry to me. I go through long periods of time without writing. In the absence of words, images are how I express my inner and outer landscape. When I have periods of time where I am not creating photographs, I write. To me, photography and poetry are different aspects of the same language. They are both vehicles through which I can translate the invisible into something more tangible. 

This year you started with street photography. How did this come up?  And what do you enjoy most about it?
The first time I took photographs of people on the street was shortly after David Bowie died. I went down to his apartment building and the scene there was such a mix of beauty and grief. I think it was the day after he died, and a makeshift memorial was starting to grow. It was such a beautiful and sad moment. That was the first time I felt inspired to take my camera and photograph moments on the street and to take candid portraits of people. 

It was the first time I had the experience of creating art by capturing a live and very emotional moment outside of the studio. It was the first time I recognized that documentary and street photography were capable of capturing the fragility of being human, the passing of time -all of the things that I have focused on in my other work. So, it was outside of David Bowie’s apartment on a very sad day that I became inspired to start capturing more of the human moments around me.

Was it a challenge to shoot strangers on the streets?
I try to remain an invisible observer because I feel it adds a more interesting perspective to the finished image. I don’t like to invade people’s personal space or be intrusive. If there is any challenge, it is the challenge to try and stay invisible. Sometimes it’s a challenge to make sure I am not invading people’s space. I like to catch people as they are, in authentic moments, lost in their own thoughts, lost in the landscape of the city. When it becomes obvious that I am taking a photograph, that dynamic is changed and it results in a different aesthetic.

Beside your personal project, you also shot portraits of Hillary Clinton and Marina Abramović. What advice would you give someone who starts with photography and looking for his own direction? 

Those series were not a result of working as a portrait photographer. Both Marina and Hillary are women that I am inspired by and when I am inspired, it influences my art. So, both of those were personal projects. In fact, all of my series are personal projects, because I could never work without complete artistic freedom. I don’t work for anyone but myself, and I don’t do commercial photography. It’s all fine art photography. It’s all art and it all comes from the same place, so all of the work I do is personal. For the past few months, I have been focused on photographing Hillary and creating other art in support of her campaign because it’s really important to me. On that note, my advice to others is to focus on what is important to you, while at the same time realizing that what is important to you will always be changing.  

My advice to other artists is to do what you love and follow what moves you without making concessions if you are able to. I have never made concessions in my art, my career, or my life and this is important to me because it keeps my work and vision as authentic as possible. My advice is also to focus on your own vision. Don’t pay too much attention to what others are doing, what gear they are using, or what the latest trends are. Trends will come and go, but authentic vision that originates in the gut and the heart will remain timeless and endure. 

Lauren Welles | New York City

HI LAUREN, first of all congratulations for winning the 3rd prize of this year's Miami Street Photography Festival for one of your Coney Island photos and the Juror’s award in the Center For Fine Art Photography’s “Simply” Contest! How do you feel about that?
Thank you! It felt great to be recognized for something that I love to do. I enjoyed the proverbial 15 minutes.

Tell us a bit about the Coney Island project.
It started out, in the summer of 2013, as just a day at the beach.   I was out with my camera in New York City, and there were no people on the streets. The city can get pretty desolate in the summer, when everyone flees from the concrete jungle, so as not to forget what a tree looks like.  Feeling pretty lonely and uninspired, I decided to take the subway out to Coney Island, to put my feet in the water, be around people and feel the vibrancy of the place. It wasn’t so much about photography at that point; everyone photographs Coney Island and I didn’t think I’d see anything new. I just wanted to get out of the mood I was in.  Anyway, as soon as I arrived, I saw visual stories everywhere and I was able to frame them in ways that kept me interested.  I would go back a few times a month and a body of work started to develop. The project depicts the many cultures and the joie de vivre for which Coney Island is known.  In today’s society, fear, negativity and that “us vs. them” mentality get an inordinate amount of attention; it’s nice to be reminded of a different reality, where people from all different cultures come together to share in happy times. 

When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression?
Back in 2003, I was looking to change careers (to what, I had no idea), so I took six months off to travel and get a new perspective on things. I wanted to take pictures on my trip, so I figured I should learn how to use a camera before going. I enrolled in an into to photography class, and the love affair began. 

Is there a photographer or a type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
There are too many to list, but Cartier-Bresson’s work was my first and probably greatest influence (his geometric compositions, in particular). Then there’s Helen Levitt (I love kids).  The graceful movement and intimacy of Sylvia Plachy’s work inspires me, as does Koudelka's sort of melancholic romanticism.  And, more currently, Alain Laboile’s work; it captures an idyllic innocence and free spirit of childhood, which leaves me speechless.

You’re a former lawyer. What made you decide you were ready to dive into the career of a full time photographer?
For years I had been trying to leave, but I just couldn’t handle giving up my security; it seemed so irresponsible and terrifying. Then my health became a bit compromised and I intuitively knew that it was due to the work stress I was stoically harboring.  At that point it was more terrifying to stay where I was than to move forward.  I don’t know that I felt ready to dive into a full-time photography career, but I was definitely ready to leave my legal career.  Then, little by little, the photography fell into place.

Commercial photography is a totally different kind of photography than personal work. How do you handle the challenge in meeting the demands of clients? Was it difficult in the beginning?
The challenge of meeting the demands of clients is like any other job - I have to please someone else without compromising my own integrity.  But it also feels good to satisfy someone else’s needs when I'm doing something I enjoy (in contrast to much of my legal career).

I was nervous as hell on some of my first assignments. Then, like anything else, it got easier and I became more confident.  Being flexible and resourceful when working professionally is so important; something unexpected almost always occurs during a shoot. I still feel as though I’ll never learn it all, which can be scary, but that’s also what keeps it interesting.

What do you like about street photography? Do you think it helps being a female street photographer?
I love how there is a jumping off point from which to create a visual story. I’m not good at creating something visual from scratch; my blank canvas tends to stay blank. I need to see things to get ideas.  When I’m out in public, everything and everyone is stepping onto my canvas, so all I need to do is eliminate, or add, and then frame. 

As a female photographer, I sometimes think I'm not as threatening to strangers as a man might be, especially when photographing kids.  But whether you’re male or female, I think psychology plays a huge role in street photography. If you look at it like you’re doing something wrong, invading someone’s “privacy,” you’ll tense up, making it more likely for people to get upset with you.  But if you are truly interested in people and maintain a humanistic perspective, your energy will be positive, which can make all the difference.   That’s not to say people don’t get upset with me. But when they do, I try to respect their feelings, not take it personally and move on. 

How important is it to hear your inner voice as a photographer?
It’s the most important thing for me as a human being, let alone photographer! It’s an infallible compass. I think that’s what mid-life crises are all about—your inner voice goes from a whisper to a scream so that you can no longer ignore it. Mediocrity is inevitable if my heart isn’t in something, be it photography or anything else. 

As a photographer we all go through different stages. How do you deal with a creative block and what do you do against it?
I used to get really frustrated and frightened by it, thinking it would be permanent. But I’ve learned to trust more in what the moment is than what it isn’t and just allow things to run their course.  The block is often just a gestation period, though I usually don’t know that until it’s over.  

If I’m not feeling inspired, I’ll still take my camera around just to "stay in shape.”  I’m naturally curious about people.  So, if all I do is have a conversation with a stranger on the subway, I’ll still go home with a smile on my face. That helps me ride out the dry spells.  

How important is traveling for you? Is there a place in the world you would like to photograph?
It’s so important! I’ve always had a streak of wanderlust in me. I love experiencing different cultures. There are tons of places I’d like to visit. But I usually don’t know until I get somewhere, if I’m visually inspired.  I need to be interested in the other aspects of a place, the soul of it perhaps, in order for the visual attraction to be there. Based on that, I think I would enjoy photographing in parts of Eastern Europe, where my grandparents were from.  Before I knew how to photograph, I visited Hungary and Poland (I took pictures, but they were horrendous).  So many things felt familiar to me—the food, people’s demeanor, the look in their eyes.  I’d like to go back one day with my camera and explore. 


Sally Davies | New York City

You moved from Canada to New York’s East Village in 1983, which has been a very rough area during that time. How did it feel for you as a young woman, coming from a small town from Canada? 
I started leaving my hometown when I was a teenager. Rural Canada in the 70s was the middle of nowhere. I moved to the East Village in 1983. It was a creepy, dangerous broken drug war zone. By the time I arrived here, life had moved on the greener pastures and what remained were drugs, a bunch of rag tag artists looking to rebuild, and mostly burnt out buildings. Nothing about this place looked like where I was from... but oddly, it felt exactly the same... the middle of nowhere. The old was almost over and the new hadn't figured itself out yet.

There were no cars to speak of, unless they were burning on the side of the road. It wasn’t densely populated (too scary for most) and even the scale of the buildings was low, sharing a big sky. It was impossible not to photograph. 

Not sure why exactly, but we all knew things were changing here…and there was a sense of urgency…to document your experience. 

Can you describe how the area has changed since then?
Gentrification is pretty much the same, no matter where it happens. Artists move in to dangerous fringe neighborhoods because of the cheap rents. Restaurants and bars open up, then rich people start coming there because its cool. Then the developers buy up all the real estate and make everything nice and shiny and expensive. Then the artists and poor people can’t afford to live there anymore and leave in search of the next forgotten poor area. It works for a brief cross over period, when both sides are still there but ultimately the artists leave and there remains only rich people in shiny buildings, and its all over but the crying.

You’ve actually been a painter, what has brought you into photography? What does photography mean to you? 
My father gave me my first 35mm camera when I was a teenager in the 70s. I’ve been shooting since then. I didn’t know back then, that I could “be” a photographer, so I just always shot while doing other things. That relationship with photography continued through my college experience as well. I was a painting major, and spent the 80s and 90s in nyc exhibiting my paintings at OK Harris Gallery then at Gracie Mansion in the east village. Photography was something I did by myself, for myself. No one gave a shit about my photos and that was an amazing opportunity to get out there and shoot, unfettered with no plan. Somewhere around 2006 I decided to stop painting entirely and only photograph. That was when I began to shoot every day, on purpose.

Do you carry your camera with you all the time? Do you think it is important for a photographer to shoot everyday?  
Indeed I do carry my camera with me everywhere I go. And if I forget I have my phone camera.  The minute you don’t have it, is the minute you wish you did. That will be a missed shot, and you can’t go back. Once its missed, its missed.  

I don’t know what other photographers should do, but I shoot every day.  Perhaps its because I live in New York City, and its a 24/7 situation out there, but I have never gone out and come home with nothing.  

How would you describe your photography? 
My work is the result of an ongoing relationship with New York City that started over 30 years ago. I’ve been called a street photographer, but I don’t see myself in that formal tradition. I’m not interested in a big situation. I’m looking for  the small, the every day… for the tiniest slice of the giant pie. I am looking for the emotional footprint. The things that are broken…that's the glue that holds us together.

You are a full time photographer. Many photographers struggle to make a living as a full time photographer. In an interview you said once „I don't have a plan B.“ So tell us,  is there a secret how it works? And do you have any advice for young women who want to become a full time photographer?
I struggle just like everyone else. I used to work at a magazine shooting cosmetics, and that supported my street habit. But that job ended as the magazine world started to fold, and I have been only shooting street since then. My work reaches a lot of people, and I am getting well known these days, but that does not guarantee photo sales. I think it's good to have a “real” job to pay your bills. Then you can obsess on your photography without the pressure of selling it.  

Lots of photographers who try to make a living out of it start to compromise with their work - to get a show or being published. Have you ever been in that situation? Or is this a no go - cause you just do the work you feel and want to do?
One night in the 80’s,  years ago, I was at a fancy restaurant. Andy Warhol and I had a 2 minute conversation in the bathroom. He said, “Decide what you want to do and get really really good at that one thing. Don’t chase what you think will be the next big thing because there are already people great at it, waiting for their turn. Better to stay put, get super good at your own thing and wait. When it arrives you will be ready and be the best.”  

What advice would you give young photographers to get a gallery show or being published. Should they apply to galleries or send work to publishers? Or do you think this is a waste of time, cause the tendency nowadays is getting discovered? 
The world is changing quickly, and that includes the art world and photography too. What I would have told someone 10 years ago, is not what I would tell them now. I’m not sure there is a clear path anymore to one prize.  

That said, it certainly never hurts to get your work in front of art dealers and gallerists, providing they are the right reps for your work. Ask yourself, do they understand what you are doing?  Do they have the appropriate collectors for the type of work you do? Do they already have artists in their stable doing similar work?  

I don’t think “all the eggs in one basket” is a smart career choice anymore. You must consider any and all options that are available to you. Social media…get online, get your work on different sites, they all have different viewers. Friend other photographers on Facebook. There are so many great ones on there, and most of them are helpful lovely people. Don’t be afraid to ask for opinions, ask for help etc. Get your work out there every day.  Don’t get discouraged if nothing happens…it usually won’t…But one day, it will. 

Do you think Social Media has influenced and changed the photography business? Is it easier now to get discovered or was it easier a couple of years ago?
I think “getting discovered” is easier now than in the old days. There are so many more opportunities to show the world your photos. The internet is amazing in that way. It is the great level playing field. The down side is that its available for everyone else too, so the competition is much fiercer. People are over saturated with images, so its important that you figure out what your trying to say, then say it well and often.

Can you tell us a bit about your „McDonalds Happy Meal Project“ which went viral in 2010, receiving over 1.5 million hits to date! Have you ever expected this hype? And since then did you ever had a Happy Meal again?
I have been a vegetarian since I was 15, so I was not eating any Happy Meals. Long story short – In 2010 I bought a Happy Meal and set it out on a plate in my apt to see if it would mold or rot. I photographed it every day for 6 months. No rot, no mold no nothing. It was featured on Refinery29 website and from there went viral. It's still in my apt and still looks pretty much the same as it did 5 years ago when I bought it. It will be 6 years old on April 10 2016. On the day it went viral, it was the most viewed story on the internet. It makes me laugh to think I may die and my legacy will be that burger.  

Are you currently working on a new project? Or is there a dream project which you would like to realize? 
I’m not really a project person. My photography is my daily story, my walk to the grocery store, my dog walk around the block or my bike ride somewhere.  

Your work is mostly from New York. Is there a place in the world where you would like to photograph?
I look forward to spending time somewhere else soon. Maybe LA. We’ll see if moonlight on a garbage bag is as heart breaking on the west coast, as it is on the Lower East Side.

Sally Davies is photographing NYC over 30 years. She achieved her first public recognition in New York in the 90s with her „Lucky Paintings“ and „Lucky Chairs“ exhibitions at New York’s OK Harris Gallery and Gracie Mansion Gallery in East Village. Her art has been featured on HBO’s „Sex in the City“ and are in the collections of Havard Business School, 9/11 Memorial Museum, Sarah Jessica Parker, Debra Winger and others.

In 2014, Sally's ”Lower East Side Photographs" were exhibited at the "Bernarducci Meisel Gallery" in New York City, with a 2nd solo exhibit “New York at Night” that followed on June 4, 2015.  In 2014 Sally received a citation from the city of New York for her ongoing interest in photographing the Lower East Side. She lives and works on the Lower East Side and continues photographing New York City.


Melissa Breyer | Brooklyn N.Y.

Tell us, when did you first become interested in photography?
I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid with a kid’s camera, but wasn’t obsessive about it until later. I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember and I started my professional life as a painter after college. But at some point I gave up painting to become a writer. After that I got my first serious camera as an alternative way to keep making pictures and I’ve become increasingly wild about it ever since.

Are you a full-time photographer or would you describe yourself as a serious enthusiast?
I write to make a living; I live to make photographs. They are both wonderful ways to have a life. I really love writing, but I take photos or think about taking photos or dream about taking photos all day and night.

How would you describe your photography?
Primarily urban and candid. Somewhere on the edges of street photography but generally not as literal. I look for what the eyes see but that the brain doesn’t always register, so my photos can tend towards a little weird. 

Is there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
I didn’t start looking at other photographers until I was well into having my own style, but a love of literature and a background in painting allowed writers and painters to assume the role of muse. I’ve noted before that I can’t escape the wistfulness of Edith Wharton’s New York or Cormac McCarthy’s tension between beauty and bleakness; the urban voice of Junot Diaz, the lyrical sensuality of Pablo Neruda … they all play a role, along with so many others. Visually, I am drawn to the strange beauty and social quips of Hannah Höch’s collages, the light of Baroque masters, the graphic architecture of De Chirico, and although I know it’s cliché, the solitude of Edward Hopper’s subjects, to name a few.

When you are out shooting, how much is instinctual versus planned?
Almost 100 percent instinctual. I may have a mood that I’m in and want to seek out scenes to indulge it, but shooting in public is all about spontaneity for me; it’s hard to plan around that.

How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I don’t really think about it. I just frame a scene so that it feels right to my sense of balance and movement. Some of my photos may look wonky since I never think about rules of composition, but I’m a little wonky so I’m ok with that.

What do you prefer b&W or color? And why?
Black and white is my default; I see compositions in tonal values and so black and white generally best conveys the initial perspective. But sometimes color clammors to play along too and when it does I may argue with it a bit, but I generally give in.

Do you think gear really matters?
A lot of photographers love to say that gear doesn’t matter, I don’t think it’s that black and white. An interesting photographer can make a beautiful photo with whatever he or she has on hand, but they can have much more flexibility with more sophisticated gear. That said, good gear isn’t going to make a bad photographer take good photos. I think the most important part is just having a camera that you know well and love a lot.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with our readers?
I am working on a series called The Watchwomen, but since I rely on random spontaneity it is coming along, um, very slowly. I plan on exploring a few exhibition possibilities in 2016 and there may be a book in the works, but nothing is for certain yet.

Do you have a favorite image of yours? And would you like to share the story behind it?
To be honest, they are all entwined with memory and picking a favorite would be impossible! They were all too much fun to make.