Kelley Mattingly is an emerging fashion & beauty photographer staking his claim in the City of Angels. With obvious raw talent and passion backed up with sound technical knowledge – Los Angeles, take notice…
Hey Kelley, we’ll start at the beginning – where did your love of photography develop?
My grandpa was a rodeo photographer in Montana in the ‘70s; he had all kinds of cameras and equipment. When I was little, I would spend time with him in his darkroom making prints from his old photographs. I was extremely shy growing up and in high school. It wasn’t until I was about twenty that I asked him if I could borrow one of his 35mm cameras. A few years later I was in film school and was hanging out with actors so it was easy to find subjects to shoot. Since I was still a little socially awkward, it was easier for me to be in social settings and interact with people with a camera in my hands. I was mostly just shooting behind-the-scenes and candids, trying to time my moments. I was really into Cartier-Bresson at the time, not that I was achieving anything notable; I was mostly just learning how a camera worked. It was extremely important that I learned the basics shooting on film.
So what then drew you towards specializing in fashion photography?
I started shooting with models about two years ago in Butte, Montana of all places. I had just moved back to my hometown (Butte, MT) from a year in New Orleans. I started out in film-making and worked in the film industry for about a year as an Assistant Camera and quickly realized that this was not the industry for me. Too many unhappy people on set (not to say that all film crew are unhappy). In Montana I decided to be my own boss and was shooting TV commercials for local businesses (like really bad local TV commercials). I had been renting my camera equipment and I wanted to do something creative. Since I didn’t have the time, talent, or motivation to produce a decent short-film, out of boredom, I asked a friend of mine if I could shoot her in an abandoned building as a pretend fashion shoot. She was running for Miss Montana and had been modelling, so she had some experience in front of a camera. The shoot turned out pretty good, or at least what I thought was good at the time. I fell in love with fashion photography and started doing it as a hobby. It merged everything I love about film-making (photography, story, directing, emotion) and got rid of a lot of things I didn’t like about film-making (tons of gear, big crews, big budgets, sound recording, and months of pre- and post-production). After a couple months of shooting, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted since I couldn’t find good models in Montana so I started shooting in the Northwest. I would set up shoots with agencies in Portland and Seattle, then drive all the way over, crash on couch-surfing couches and shoot for a few days, then head back to Montana. I did this for about six months and didn’t really get anywhere with those agencies. Los Angeles wasn’t even on the radar for me at that point.
Where do you draw your inspiration and who or what do you cite as points of reference for your work?
My first love being film-making, I started out drawing inspiration from filmmakers like Robert Bresson, Béla Tarr, François Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky and Cassavetes. There is a pure nature to their work that focuses on capturing character and emotion. They have so much control over their vision. Their films seem to linger on faces, leaving the characters vulnerable and raw. I’m not sure how much of this influence can be seen in my own work, but I think it’s starting to surface.
I am also inspired by my hometown of Butte, Montana. It’s an old mining town that was once booming with culture and prosperity and now most of its buildings are abandoned and crumbling. Dirty alleys and twisted fire escapes. Lots of old-timers full of character and stories. It’s a city made for black and white photography. I like my images to feel slightly aged and timeless.
How would you describe your personal style?
Imperfect. Minimal. I think my style is becoming more refined and hopefully recognizable. With so many great photographers out there, and with the social media explosion, it’s very difficult to create work that feels original and fresh. When I started, I spent way too much time retouching photos. Now I embrace imperfection a lot more. I am more interested in casting the right model with a personality that fits my style. The important thing for me is the interaction between photographer and model. Stylistically I am more attracted to shooting in New York than LA, but LA is a great place to learn and grow. And the lifestyle is much easier.
You have recently made the move to LA; how are you going about setting yourself up in a new city?
I’ve been shooting a lot of tests for agencies in LA along with assisting more experienced photographers. I have been in LA for about 8 months now so I’m really just trying to get my name out there and shoot regularly for the bigger agencies in town. I’m starting to get access to better models and that makes all the difference in the world in being able to approach stylists, makeup artists, etc for collaborations. So far, it’s just been me and a model in front of big windows. I did my first shoot with a full team a couple weeks ago and have a lot of ideas now that people want to work with me. I’m planning some spec shoots with editorial and beauty in mind. I’m also focusing on getting work published and finding my first clients.
So what is next for you and what are your longer-term goals?
Long-term, I would like my work to be respected by other photographers. I think that is a mark of being a true photographer. Making a living doing this would be nice, but it’s secondary if I’m not respected among my contemporaries. I’m at such an early stage in my photography career that it’s hard for me to call myself a professional. I’d like to shoot more portraits, possibly shooting celebrities in addition to fashion. Not necessarily celebrity portraits, more like magazine editorials with celebrities as the subject. It’s hard to say what my long-term career goals are because shooting for big magazines still seems like an unrealistic goal. But then again, a year ago I was still living in Montana, thinking LA was a a few years down the road. So it still feels like a dream that I’m in LA at all!
See more of Kelley’s work at:
All images copyright Kelley Mattingly