Kale Friesen is a fashion and beauty photographer based in Vancouver. For this feature, however, we are running a series from a road trip that Kale recently took with his wife through the desert to Palm Springs. Enjoy…
How did you first become interested in photography; was there a particular image or photographer’s work that captured your attention?
I’m 34 years old so all of my first experiences with photography were with film. Growing up, I mostly used a camera to document trips and myself and friends skateboarding. But upon moving to Paris, France in 2006 I purchased my first shitty digital camera to capture where I lived. I can easily say the initial spark that fuelled my obsession with photography was seeing original prints at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson where I saw some of HCB’s original prints; I was immediately moved at how even the most mundane aspects of life, if looked at in the right way, become art.
The images that we are featuring here are from a series shot in Palm Springs. What was your inspiration for the series and what it is you want the images to say to the viewer?
My wife and I travel a lot and these days I refuse to carry a ton of camera gear, so all travel these days is with my Fujifilm X100T, a Canon Canonet and a couple rolls of colour film. I’m a huge fan of nostalgia and there’s always been something of the 50s and 60s, be it the music, cinema or style. So for me Palm Springs is this incredible little gem, out in the desert; on the outside it looks like a beyond idyllic place, but it holds its own secrets and stories from its heyday. Before we took the trip, I had already formulated an idea of what kind of photographs I wanted to make. If you’ve ever been to Southern California, there is this incredible tone and light about it, a surreal saturation and rugged desert feeling to it. I’ve gone through a long period of exploring darker imagery over the last few years and I really felt at this point there was a need for me to move in the opposite direction, towards hard light and brighter photographs. This series for me is really about the intention of our trip, to get away from traffic and noise of the city. I wanted to find a quietness in this privileged oasis. Palm Springs represents for me an escape for the tourists that visit. Beautiful weather, surrounding mountains and a simple daily routine.
It’s easy to find a formula that works and milk it, but to strip that away and take a new path is what really takes guts and courage.
Fashion photography seems to be your bread and butter and you have won numerous awards for your beauty photography; what first attracted you to this style and how do you make your work stand out in such a constantly evolving industry?
Photography began as a hobby for me; as a former painter and illustrator photography became this instant way of accessing an emotional response to a situation or place. I really truly fell in love with fashion photography in 2009 when I returned to Vancouver. I had only been working with natural light for about 3 years and, upon learning more about strobe lights, my mind exploded with the possibilities of using strobe. Instead of having to wait for that perfect light, I could create it. Secondly, I became enamoured with capturing the human body. When I met my now wife Alina, a hairstylist, she asked if I wanted to start shooting some fashion stuff and hairstyles she was working on. From that point forward I tried to learn anything and everything I could about fashion, beauty and portrait photography. It was really the work of Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton and Sarah Moon that had the largest impact on my beginnings. Although they are all completely different types of photographers, they seemed to make photographs that spoke to me, not so much about their subject, but about themselves as artists. Like most photographers can attest to I’m sure, in the beginning we try to mimic the work of those that inspire us, I quickly came to understand that I will never in a million years be able to make a picture like Newton or Sarah Moon. I had to draw inspiration more from their motivation and less from a literal perspective of their work.
The biggest thing that has allowed me to continue to be successful comes down to making photographs I want to see, and not what I think someone else wants to see. Trends come and go, almost daily in this day and age, but when you create something unique to yourself, that will always hold a place in the world. The flip side to that is allowing yourself to evolve; it’s easy to find a formula that works and milk it, but to strip that away and take a new path is what really takes guts and courage. Currently, as mentioned, I’m in the process of a serious shift in my own aesthetic. I have a friend that is a fine art painter with whom I have had a very long-standing dialogue about evolution as an artist. I think artists make their best work when, over time, they are able to use all the skills and tricks they have, distilled into one body of work.
How do you keep challenging yourself and your work? Who or what are your motivators?
Photography is funny in that I can shoot a series that I’m over the moon about, and within a week feel like it’s a complete throw-away. Seeking out projects or styles of photography that you’ve never done is a huge way to challenge yourself. From a business stand-point you have to find a niche and focus your efforts on it, but, outside of that, experimentation and risk taking is key. I guess my key motivator is making myself happy and creatively fulfilled; simple as that.
Even if you fail, you learn far more than never trying.
What would be your best piece of advice for a photographer starting out in the business?
Find a type of photography you are good at and become great. Shoot things that you are passionate about and challenge yourself by shooting things out of your comfort zone. Even if you fail, you learn far more than never trying.
Are you currently working on any projects that you can tell us about?
Well, I’ve just begun about 4 months worth of travel and work for a beauty product company so the rest of winter and spring will be dedicated to that. My wife and I will be making a move to New York City this June, so my goal is to build a network of passionate creative people and take the next step in growing as an artist and photographer.
See more of Kale’s work at:
All images copyright Kale Friesen.