I became aware of Katie Shapiro’s work earlier last year and her Tumblr quickly became one of my favorites. When I thought of the theme of Venice, I knew that I’d want to include her work in the issue. During the editing process, I started to gain an appreciation for her landscape work as well and think it really compliments her portraits in an interesting way.
What role does Los Angeles, or California, play in your work? Perhaps it’s because I lived there but when I look at your portraits I get a very strong California vibe.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and live and work here today. I’ve been observing my surroundings for most of my life so the city has definitely seeped into my view and aesthetic. I use the environment to make my portraits and have my sitters interact and fit into the scenery in a natural way. The light and flora that exist here in Los Angeles are as much a part of my work as my subjects, and at times are the very subjects themselves.
What’s your process when you’re making a portrait? Do you spend time sitting around and chatting beforehand or do you get right to work? I’m always interested in the ways that photographers set the stage so to speak for the portrait.
Honestly each time is different and it very much depends on the person, their personality and my relationship with them. Much of the time we talk for a bit and when it feels right I motion for us to begin. Other times are more spontaneous and happen while life is going on, instead of a planned session. Overall though I would call it an organic process that happens naturally, there isn’t much of a plan I adhere to, it’s all about flexibility.
The same subjects appear in your frequently. Do you mostly photograph friends and family, or do you also photograph strangers? How do you find your subjects?
Yes, I most often photograph friends and family, but have started to branch out and photograph strangers. I can’t really tell you how I find my subjects, I just see something in them that I get a gut reaction to and ask if they are willing to sit for me. At times I’ve put out open calls and have gotten some interesting results too, but what most often occurs is I will ask people to sit for me. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes not.
Do you show them the photographs? How do they react?
I do show them the photographs. Most often I will present my sitters with the proof sheets and let them pick out a few shots and I will scan them or make them a print. I see the whole process as an exchange so I like to give them something back. I have found that reactions are almost always positive, and since my subjects are not models, they are usually pleasantly surprised with the results. And of course sometimes they don’t like any.
Do they ever get curious about what you’re trying to do with the photographs? I mean, do you tell them you’re working on a project or building your portfolio?
It depends how well they know me. But yes, most people are curious about what I’m doing, and I don’t have a concrete answer. I see the portraits I make as an ongoing project. I get so much satisfaction from making them that I don’t see an end any time soon.
How do you balance doing editorial work with pursuing your personal work? I know from talking to other photographers that it can be challenging hustling for gigs and dedicated time to personal work.
That is a very good question. It is incredibly challenging, too challenging sometimes. My personal work comes first to me, and the editorial work feels like a cherry on top. It’s wonderful to get hired and I love getting assignments. It is a constant struggle in that my desires are rooted in my own art practice and my reality is trying to support myself. It’s a hard line to walk and I’m learning all the time.
Your significant other (fiancé I believe) Jeff McLane is a talented photographer as well. It sounds like you’re pretty surrounded by photography all hours of the day. How does that benefit your work? And maybe more importantly, how do you get away from it?
Yes, my fiancé is a photographer as well and I feel amazed and grateful for the way we can work and support one another. Being surrounded by art all day is a blessing to me. At times it can be overwhelming and I will need a break and spend time with friends who are not artists or do some totally un-related activity. But mostly the people who I spend my time with are like-minded and share similar lifestyles. Jeff and I often go camping to get out of Los Angeles, alone or with friends to clear our minds and take a break from it all, but of course we bring our cameras so in a way we are always working. Being an artist is so integrated with everyday life that it’s hard to get away from it really, or find a good reason to.
What’s the photography community like in LA? Do you get a chance to network and go to openings often and such?
The community here in LA is really great and I find people are really supportive of one another. I think it’s probably a bit smaller than in NY so it’s feels like we all know one another, or at least of each other. I try to make it to as many openings as I can, and it’s always a great place to connect with friends and see great work and what’s being shown. It’s geeky but always interesting to see the printing and framing choices of other photographers and to watch the trends.
Speaking of community, what role has the photography community online played in your development? Do you read blogs and online magazines?
I think the online photo community is an interesting development in the photo world. It is a great place to gain exposure, see what is out there, and connect with other image makers. I do read blogs, there are so many great resources available now. I love iheartphotograph, aphotoeditor, LPV, and endless others. On the flip side I do have to say that at times I need to take a break from it all. It can be overwhelming and distracting and I’ll need to focus back on my own vision and path.
What are some of your goals for the near future? Or long term? Do you have plans to create a book?
My goals for the future? Keep doing what I’m doing, and find more ways in which to do it. I would love to create a book for my project Malibu Sandbags. I made a book for my thesis project, Old World Charm, and I really enjoyed the process. I look forward to doing that again. It’s nice to have a tangible object with your hard work in it.
Alright, one more question. What are some other artists or people that have influenced you outside of photography? Writers? Musicians? Filmmakers?
Oh wow. For this one I think I am just going to make a list, in no particular order, that is just a fraction of many influences.
Photographs ©Katie Shapiro
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