Q&A with Katie Silvester

This coming Thursday 2nd May, our gallery space gets ready to host 'Billie - A Collection of Memories' - a new photography exhibition born from the visual collaboration between musician Billie Marten, photographer Katie Silvester and multimedia artist Josh Shinner

In the lead up to the opening event, we caught up with London based photographer Katie Silvester to find out more about her upcoming showcase, style of work and her plans for the future. 

Read on. 

Introduce yourself. 

Hello, hello. My name is Katie Silvester, and I am a fashion, portrait and lifestyle photographer based in London. 

Tell folks a little about your artwork and what do you love to make work about? 

I still find myself chasing the same themes of youth, passion and light that drew me into photography when I was a teenager. My absolute favourity thing to do is in this world is grab my camera and a happy person and go explore somewhere beautiful together. If the photos come from a real adventure, they mean so much more to me. 

When did you get started in photography as a passion and when did it become a career?

My early life was documented and archived in the most incredible photo albums by my Grandad, and I was and still am obsessed with looking through them. When my Mom got me a camera for my 16th birthday, that was pretty much me done for. I then started studying photography at school, and our teacher insisted on everyone shooting on black and white film and developing it ourselves for the whole first year, and I reckon it was that path that truly made me fall in love with photography. I don't think it was ever really a conscious decision to make it my career, I just never wanted to do, or could imagine doing anything else. The fact that I can make a living out of my passion is still a crazy thing to me. 

What's a typical studio day for you like? 

The best thing about being a photographer is that 'typical' doesn't really exist. One day I can be at my desk working from home, the next I can be on a beach shooting, and the one after I can be in meetings all day. Every day is different, and I am forever grateful for that. 

What's your studio or creative space like?  What do you keep around to constantly motivate and inspire you?

To be honest, I very rarely find inspiration whilst sat a my desk, unless I am sat looking through photo books. I'd much  rather be outside dreaming and scheming. I have a couple of photographs that stay put, one of my Grandma and one of my Nephew, but all of the other ones I change fairly frequently. I pretty much just try to hide the explosion of cameras and boxes of negatives with plants so I feel like I am outside anyway. 

What kind of gear have you been working with? 

For 35 mm i use an old Canon AE-1, and for 120mm I use a Mamiya RB67 Pro S, which is like carrying around a tank, but I can't tell you how satisfying the sound of the shutter on that thing is. Honestly, the longer I spend in photography, the more I believe you can make good work with pretty much anything. I am always asked what lenses I use, and what film, but truthfully I don't think it's essential or even possible to have the same kit an established photographer uses, especially when you start out. For at least the first five or six years I shot everything on film I bought in Poundland with an old hand me down camera from my dad, and nobody ever noticed. 

When working on a body of photographs for a show, what is your process like? How long does it typicall take you to complete a selection from start to finish? 

It's always a long process. It's better to take your time, and give your eyes a break every now and then, otherwise everything tends to blur into one. I think it's really important to make the project tangible from the start, so I print out anything that might possibly make it into the final selection, and then slowly start laying them out. I have to do it by hand with prints; I find it really hard to visualise on a screen. It takes a lot of mixing and matching. Especially with a personal project like "Billie", you have to remember to be objective rather than subjective.  

Do you have any other creative outlets? 

I'd love to say I am super creative in lots of regards, but I am not sure tying shells onto string to hang around the house or singing out of tune in the shower count, do they? 

Is there a medium you'd love to get your hands on, but yet to have the chance to? 

I recently got my hands on a large format camera, and am so, so excited to play with that.

What do you love about where you live, and what is the art community like in your area? 

As far as a nature girl living in a big city goes, I have definitely found a spot that makes me happy. I absolutely love where i live - I am 15 minutes away from my photography lab, walking distance from my favourite bookshop and the canal. As much as I miss the fields and trees from where I grew up, I feel so lucky to live in London, which for now is the best place for me to be, so I can do what I love to do. 

You love to travel, what are some places you're dying to photograph? 

I really want to go exploring in south-east Europe, places like Montenegro and Albania. I am desperate to see and shoot this hot air balloon festival in Cappadocia too, it looks mind blowing. As much as I want to go to new places, the American west has a hold on my heart like no other, and I will probably be back out there again before too long. 

Who are some artists you're inspired by and influenced you throughout the years? 

Oooh this is always a though one. I am really lucky that some of my nearest and dearest friends are really remarkable art makers and photographers - Hollie Fernando, Kimbra Audrey, James Rees, Ana Floubet, Milly Cope to name just a few. I could list all the big old names that made me fall in love with photography, but I feel like there are so many truly incredible young photo makers out there right now. Caroline Mackintosh, Bryan Liston, Alec Mckeand, Javie Castan, Wiisa, Stef Mitchell. Heck, so many to list. 

What would your dream collaboration be?

These days, I use photography as an excuse to do things and meet people I normally wouldn't. I have met some of the best people I know through working relationships first. I'd really love to work on something with Julia Jacklin, Boy Jenius and Maggie Rogers. I think we could do some magic together. 

 What's your advice to folks who see what you do and want to pursue it as a career? 

Keep shooting. I used to do at least four or five tests a week with new face models. Initially just because I absolutely loved shooting simple tests, but over time, I guess I developed my own sense of style. It's a cruel industry to try and break into. I worked for free for so, so many years, it took quite a while until I realised I should start charging for my services. I had put in so much time and effort, I needed to have some self-respect and realise I was actually worth money. Turning it from passion into a career has been one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done. The most important thing is to share. Find a community of like minded photographers, help them out and let them help you. 

What keeps you inspired and motivated?

Good weather is my absolute best inspiration. Winter is a really hard time for me. I genuinely get a bit grumpy when I don't shoot regularly. My boyfriend is normally the one that bears the brunt of it, and then sits patiently while I photograph him until I get my fix again. The more commisions I get, the more desperate I find myself for time to shoot personal projects, and I think it's really important to find a healthy balance between the two, so each project feeds and inspires you for the next. 

What's something you've been able to accomplish that still makes you have a 'pinch me' moment? 

This project, for sure. Out of this commision we created one of the projects that means most to me, my first album cover, a book, and now the show. A couple years ago, I was shooting events at House of Vans, and now here we are with me having my very own, first exhibition with you guys. What a journey. 

What's next for you that you can share with us? 

I am working on a couple really special and personal projects. One on a bee keeper called Percy that I started last summer and can't wait to finish this year (you might notice Billie hanging out with his beers in this exhibition). And another of my boyfriend that we subconsciously started shooting as soon as we started dating, but it took me about four years to realise I was working on a real project. It's a beatiful slow burner that keeps me going during all my commissions.  

And lastly, what does living 'Off The Wall' mean to you?

To me it's living each day to the fulles, saying yes and diving in head first with an open heart and an open mind. 

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