The Lightness of Summer
Photography by Bliss Katherine
For this new installment in our 3-0 series collaborating with female creatives, we worked with photographer and artist Bliss Katherine to capture pieces of the Roberta collection in her signature soft, dreamy style. Through a mix of self-portraiture and still, Bliss captures the light-filled, airy mood of late spring, early summer. Traveling nearly constantly to shoot her many fashion and music clients, Bliss took some time out to tell us about discovering her love of photography, why she prefers a female subject, and her approach to drowning out the social media noise.
Can you introduce yourself and give us a quick background bio – where are you from, where do you live now, how did you get interested in photography?
My name is Bliss, it’s my birth name and passed down. I grew up in Georgia and now live in Los Angeles. As a very young girl I found photography through having a visual family. I first noticed an attachment to taking pictures while traveling with my parents and it later served as tranquility for me as a teen. I became rather obsessed with the process of film, and then placed my photographs with writing during journaling. There I seem to have found myself.
Your work has such a strong mood – relaxed, laid back, soft, dreamy – how has your eye evolved over the years?
Thank you, I live with love as my approach to life. As I’ve gotten older, my art has taken on new dimensions once I gained more interest into my subject’s surrealism. I’ve always been a visual storyteller, although my control of perfection had to change with time. As did the way I use light and different types of cameras. In the past I had a studio but now sun serves me in every way seeing as I prefer to use natural light. Every photographer dreams of having a visual signature, but I now mostly just want my images to help viewers feel something nostalgic, even for a moment.
Are there any specific artists, places, or ideas where you draw inspiration?
The women in my life are my muses, especially my mother. After spending many summers and winters of my life in Chicago, aside from interesting people, the art and architecture became a large source of inspiration. The mid century character of the city played a role in helping craft my creative gaze. On ordinary days at home in LA I inspire myself by writing, opening a good photography book or listening to my favorite songs.
Your subjects tend to be women – models, friends, yourself – is that by design and is there something about relating to your subject on that level that you find important?
Women interest me more. There’s an undertone of trust and responsibility to see a woman for who she truly is, and capture that. To befriend her is even more special. Being a woman, photographing women to inspire other women is my life. I am rather mothering and instinctive when clicking the right moments and bringing calmness to the process. Getting a bit of humor mixed with austere comes naturally with a raw female connection. The in-between moments are what matter to me.
There are clearly many artful and beautiful images of women shot by men but there are times that we’ve questioned the motivations behind certain male photographer’s work. How do you think gender affects the gaze and do you think about that in terms of your own work? Is the idea of oversexualizing a subject ever an issue for you?
Familiarity between the photographer and muse is everything. In this age with art, it’s really easy to rely on gaining success off of a woman’s body. Sadly, many young women allow this to happen to gain mutual popularity with the artist. In my opinion, this has to change. Over sexualizing a model has not been an issue for me because I wouldn’t ever allow it to be. My personal lens is capturing comfortable moments and accessing the transparency they choose. I’ve heard too many model stories of discomfort when in a vulnerable form with a male gaze. Straight men mainly photographing nude women is not original or interesting to me. Some photographers enter the subject’s world, and some make others enter their world. Regardless, there should be a trust and respect made in any process.
Do you approach self-portraiture differently – knowing that not only is it your own gaze creating the image but that others will be scrutinizing you?
I’d say I don’t approach it too much differently. Self portraits are a way for us to bridge the gap into seeing ourselves at all possible angles. Being introverted most of my life pushed me to get better acquainted with who I was visually. Taking my own portrait can make me more nervous than capturing a stranger’s, because I don’t have the same control over my own image. Timid vulnerability does come with sharing a self portrait, but I believe the female gaze is a safe place, and that’s mostly who I care to inspire. I’ve come to a belief of if someone dissects me for what comforts me, they should re-evaluate their own perfection and move onto something that better serves them.
Social media can cause many of us women and creatives to constantly compare ourselves to the curated success of others – does this affect your work in any way or are you able to somehow filter out the noise to concentrate on your own vision? Are there ways in which social media can positively affect how you work or how much you work?
Social media is disposable to me, although I know it’s important. I love life. Real life. Our phones allow us to empower ourselves and others intimately, but we all know there’s a difference between narcissism and intimacy. I have chosen for a while to not obsess over what others are doing or creating as much as I once did. Social media standards equal false advertising and aesthetic exercises I can’t keep up with, but I admire those that can show up completely as themselves daily and not cave into what’s trending. The positivity it does bring is connection and expression, which is a beautiful gateway into the world and what we are called to do in it.
You describe your practice as sharing stories of honest moments, femininity, and natural beauty – how do you manage to create natural moments that are unaffected by the simple act of being there to shoot it?
Leading up to almost all of my shoots are opportunities of connection with my subjects. It has to be personal. That may look like a tea meeting, text conversation, or a long car ride together on the way to a location. Creating an authentic bond with who I’m photographing is very important to me. When it is a first introduction, something rare and beautiful always seems to reveal itself in the shy moments and eventually it all feels natural.
What are you working on now, any new projects that you’re excited about and can share?
Currently focused on fashion campaigns and traveling. I’ve began to work towards a future photography book, it will be a long time in the works but I am always excited about a big personal project. It keeps me looking ahead.
The 3-0 (three zero) series – In numerology the number 30 is sometimes referred to as the limitless 3 – the highly creative and social energy of the digit 3 followed by the unlimited digit 0. This piece is part of the series, collaborations between Kindred Black and some of the many talented female creatives we’ve met along the way. A collection of lookbooks, interviews, conversations, and more highlighting eco-fashion and the Kindred Black sustainability ethos, 3-0 is our way of creating a space for the imagination and creative expression of the women that inspire us.