Kimbra Audrey is a U.S. born photographer living in Paris. The former model works mostly through self portraits, shot on film and, mindful of their honesty, unedited and in their original format. Huge fans of her work and intrigued by her as a person, we recently sat down with Kimbra to find out more about her background, how she got interested in photography, and the process of finding herself through self-portraiture.
Give us a quick history – where are you from, where do you live now, what was your background before you started seriously shooting?
I grew up in Seattle and studied black and white film photography in high school. I started modeling when I was 15 because I always loved fashion and wanted to be financially independent. I finished high school early and moved to NYC when I was 17 to pursue modeling more seriously, as you can imagine there isn’t a huge modeling industry in Seattle. I became pretty depressed after modeling for so long and very frustrated with how superficial all the images were. There are some really amazing benefits to modeling but it can also be a very challenging and degrading job at times. So I began taking self-portraits a few years ago as a way to create images of how I actually saw myself, shooting only on film and not retouching any of my images, I wanted to make honest and natural photographs. Last year after nearly ten years, I decided to quit modeling, move to Paris, and focus on my photography full-time.
From the series "Affair"
What made you decide to move to Paris?
I had been living in NYC for almost 8 years and was tired of feeling the financial pressures and constant stress of being in the city. Paris is my favorite city in the world and it is where I have always felt the most inspired for my photography. It is also a lot more affordable than New York. Last spring, shortly after quitting modeling and going through a challenging break-up, I took two months to travel around France and England and that trip really finalized my decision to apply for a visa. I feel in love with the lifestyle and culture of France and its proximity to so many amazing countries.
Kimbra Audrey for Self Control Magazine
What initially drew you to photography?
I have always loved photography this idea of being able to express so much and capture a moment, without even saying anything, I find it really romantic. I really fell in love with it when I was in high school and learning how to process and print my film. I actually love not being able to see my image the instant I take it. I feel with digital photography people are so frequently focused on this little screen on the back of their camera not the actual subject. Film forces you to be truly in the moment and understand so much more about lighting and composition because there is a lot less room for error. I also love being in the darkroom, the process of mixing the chemicals, watching your print come alive in front of you, it’s beautiful and very therapeutic. There is so much manipulation you can do with your photographs and I love experimenting. I even built my own darkroom in my apartment in Paris so I can process and print all my film myself at home.
As women, we’re so mired in body issues and waste so much time worrying or feeling bad about how we look. In your work we love that you seem so confident and unashamed to show your body. How do you get past body issues / self-confidence issues?
While I was modeling I really struggled with my confidence and had extremely low self-esteem. Even when I was at my skinniest I didn’t feel like I was good enough by industry standards. It’s an industry based solely on physical appearance and it was very hard to not take rejection personally. Taking self-portraits really helped me to rebuild my confidence and have a greater appreciation for my body. I learned to love my own imperfections and be able to see beauty in myself, even if it did not meet someone else’s standards.
From the series "Edge"
Is it ever a challenge to have your self as the main subject of your work?
It can definitely be challenging to be the main subject of your own work. I’m only human and I don’t always feel like being photographed but it is also nice to push my own boundaries and capture emotions that are frequently left out of commercial photography. It is also a luxury to never be with a subject, and it’s very liberating to take self-portraits. I have struggled in the past to articulate myself and my ideas while shooting other people, so it’s really nice to be able to be your own muse and to have a concept come to fruition.
The history of photography is rich with self portraiture and the female gaze – we see so many strong homages to some of our favorites within your work, can you talk a bit about your influences and inspirations?
My three favorite photographers are some of my closest friends and they are also all women, Katie Silvester, Alexandria Spencer Foot, and Kayten Schmidt. All three women take self-portraits and have posed for photos with me as well. All shoot on film and their work is always inspiring to me. When I get to work with my friends it’s really beautiful because it never feels competitive, we can take self-portraits together and it always feels like a collaboration. We can build off each other’s energy, some of my favorite images I have ever made are with these women.
From the series "Deserted"
How do you think the era of the selfie and Instagram has changed self portraiture?
I definitely have a love hate relationship with Instagram. I think it can be a great platform to share your photography with so many people but I also think real photography can get lost in the sea of the internet. It’s also a bit frustrating for me because there is a lot of nudity in my work and I really hate to censor my images because it really goes against my principles as a photographer, but it’s a necessary evil and I have had my account deleted twice because of nudity. I also think there is a time and place for a selfie, but I don’t think that self-portraiture and selfies can really be compared. There is a lot more work that goes into a self-portrait especially for me shooting film.
Why do you prefer film over digital?
What I love most about film is that is something tangible, it’s a physical object, not an electronic thing floating around on a memory card or hard drive. It’s funny because people spend hours in photoshop trying to make their images look like film but it’s never the same. The richness in colors and the grain you get in a film image can’t be replicated. I also really love the chemistry of developing and printing my films, I experiment with my chemicals and use different treatments on my images. As I said before I also love not being able to see my photo instantly, when I finally develop my film it feels like Christmas morning finally seeing my images.
From the series "Dreams"
With everything going on in American politics, we’re interested to hear the perspective of someone living abroad. Do you feel far removed from what’s going on or does it feel just as personal to you living in Paris?
It definitely still feels very personal to me, even though I live in France, I am still an American and everything that goes on politically affects me, my family and my friends. With the time difference I always feel a little behind getting my news but I definitely try to stay very aware of what’s going on. I wish I could attend some of the protests and events that are taking place, but I recently donated some photos for a planned parenthood fundraiser, so I do try to contribute in little ways. I’ve also become a lot more invested in French politics since I’ve moved here. I honestly didn’t know anything about the political system when I arrived, but the recent election was very stressful because Marine Le Pen wanted to eliminate all artist visas, which is what I have. I’m very thankful that Macron won!
On a fluffier note… We’re pretty intrigued by off-beat or unexpected beauty rituals – do you have any secret routines you’re willing to share?
I have actually struggled with my skin most of my life. I had really severe acne as a teenager and had to take prescription medication to clear it up so now I am very conscious of all the beauty products I use. I am also vegan and that diet has helped my skin immeasurably, I really believe that what you put into your body is reflected on the exterior. I also only vegan beauty products. The skin on my hands gets extremely dry from the chemicals I use developing and washing my hands so frequently so I love to use body oil to rehydrate, the brand Sans (ceuticals) it’s a New Zealand based brand making really high quality vegan products. I also love pure coconut oil, I use it for cooking, on my skin, and in my hair, it’s a very good thing to have on hand!
Anything on the horizon you’re looking forward to?
I’m currently planning a trip to Italy in July. I have never been but I have a few friends that will be there this summer, including Katie Silvester, who I mentioned earlier, so hoping to created more magical self-portraits with her. I’m also very excited for summer in general it is the best time for me to make self-portraits outside because it’s warmer and the days are longer and when you’re running around naked it’s very important to be warm. One of the benefits to living in Europe is that it’s very easy and affordable to travel so I plan to take advantage of that as much as possible!
All images courtesy of Kimbra Audrey