It is a warm summer afternoon when we visit photographer Kate Bellm in her house in Berlin- Friedrichshain. The doors and windows are widely opened and the sound of music reaches the lovely backyard, were two turtles enjoy some rays of sunshine. The spacious living room with an open kitchen and loft-character speaks of a creative spirit and instantly takes oneself on a journey into the world of the 26-year old from London. All over the place souvenirs, painted wood, colorful carpets, talismans and wall decoration tell stories about the journeys of the young Berliner by choice, who has already made quite a name for herself as a photographer internationally. Apart from campaigns for labels such as Kaviar Gauche, Kitsune and Lika Mimika, her editorials for Interview Magazine, L’officiel and Vogue UK are only a few publications of her impressive portfolio.
In the middle of 2000 Kate moved to Berlin, to the city of partying and of the excessive lifestyle, where she quickly erased this exact world between long nights and dawn from her own world. Instead she straightaway saw the potential of the creative scene of the German capitol and felt the need to put all her energy into her projects. While her commissional work is mostly about shooting beautiful girls in eclectic settings, her analogue photography wanders on a far more intimate and personal path. In our Interview Kate talks about her art, the job of a photographer, her life in Berlin and her urge for freedom and creativity.
Your work balances between high profile fashion shoots and very free-spirited personal pictures where you add colour, sketching and all kinds of material. How has your photographic style developed?
Well, since I was a child I always loved to shoot my friends, dressing them up and making crazy settings for that. Over the years I got really inspired by photographers such as Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton and David LaChapelle, but after a while it also turned into a more softer style. Basically I was always collecting these kind of images that I am still putting out there in my fashion shoots and through that my eye naturally developed into a strange, disoriented view point which is colorful and all about amazingly built sets and great locations.
On the other hand there is the more personal stuff that I do. When I went to boarding school, the darkroom was were I spent most of my time and I started doing these big sketchbooks with my photographs. On every journey I continued making these books where I illustrate the pages, use stitching and write on the pictures.
At one point in my career I had a big show with a lot of photographs and I got really disheartened with the typical ways of framing the pictures; these big black frames and the thick museum glass, which come with the speed and easiness of selling.
I got really obsessed with finding new ways of presenting my work and this developed the idea to simply bring out the pages of the sketchbooks and put them onto something real. I thought if someone is going to buy a piece why not buy a piece that you can paste an entire room with? Instead of just selling a print you can also show people how they can use it for their home. This idea finally turned into a collaboration with my boyfriend who is an artist himself and we spent all summer going into nature picking up wood and using junk that we gathered at our journeys to add onto our work. In the end we had our first exhibition in the Upon Paper Gallery space in Berlin and this work became both a diary of this constant learning process and also of our very own story.
Did you expect photography to work out as well as it did for you?
Well, of course you can be scared of all the new talent that is out there and obviously it does exist, but you just have to rely on what you are doing and what you love. So I just keep on travelling and shooting all the people that I hang out with. It is so important to keep it as a creative thing and not rely on it as a part of this big rat race and not compare to everybody else in the industry.
I am still surprised about the crazy rates that you can earn with photography, but this also how it works. Since you cannot work like this all the time, if you get a big job it actually pays off for all the creative work that is behind it I suppose.
Do you think our perception of photography has changed in the past years due to social media such as Instagram?
Oh yes absolutely! Instagram has taken over the world and I am not on it, which somehow makes me feel like I am always a step behind in this whole digital age and people knowing me through that. But then I constantly see everybody on their phones, addicted to Instagram and I do not want this important part of my life taken over by the computer. Where I would for example take pack of Polaroid and shoot it, people will just take a digital picture and upload it with a filter on. For me this basically destroys the real beauty of photography and the point where you are actually surprised of how it turned out.
When do you shoot analogue and when digital?
Well, for fashion shoots I use digital just because for the speed and easiness oft he work process. But the whole summer while I was travelling or just with my friends I have just been shooting analogue. Even if I regret it sometimes in the beginning I am always very grateful in the end because shooting on film just serves for a beautiful effect which does not need any retouching.
What’s the difference between shooting models and friends?
It is probably easier with the models, because my friends are almost getting annoyed sometimes of me always shooting them. My boyfriend actually put a ban on me from taking pictures of him. He is like my muse; I just can’t stop. I liked to wake him up at six in the morning because of great light and then I would tell him „Hey, get up, get naked, let’s go outside“. He is not always so keen about that…
In the end some of my best friendships are because of shooting. Just experiencing things together like running through the forest naked and doing stuff like that creates a great bond between one another and makes for very sweet adventures,
Also with models it is often like shooting a friend as well. Generally they are awesome chicks and I really respect what they do and that how they can act in front of the camera. We usually have a pretty good time together.
What do you find appealing about living in Berlin and how do you feel about the party lifestyle of the city?
I came to Berlin six years ago and it became the only place in Europe for me to stay. It is just the easiest and most amazing city; People are friendly, they don’t judge and everyone is free to do what they want.
When I came here I pretty much right away stopped partying because I was just fed up with it. Berlin actually gives you the chance to be an artist or be part of a project, there is so much going on and I didn’t have the feeling that I was actually missing out on parties. I started working as an intern for VICE magazine and also worked really hard on my own projects to find my way into the scene. Which was great because the inspiration I got through VICE actually brought this whole grunge look to my pictures, which had a very glamorous style at the time. It made for great change of perception but was also a hard-working time for me. Nowadays I am a lot more relaxed about work and my future paths and just see where the world may take me. In the end I figure it is all about enjoying life, isn’t it?
Text and images by Anneli Botz