Saturday, 28 May 2011

Question Everything

I was recently interviewed about my photography by the brilliant and beautiful journalist Camilla Gibson. Answering her questions made me actively think about my creative process, my influences and my future. 
This is the interview. 
You can see more of Millie's work at

What first ignited your passion for fashion photography?
I think when I realized that it was a legitimate way to explore fantasy and create stories through photographs. Then I just fell in love with it.
What came first, the love of fashion or the love of photography?
Photography came first I think because I always liked taking photographs ever since I was a little girl living in Scilly and photographing the wild-life and picturesque landscape. Then I had the most incredible teacher for AS level photography, and her classes were so fun I immediately associated photography with having a really good time. At this point I was buying fashion magazines not so much for the clothes as for the photography, I didn’t really know anything about fashion then, I just liked fashion photography as a medium through which you could express ideas and create narratives. Tim Walker was a big influence for me then, because you couldn’t get very much alternative press in Cornwall at the time and his work for UK Vogue really stood out for me.
You are about to come to the end of you studies at London College of Fashion, what do you think you have taken from the course?
I think I’ve definitely learned a lot about how the fashion industry works and fashion photography’s role within that. I am also leaving with a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism of my work.
What do you hope to achieve in the near future?
Ideally I would like work as many different people as I can starting by assisting some different photographers and stylists, and so gaining more experience of the industry. Hopefully I will be able to keep creating my own work, doing exciting photo shoots that challenge me creatively, and maybe start shooting for magazine submissions.

Do you think working to strict university briefs can sometimes stump creativity? How do you hope to regain this in the next few months?
Yes I think it can be restricting, so I’m really looking forward to doing some really creative shoots over the summer. I want to go home to the Isles of Scilly to see my family, and I always feel inspired to shoot when I’m at home so that will probably fill my head with a lot of amazing ideas. Then I have some brilliant collaborations with stylists and designers lined up for the next few months, and I’m really excited about those.

Tell me about the inspiration for your final shoot?
Well I find that I always work best when I have a story to follow so I made up a narrative about a witch for this project. I took inspiration from old legends from home as well as Greek and Pagan mythologies. I wanted to shoot a dramatic narrative in the Cornish landscape and I wanted to engage in some more sinister themes in order to bring a darker element to the images, rather than just being airy, otherworldly images of pretty girls.
So in this story the model is a witch who was banished to an island to live in solitude by the church as punishment for the crime of witchcraft. She’s so lonely she tries to lure ships onto the rocks by leaving offerings and performing spells, in order to bring her a sailor to love. But nothing works and she is driven crazy by her loneliness. She tries to turn to the church, who originally banished her, to repent, but she finds the church is in ruins. Utterly alone she is driven further into madness and the next time we see her is at the top of a high-cliff, possibly about to end it all.

Do you think Cornwall, and the Scilly Isles where you grew up has influenced your work substantially.
Undoubtedly my childhood and the natural environment I was surrounded by then are probably my biggest inspirations.
I think the fantasy element in my work has been particularly inspired by Scilly because the landscape is so beautiful and mysterious it definitely inspires fantasy, for example last time I was back I was sitting on a rock on the beach having lunch and a little girl walked past, pointed at me and said, “Look Daddy, a mermaid!”
There are also such a lot of stories and legends about the islands. The Isles of Scilly are supposed to be all that is left of the lost city of Lyonesse, which was swallowed up by the sea; King Arthur was supposed to have spent time in Scilly; and we Scillionians are all supposed to be descended in part from Turkish pirates, so you can see why fantasy and reality might be a little harder to distinguish for someone who grew up in such a magical place.
As a child I had such an active imagination that really thrived in the islands, but I think I was also quite a lonely child. For a while my mum and I lived on this ridiculously tiny island with only two houses on it, and a lot of ancient burial chambers and standing stones. While I saw other children at school during this time (which I had to get to by boat) I spent a lot of time on my own wandering around in the enchanting landscape making up stories, drawing and making art from all the interesting things that washed up on the beaches. I think this is partly responsible for the theme of isolation that keeps showing up in my photography, which must be the result of living on an island for so long.

Conceptually, where else does your inspiration come from?
I think that’s a difficult thing to pin down because inspiration comes from so many places at once. The impetus to create something and tell a story is normally what inspires me to make work. So if I had to pick on thing that inspires me the most it would be stories. Legends, fairytales and narratives of any kind I find very inspirational, particularly Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland actually, that story continues to speak to me because she is a little girl, wandering through an unknown land full or curious things, and that’s how I feel most of the time.
London is a creative hub, how often do you find yourself collaborating with other students, photographers and creative minds.
In every shoot for every project I collaborate with other brilliant, creative people. Stylists, hair and makeup artists, models, assistants all play really essential roles in the construction of fashion imagery and there’s no way I could do it without them. Fashion photography is not at all about the photographer as artist or anything like that, it’s the result of great teamwork, because without great styling or make-up or an enthusiastic model everything can fall apart. One of my teachers, Marc Lebon described it as everyone coming together to create something greater than the sum of our parts, and I really agree with this.

Who’s work do you admire and who should we be keeping an eye on as an emerging talent?
I admire French photographer Sarah Moon for her use of Polaroid and the way she beautifully creates the idea of another realm in her photography.
I admire Nick Knight for his creative ethos and the collaborative nature of his work.
Look out for the beautiful polaroids of Wendy Bevan (www., and the stunningly dramatic fashion photography of Icelander Saga Sig (
Do you think it is important to surround yourself with creative minds?
I do think for me it’s really important because it’s so exciting to be surrounded by people who are being creative. Also I am by nature a bit of a slacker, so when I see other people producing wonderful creative things I pushes me a little bit harder to and it inspires me to make more work. It’s also lovely to be able to discuss ideas with like-minded people, sometimes I try discuss my photography ideas one of my friends who is studying a masters in Human Geography, and he looks at me as if I’m talking nonsense, so it’s good to have people to go to who understand my frame of reference.
Does your own personal style go into your photo shoots or do you like to collaborate with other stylists?
I like to work with stylists because it’s great to have another person’s creative input into a project, especially when they are someone whose taste you really trust and you know they’re committed to making amazing imagery too. I love styling but personally I find it too much to look after the styling as well as the photography. It is however something I want to gain more experience in, because I think fashion photography as so much about constructing a story through great styling as it is about taking pictures.
Would you say that all of your shoots have somewhat of a signature style? If so, what is it?
I would say that I am working towards a signature style. What I do best now, and what I have been working with for a long time is a solitary model, disengaged from the viewer, in a landscape that isn’t of our world. I think there is a lot of separation in my images, like they are a window into another realm.

Many of your photographs and shoots have an ethereal aesthetic to them? Would you say that you are quiet a spiritual person?
Yes and no, I don’t follow any religions really. But the last shoot I did for example was shot in part at a stone circle, and I researched a lot of pagan elements for that. I grew up in a quassi-wicca upbringing so I think that influences me somewhat. I believe in positive thinking and goodness and the power of nature and so on, but I don’t think I’m old enough to have really made up my mind on spirituality yet. I do think it’s interesting though, I really want to do a shoot about tarot cards soon!

If you could photograph anything or anyone in any location who would it be?
 A Clangers themed photoshoot on the moon with lots of beautiful models floating around painted pink and whistling.
In a sort of “when I grow up I want to be…” scenario, what do you want to do in the future?

When I grow up I want to be living in a big beautiful house surrounded by friends and creative spirits, and a lot of cats making art and fashion photography and beautiful memories. I want to shoot regularly for Vogue Italia and to have retrospective books and exhibitions about my work. I want to be considered to produce original and forward-thinking photography that challenges the ideas of representation in fashion imagery. That’s the pipedream anyway.

If you weren’t allowed to take another photo again, ever. What would you do instead?
I would like to design underwear. Or, having recently re-watched Dog Town and Z-Boys, I think I’d quite like to be a pro-skateboarder… so one of those two would be lovely.

Any surprise of unusual influences in your life and work?
I am quite inspired by death actually, which is a bit morbid. But it’s widely argued that photographs always speak of death somehow because they are snippets of time you can never get back. I think this influence shows in my work because my figures are quite often detached and lonely, like beautiful ghosts. I’ve also been shooting quite a lot of animal skulls lately, which are quite fascinating, and I’m shooting a look book next month on the theme of grief and loss.

What next for Tean Roberts?
Lots and lots of really good times.  

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