Hello Michelle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get involved into street photography?
I grew up in Toronto Canada but moved to NYC to go to College. I spent most of my youth studying and working in Film and Television production, including teaching in a graduate department. As I got older NY changed and I changed. After 15 years I made the difficult decision to jump ship and move to LA. That’s when I shifted from moving images to still. Best decision I’ve ever made. LA is my muse. When I’m not photographing stories for magazines I’m in the street shooting. I always have to be shooting. It’s my outlet and main form of communicating with the world. I’m also a member of the Full Frontal Collective.
What drives you to pick up that camera day in and day out and hit the streets?
I love the thrill of street photography. That’s a big part of it. I love the connection it affords me to my surroundings. The way it forces me to be in the present. Photography has been a great gift to me. It’s helped me slow my life down and to get to know myself more clearly after the chaos of my life in NY. It’s allowed me the chance to indulge in how I see the world. Not just to drown in the imagery and ideas of others.
Your work is very direct & raw and you always use flash. How do you deal with confrontation while shooting on the street or taking close up pictures?
There is something so beautiful to be found in the details of the street. It’s the details that come to make up the larger picture for me. I’m building a world through my photos as a collective body of work. To get details with flash can be demanding and frightening but always rewarding. I like engaging with the public. I like the conversations that happen between me and folks on those good days. I’m very aware of the space I take up and the energy I put out. When my energy is good and positive I make amazing, if only short lived, connections with strangers. We effect each other. I like to think of myself as a positive disruptor! Shaking things up. When it goes poorly, I get spooked and often have to head home. When I get yelled at or threatened I tend to get very quiet and make myself very small. I don’t fight back. I get it. But it haunts me for the rest of the day.
Can you describe what you’re looking for in your composition?
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to composition. Everything in the frame is there cause I want it to be. I’m directing your attention to something specific. Look at this face, look at this gesture, these colors. I guess that makes me a control freak! More likely it comes from my film training. Great filmmaking is about making decisions. Knowing exactly what you want to say. Being focused.
What’s your favorite focal lengths and can you explain us why?
50mm for street portraits, 35mm for story. Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself moving away from story. I’ve rebelled against it. I don’t think you have to tell a traditional story in street photography. It’s so limiting. I tend to use the street as my art studio instead. But that’s just for my personal work. I love telling stories for magazines. Whereas I completely reject context for my personal work, context is everything when you are trying to transport people to an event or a space.
You live in LA. Is there a favorite place where you like shooting?
LA is one big muse for me. I love every inch of it and its extremely photogenic. There are all kinds of people, and a multitude of scenery and landscapes. I could go on about the light but I tend to obliterate it with my flash so…I love to shoot all over and take a lot of pleasure in exploring places I haven’t seen or shot before. I got my driver’s license for the first time when I got here so driving is a real pleasure for me. That’s a big part of the process for me. Driving to new locations.
Do you think taking part at Photography Awards has an influence to the career of a photographer?
I personally don’t bother submitting to awards. I hate lists. They’re silly. I also find that my work isn’t easily categorized. I don’t think of myself as a traditional street photographer. More of an artist who makes use of the street. I think traditionalists have a hard time accepting what I’m doing so street photography competitions tend to ignore the work I’m doing. Which is awesome because it affords me great personal freedom. I don’t care if I’m liked, I want the freedom to explore my ideas without interference or judgement. I wish that for everyone. Caring too much about fitting in changes your work. It’s a curse.
What tips or advice would you give a photographer who is starting with street photography?
Don’t look behind you or in front of you at what other photographers are doing. Look in.
Are there any female photographers who inspire you?
There are so many amazing women out there. I could spend a lifetime answering this question. We all deserve each other’s respect and admiration just for being out there and doing it. I have so much respect for women like Tammy Mercure, Casey Meshbesher, Toby Kauffman and her team at Refinery29 and any of the other women out there who celebrate female identifying photographers through curation and information. We should all be helping each other because its only through a strong sense of community and sisterhood that we’ll all succeed. There is so much power in that.
If you had the chance to go on a photowalk with a famous street photographer. Who would it be?
Mary Ellen Mark or Diane Arbus. What a wild day that would be.