Kansas is an artist and photographer living in Sydney, Australia. Known for her painterly portraits, we delved into the relationship between art and photography in her work.
Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist!
I am Kansas, I’m a painter and a photographer, working primarily in music and fashion. I have commercial clients too but that’s a bit boring so I don’t really talk about them!
I’ve been working as a photographer going on 4 years now. I did a TAFE course for 2 years in fine arts, and I had a 5-week intro to photography. I had a lot of friends in bands and started shooting music through them, and it all went from there.
I was always painting, and now I do a degree in painting at the National Art School. [Painting and photography] help each other; it’s all about lighting and composition.
How do you like attending the National Art School?
It’s intense. It’s really, really intense. It’s full time in every sense of the word. It’s every single day of the week plus extra-curricular. It’s mostly practical though, Monday is my only theory day, so I get to paint and draw the rest of the time. It’s awesome but intense. Sometimes its draining, and adding working in photography it gets tough. But I think when you’re doing something that you love, you don’t feel like its work; the busy-ness is almost good because it’s so satisfying.
Even with photography, you’ve got this result that you’ve created, and to me nothing really rivals that feeling of satisfaction. Knowing that you put in all that hard work and you’ve got a result.
Does your painting influence your photography?
Definitely! Especially when I do my own personal stuff; I use paintings as references rather than other people’s photographs.
Why is commercial boring?
It’s just advertising! Nobody wants to know about advertising, it’s not that cool. Technically its great though, because you do get to work with lights in a massive studio.
Is it because there’s less freedom?
There’s no creative freedom! You’re just facilitating somebody else’s idea.
Do you think there could ever be a happy medium between the art and commercial side of photography?
Yeah definitely! It depends on your client, what you’re shooting, what you’re doing, who’s the creative director.
Let’s talk about your music photography. What’s it like to take photos at gigs?
It’s hard work, it’s really hard work. At a festival, for example, it’s a full day of shooting. But it’s so much fun, you meet a lot of really cool creatives, and get to see a lot of cool live acts and go backstage which is always fun.
Whose been your favourite artists to take photos of?
The Belligerents were cool because they had so much energy on stage. Anderson, PAAK, Violent Soho; they’re probably my top 3!
What is the freelancer life like?
It’s a hustle. I’ve stepped away from the music stuff a little bit because of that hustle, and got more into fashion stuff. You have to be more proactive, but it’s worth it if you do get regular clients and you can run your own schedule.
For me it’s perfect because I’m painting most days, so I just work here and there.
What’s involved in being a freelance photographer; what type of work would you do on a daily basis?
It depends! Sometimes I’ll be on location. If I’m assisting, I’ll be anywhere from the beach or in a studio; anything. And then I do have regular in-studio clients all the time.
Back to the painting side; who are your main artistic influences on your work?
My favourite artists are, at the moment, a guy called Albert Oehlen, he’s German and he’s more abstract. I also like a more figurative artist called Steven Bush, he’s from Melbourne. I paint in both abstract, figurative and stylised realism.
Where do you see yourself in the future; as a painter, a photographer or mix of both?
I think a mix of both! My goal is to just keep doing what I’m doing, keep spending my days painting, and then working in photography. It’s pretty fulfilling. Photography’s fun; it can be really, really fun and you get to work with a whole team, 5 to 10 people in a set at least. Whereas painting is very solitary; it’s just me in a studio by myself. I do like both though.
What do you prefer to shoot, digital or film?
For work, definitely digital because it’s immediate. You can have a turnaround in 12 hours or less if you really work hard. But for personal projects, film. Just because the colours and the grain. It’s so beautiful and it’s fun, experimenting with all the different types of film. Every camera has its own quirk. Between the brands and the format, there’s so much to learn. It really moulds your creative process too.
What film camera do you shoot on?
I have a Yashica point and shoot, and a Nikon FE-2, and then I have a Canon 630, which is the high-fashion camera that they used. You can get them on eBay for like $50, its great. But it’s like the equivalent to what I use now on digital.
Let’s talk about the fashion industry: do you have any bones to pick with how it stands now?
Definitely. Diversity is a big issue. There needs to be more diversity; different body types, different people. It needs to be more reflective of the Australian society as it stands now, and it’s not at all. That’s what’s really great about the stuff that I do with the Uncast. I feel really privileged to be able to work with them, in that respect, and help promote the diversity of Australia.
What are your tips for people getting into the photography industry?
Just … have contacts; talk to people! And keep shooting; shoot as much as possible. And put your work out there.
Oh, and assisting! Assisting is crucial, I think, if you want to learn about lighting and things like that. Studio set ups, outdoor set ups, and seeing how it all works. Everyone has a role which is just as important as everyone else’s role.