The Photographers: Kale Friesen

by Bradley Fairall

Kale Friesen is a fashion and beauty photographer, currently based in Vancouver but with plans to take on New York beginning this summer when he makes the move along with his super talented hairstylist wife Alina Friesen. For our second interview in The Photographers series we talked to Kale about what got him into fashion photography, his creative process, and his new experiments with photo editing apps such as Glitche...

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Hi Kale, I'm just going to jump right into it here. You're probably best known as a beauty photographer and you do a lot of work in the hair industry. What led you to that particular area of the industry? 

I had a rediscovery of sorts for photography while living in France in 2006, shooting mostly the streets of Paris and abandoned spaces in France and Belgium, but upon returning to Vancouver in 2009 I met my now wife, Alina. She and I both love fashion and art, so she asked me if I wanted to start shooting hair and fashion, and that’s how it began. Since 2010 we’ve collaborated on almost all my projects, she’s a very important voice in my process. 

Upon seeing an opportunity in hair photography I worked hard to learn about the specific nature of shooting hair.  I think as far as the business side of one’s art form it’s very important to find a place to focus and stand out. I also had the advantage of being married to one of North America’s most talented hairstylists, so I was able to learn the language and art of working with hair. But as a photographer that carries a camera every day I try not to think of myself as just a hair photographer or fashion photographer, I’m just obsessed with making photographs.

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Your work tends to veer more towards the fine art side of photography. To me it seems the meticulous creation of an image/execution of an idea is more important to you than capturing a moment. How would you describe your work? 

I think this stems back to my origins of making fine art photographs. Shooting people in a fashion image, or a portrait is a fairly new thing for me. I think, whether it’s a street photo I shot in NYC or a studio beauty shoot, I’m trying to re-create an emotion or feeling I had that inspired the photograph or that I felt at the moment of making it. As you can see my work has a very free flowing aesthetic, I’m not afraid to try something new. There’s a fine line between making work you love and work that’s accessible and commercial. In the last couple months for whatever reason I’ve made a conscious effort to move away from moody, darker imagery and move towards a brighter, lighter feeling in my shoots. The one thing that remains consistent in my body of work is my colour sensitivity and taste, I developed my own colour palette at a young age and it’s consisted throughout my entire life, from painting straight into photography. 

When you shoot fashion editorials do you have a different process then when working with hair clients? Not necessarily, often it’s the same thing. We begin with mood boards and inspiration images, makeup, lighting and model call,  The only real difference is how much say I have on the final images, some clients have a very clear idea of what they want to see and it’s my job to interpret that idea andbring it to life, other times it’s clients have hired me because of my vision and style. Either way I work is a challenge and extremely rewarding. 

Where do you find your inspiration? Do you do a lot of research before hand and go in to a shoot with a very set plan or do the ideas only really come together once you're there on set?

Like most photographers I want to be as prepared as possible before any shoot. Inspiration comes mainly from watching films and online research, the entire of human existence is at your finger tips, it’s almost overwhelming at times. I still have nerves before every single thing I shoot, and I love it, I don’t ever want to feel like I’m getting too comfortable. 

 In the last while I’ve also been working on getting back into mediation and lucid dreaming as an alternative source of inspiration, in a world where we are constantly bombarded with imagery it’s incredibly important to look inside as well and explore your own mind and creativity.

One thing I have learned over the years is that no matter how prepared you are it’s never enough. There are a million things that can go wrong on the day of the shoot, and the best thing you can do is be positive and open minded. I recently did a photograph and video project with a friend and long time collaborator. We went in to the studio with nothing but a pair of shoes and a white cyc, no preconceived idea. There were a couple stressful hours but this exercise actually yielded something very intriguing. I wouldn’t do this with a client but for personal work I think it’s great to take chances.

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You've been experimenting a lot with processing images in apps like glitche with some really interesting results. What is it about these apps that has captured your attention?

I’ve been using the Glitche for almost a couple years, but only recently discovered a viable way to work with it. There is something beautiful about the randomness of the results. And as an impatient human the instant gratification of using apps like this is great, I can be watching a movie or at the airport and make images on my phone in 15 minutes, versus sitting on the computer in Photoshop or Capture One. Along with Glitche I have a 2 other Apps I use in conjunction to create the final images, with a certain sequence I use the apps. Out of every 10 images I make I share maybe 1, with the use of the app comes a sort of hit or miss experience that I love. Remaking the same thing over and over is so incredibly boring to me, I’m human, my tastes change, my mood changes and so do the results of these images. 

To me they open up a whole new realm of image creation, the results are often reminiscent of the surrealist and cubist movements in art. Where do you see your exploration of this world leading to? Is it just a fun creative outlet or do you think you'll turn it into something bigger? 

This is a tough question. Firstly, I make these images and share them for the simple joy of saying “hey I made something I like, maybe you’ll like it too ”, nothing more. I have some experience in the art world and for the most part it’s really stressful and rarely leads to something you can do sustainably. I think over the last 6 months I have created some things I would like the chance to print and share in a show. But the other side of me thinks that they are just fine being viewed on a phone, and to leave it at that. 

The art world is in a weird place where everyone is an unsolicited critic. Someone may look at the stuff I’m making and think it’s just some silly picture I made on my phone, but they have no idea the incredible amount of decisions that are made in the process of making that picture, some can take 2 minutes, others hours to complete, not to mention the randomness involved in the app, rarely does it do what I want, which I think is a neat thing.

I’m a very politically driven person, and recently I’ve been entertaining the idea of sharing factual information about war, economics and the environment to accompany the #TheGlitch series on Instagram. If only to make some people that may enjoy the images to become aware of the realities of the world we live in, and maybe inspire them to engage in the politics in their own life and art. Sometimes I’m taking what would be normally heartbreaking images and transforming them into something that could be perceived as pretty, but you as the viewer have no idea the image you find “pretty” started out as a group of refugees fighting to escape war or poverty. The process of making #TheGlitch images destroys the original and morphs into something brand new and completely unrecognizable. I am old enough to know life before digital cameras and still shoot film to this day, but I think I’m fascinated with technology and it’s influence on how we capture and photograph our lives.   

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