Mareea Vegas speaks with photographer Frances Carter about returning to New Zealand after spending time in New York, and her progression in the fashion and portrait photography industry
Mareea Vegas speaks with photographer Frances Carter about returning to New Zealand after spending time in New York
Three years ago I was struck by the very first portrait I saw by Frances Carter. It possessed a level of maturity, elegance and emotional depth that seemed beyond someone still in their teens. Now, at 23 years old, Carter’s fashion and portrait portfolio boasts a steadily growing list of leading New Zealand labels and magazines, her work seamlessly and thoughtfully blending the line between art and fashion. An AUT graduate (Bachelor of Visual Arts), Carter has recently returned to New Zealand after 13 months spent living in New York City (NYC). We caught up for a chat in Auckland to discuss her latest portrait works, and her ongoing quest to truthfully depict those in and around her world.
D-Photo: Do you feel that the time spent in NYC influenced your photography in any way?
Frances Carter: Actually I hardly shot anything in New York; I spent much more time just looking around me. But now that I’m back in New Zealand, and with the huge privilege of studio access (thank you, Kingsize Studios!), I’m working out how to put all that I saw back into my images.
How do you put elements from the past into images that you are creating in the present?
It’s more practical than it sounds — looking for certain colour combinations for example, or working out how to create my favourite types of light. I guess, like with portraits, I need to know the subject before I can shoot it — and it takes a long time to get to know New York. If I went back I’d definitely have my camera out more.
How do you see your work in relation to that of other photographers working predominantly with portraiture?
I like to think that I’m working alongside a growing group of portrait photographers who have ties to fashion, but are motivated by a drive to represent a broader cast of characters. Without tying ourselves to well-meaning, but often token, terms like ‘diversity’ or ‘real women’, we’re trying to normalize the possibility that two historically separate groups — the people we photograph and the people that fill our lives — can and should overlap as much as possible.
Is there then a differentiation between your personal work and commercial work, or are they one and the same?
There is definitely a separation. When making commercial work I’m at the mercy of the client’s creative direction, which isn’t a bad thing. I like the challenge of creating to somebody else’s specifications, because it means I can focus on perfecting the technical aspects of the images. In my personal work I don’t have to think about what
we are trying to sell, the focus can be completely on the subject rather than a product.
I find your portraits extremely personal. It almost feels as though I know these people. Is this intimacy something that you strive to achieve in your work?
I consider it an honour to photograph the people I do, and I have a responsibility to truthfully represent them. I’m trying to bring out something that I see in the subject, but I want them to retain control over the final images. I think this is especially important in the digital age. If someone doesn’t want me to publish an image, I won’t publish it. If someone approves an image and then later decides they’re not comfortable with it, I’ll take it down. So, my hope is that the images you see have a connection with the way the subject wants to represent themselves, which ideally results in that intimacy you mentioned.
Do people need a sense of your subjects’ back story to fully understand or appreciate your work?
It’s impossible for me to say, since I always have that information. But I don’t shoot purely for aesthetic appeal when I’m making personal work,
so it probably does make a difference to know something about the person in the image. I’m shooting less for the present and more for the future, so we have a document of the people who are shaking the world up (or my world, at the very least). I like the idea of shooting for posterity’s sake. Are there photographers who you admire who have documented previous generations? Nan Goldin will always be my number one in that genre. Do you believe that you relate more closely to film, in your process, than digital? I don’t have any loyalty to film, although I can appreciate why people wax lyrical about it (and I don’t want to see it disappear). I think whatever medium you use, it’s always just a tool. I do like the process of shooting on medium-format, and I can’t replicate those results on my DSLR, but I wouldn’t trade the level of control I have over the
digital RAW files for 35mm film. Can you talk about how your photography has evolved from stills to moving image? Honest answer is that the future of the photographic industry is pretty unclear, and I want to have a few different skills under my belt, just in case! I’m enjoying the learning curve, too. Because we all want to know what you shoot with, what’s currently in your camera bag? Mostly tools, actually: gaffer tape, clamps, gel scraps, Leatherman, Sekonic, batteries, card reader, cable ties, grey card, etc. Camera-wise, I have a Mamiya RZ67 that I should really use more. For digital, it’s a Canon 5D and 24–70mm [lens] — I like to get people moving around so a mid-range zoom suits me best. And, lastly, where would we find Frances at 10pm on a Friday night? Probably home alone — always have to wake up early for shoots on Saturdays!
Mareea Vegas is an Aucklandbased photographer and musician. Each issue, she talks to a new photographer bringing interesting artistic ideas to the field of contemporary photography. Through these discussions, she hopes to inspire D-Photo readers to branch out in their photographic practice. Mareea’s own work spans a variety of styles and formats, with her singular approach earning accolades and commissions from the likes of the Auckland Art Fair, the Auckland Festival of Photography, and Nikon New Zealand.