Los Angeles based photographer, Kristin Gallegos has spent her life immersed in various creative pursuits — whether that was the eight years she spent as a classical ballet dancer, her work as a makeup artist, or her most recent endeavor (in which she’s achieved excellence in a mere five years): photography and creative direction. Melding the worlds of fashion, music, and art, Kristin’s film photography is simultaneously expertly staged while strikingly candid. With work featured in Playboy, Nylon, and Galore Magazine, as well as shooting for brands like Valfré, J Brand and The Kooples, what started off as a hobby has clearly become much more than that. Kristin shared with us her sources of inspiration, how her varying background in the arts influences the work she creates today, and how our consumption of photography has changed in the age of Instagram.
What source of inspiration do you usually start with when you’re conceptualizing a shoot? Muse, styling, a theme or message?
It all depends on what I am doing but there are a lot of factors in what inspires my shoots. I take inspiration from music, films, icons of the past, the clothing I am shooting, the location and of course the muse! So if it’s for a brand then I base it around the clothes and cast appropriately and find a location that is perfect for the vibe. If it’s more personal I will come up with a theme and be inspired by the girl. I just put out a zine a couple of weeks ago that was a full on creative direction and photography project that I did with the band Blame Candy. For that project I came up with a concept and inspiration that fit with the bands aesthetic and mine and went from there. It was something that I had been planning on doing for years and when I met the band I knew they were the perfect fit for the project and then I had to modify it for them and it evolved from there.
Do you feel like your photography is influenced by your background in different art forms (dance and music) or does it feel like its own separate entity?
I think everything I have done in my life has been pretty cohesive. I have a very specific point of view and aesthetic and always have. I think growing up as a dancer has influenced the rest of my life in a big way. In what I am attracted to and also with structure and discipline. When I was a makeup artist I was known for retro makeup and clean glowing skin. I was the throwback queen for sure. I would be hired a lot based on that of course. The way I personally dress is how I style my subjects as well. And as a DJ, the music I play reflects my photo aesthetic as well. I play a lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s and I spin vinyl. As a photographer I only shoot with film, polaroids and super 8. And I do everything on my shoots mostly, including creative direction, styling, locations, casting, props, and the beauty of course! So my photography is definitely influenced by the other careers I have had. It’s always influenced by growing up in California and for spending all of my adulthood in NYC. It’s all very personal to me.
Did dance change how you viewed the female body?
Yes it definitely did. Growing up I was always very skinny. And was fortunate to not have to worry about what I ate and didn’t ever need to diet. I had a natural slim, muscular build. Which was ideal for ballet. Although ballet also then requires you to be very flexible and to have an insane amount of turn out in your hips and crazy arches on the feet. In those respects I didn’t have the perfect ballerina body. But I was quite good. In classical ballet you strive for perfection and are extremely critical about your body. It becomes an obsession. You spend a lot of time looking at yourself in the mirror. After I quit dancing I stopped working out and basically then became a woman at 17/18 years old. My body changed a lot but I always remained slim. I guess it has made me always want to stay on the skinny side. I have gained some weight since I got into my 30’s which is fine by me. And I do appreciate all body types!
How important do you think the kind of camera and type of film you use are to executing your vision? Does there need to be this choreographed dance of these curated tools fitting into place or is it more loose and free?
I am a bit of a creature of habit in some ways. I have only ever used one type of 35 mm camera and I have used different types of film but I am partial to one type. I have one type of color film, one type of black and white and then I have my various Polaroid films that I use. I use this one type of super 8 film as well. I guess with that being said there does sort of need to be this ritual and of using the same tools. I am not a trained photographer. I didn’t go to school for this so I have been learning as I go. I guess it gives me some sort of comfort and stability. I just don’t have to think about it at all while I am working. Which is nice. I do want to branch out a bit though.
Having both a stylist mind and a photographer mind, does one ever take priority over the other? Has that marriage of the minds been helpful or challenging?
I think the marriage of the two things really makes my work! Since I am not technical at all it really comes down to my eye and my aesthetic. My photos are well curated and well thought out. I am very detail oriented and I think that translates into my work. At least I hope so. I think my photos are cinematic. I am inspired by a few film directors that have that same sort of vibe. Like Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick for example. Both of them really have insane art direction and attention to detail which makes their work so special and unique to them. I love hearing when people tell me the moment they saw one of my photos they knew it was mine!
In David Byrne’s How Music Works he talks about how music has evolved based on the environment in which it was going to be heard in. Do you think there’s been a similar visual transformation that’s happened with photography and how it’s consumed today?
Yes I do ! I completely agree with David Byrne about how music has evolved and think the same goes for visual arts. Instagram and camera phone technology etc has made it so everyone can be a photographer. Social media and specifically Instagram is where most photography is seen these days. There are so many online platforms now and print magazines are becoming extinct. You don’t have to go and seek out magazines to see what is out there. You can be laying in bed and just scroll. It is pretty crazy and very different to how I grew up. I think a lot more people are becoming photographers because of this and I think it makes it super easy to copy peoples work and to take ideas which sucks. But what are you going to do? I actually don’t follow many other photographers to be honest. I am inspired by photographers from the past but I try to do my own thing always. On the other hand instagram was how I was able to transition from makeup artist to photographer. It was an easy way to show my photos without any experience and then brands contacted me from there. I think it would have been a much longer and harder process without the instant visibility! So I have a love/hate relationship with social media. But I am thankful for it!
What are your thoughts on sensuality versus sexuality? How do you relate that to your work?
I think being a woman shooting women I tend to shoot them in a way that I would want to be shot. There is an understated sexiness in my work but it’s not blatantly sexual by any means. I think even the nude work I have done in the past has been tasteful and non exploitative. I was actually happy I got to shoot for Playboy in that brief period when it wasn’t full nudity. We couldn’t show nipples, straight butt shots, or full frontal. You had to be clever with how you shot and make it just as sexy in a classier way with a little mystery. That’s more my vibe anyhow.
Is there any aspect or genre of photography that scares you, but you want to explore?
I guess I just want to grow as much as I can. I really want to learn more and become more technical. I plan on doing that this year. I use basic lighting now but would love to explore that a bit more also. And I plan on incorporating some digital into my work as well which I am not stoked about but I think in some cases is necessary and I want to broaden my reach. So I am going to do it! I am going to keep pushing up video work as well. I love shooting super 8 but would love to try shooting 16mm. VHS and digital video would be cool too. I would love to start doing more music videos and working with more musicians. I want to make more zines and will be starting a book project this year as well! I have been a part of a few group shows and had my own solo show. I’d love to dive more into that world as well. Doing shows is a lot of work but very rewarding.
I feel like as a photographer you are put in a position where besides being the creator, you have to be your own critic and editor. How have those roles affected your relationship to your work?
I agree! I am very critical of my own work. I can see the progress in the work over the years though and am really proud of what I have been able to accomplish in the few years I have been shooting. I have learned to be a better editor as well. Sometimes it’s hard to edit down your work. You get so attached to the images. And love them for so many other reasons that another eye wouldn’t see. I think having to take on those roles on top of everything else I do has only helped my work. I hope to get even better at being critical and in editing. I think my work will only improve because of it.