Kate Hook is a 26-year-old photographer based in Birmingham, currently studying Film & TV Production at Staffordshire University. Working across film and digital practices, she has built up an eclectic body of both portrait and architectural photographic work, and her most recent project is a vivid, eye-catching affair that indicates a new direction.
Kate took the time to discuss her creative process and influences, photography as a coping mechanism and the future.
Kate, tell us a little about your creative journey into photography?
My family were creative types, most weekends my older brother and me were taken to art galleries in Birmingham and around the West Midlands, so from an early age I knew I wanted a career in the arts in one form or another.
It wasn’t until I was about 14 I gained an interest in photography. I’d go out on these “photo missions” around Digbeth with my friend Dan Alani, taking pictures of our surroundings. At first, I’d use my Dad’s Canon AV-1 SLR, but admittedly I didn’t really understand how to use it or how film worked! So I used this little manual Fuji digital compact camera and taught myself the basics of photography.
I did go to Art College to study the subject, but I didn’t really get much out of the course and my Mother died right before I started my 2nd year, so as you can imagine I wasn’t at all interested in the subject at that point. A year later I bought a Mini Diana after my best friend Ally Standing told me I needed to get back into taking photos. With that, I started to experiment with film photography and soon after I got my first DSLR when I began working on freelance projects.
Could you tell us about your workflow?
It’s very rare I go out without a camera; some of my best pictures in the last year have come from a standard trip to the shops! A 5-minute trip can turn into a half an hour photo taking session. My friends and I will stumble upon something eye-catching, such as the demolition of the old Birmingham library for example and hang around for ages taking photos. Photography is about life, whatever grabs my attention, I have to capture and create from it.
If I want to do an actual series, whether portraits or architecture, I’ll plan ahead in terms of equipment but then run wild with the rest. ‘I’ll see what I can do when I get there’ is normally my thinking. Overplanning can be stressful, I more or less go with the flow when I take pictures. It seems to work for me!
How would you define your style?
Dreamy, whimsical, perhaps child-like? Pablo Picasso said ‘it took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’ That sum’s up what’s been going on with my style, I evolved into a professional digital portrait photographer in the space of 4-5 years. But now I’m more focused on actually creating a photograph, as well as just taking it. For me, it’s all about the art of “play” with my imagery. Light, shadows, shapes, and movements are the main elements I play with.
You mentioned Pablo Picasso as an inspiration, which other artists and photographers have inspired your work?
Photographer Gjon Mili and cinematographer Benoît Debie are most definitely my biggest influences. Mili’s use of light and movement and Debie’s use of colour have had a big impact on how I create my photographs. Painting and acting are two main creative mediums that have played for inspiration for my work in the last couple of years too, from using the camera as a brush to capture the light, to creating characters with portraits. Those mediums influence the emotion that is sometimes seen in my work.
Earlier you brought up the cameras you used whilst finding your way into photography, what do you carry around these days?
Primarily I use a LC-Wide and a Nikon FM2, both of which have a multi-exposure function. The LC-Wide is good to keep in my bag as it’s small and pretty easy to use. With the Nikon I have more control over the focus and exposure. Sometimes I still use my Dad’s old Canon AV-1. Most recently I got a Nimslo 3D camera, which literally makes my photographs come “alive”!
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
At first, it was hard to understand how important every element is! Digital has made it a bit too easy to point and shoot, then fix it in post-processing. Everything from aperture, shutter speed, ISO, even the lenses you use all play a major part in the photograph you take. Figuring all that out is part of your individual photographic journey.
Do you prefer film or digital?
Film, all the way! You can download all the plugins, presets, actions and apps all you want, but you can’t ever truly replicate the look and feel you get with film. Don’t get me wrong digital is great to learn with, but shooting on film is a real discipline. If you call yourself a photographer who doesn’t dare to touch film, then I just think you’re a good editor with a camera kit.
What kind of tools do you use for post-processing/editing?
None! I’m actually quite bored with digital editing; it often feels like a pissing contest with other digital photographers. I may crop a film picture for an Instagram post, but that’s as far as it goes with editing. Everything is in-camera and sometimes I soup the film too with fruit juice or washing up liquid.
Let’s talk about the photos featured in this month’s issue of BABMAG. With such a vibrant use of colour, they have a very different look compared to some of your previous work?
I feel that I’ve evolved a lot artistically. 5 years ago I was more bothered about being as good as any other photographer, doing what everybody else was doing, but it left me feeling so unfulfilled. I did think I should take down a lot of my “old” photography work online, but I want to leave it up there to show the change and development in my work.
When my Father died in 2013, I was thrown into this dark pit of misery, something I thought I escaped after my Mother died. Around that time I started to use my Dad’s Canon SLR, taking pictures of my world and surroundings, like I did when I was a teenager. I started messing with the film, winding it back after shooting on it and shooting on it again. When I got these photos back from the lab I was stunned, I loved what I created.
As a result, I started going out more and more, exploring, creating and living through these little light boxes. I focused on the light to get myself out of this darkness I was living in. The pictures you see represent the vibrancy and beauty of life, something that has saved me from darker times.
On your site there are quite a few portraits but also shots of architecture in New York and the Grand Central Station construction, is it easy to pin down your favourite work so far?
My New York pictures hold a really special place in my heart. It was the first time I travelled anywhere without a DSLR, which was partly due to me not wanting to look like a tourist!
All I had with me was my Canon AV-1, my LC-Wide and my iPhone. Looking back, that trip made me brave with film photography and start to help define my work artistically. I came back from New York to Birmingham with a new perspective renewed love for photography. My other favourite photographs are ones I’ve taken with friends exploring the city. I love being able to capture the change Birmingham has been going through. I’m evolving alongside my home city and capturing it all in the process.
What’s next for you and your practice?
Some time ago I decided to put what I’ve learnt about digital photography into videography, now I’m on my second year studying Film & TV Production with Staffordshire Uni.
In the last decade, Digital Cinematography has made moving image so limitless for creatives. I feel like it’s a great skill to learn, hopefully, one day I can move onto film cinematography once I get enough experience.
Right now I’m combining digital videography with film photography by starting a YouTube channel, called Film Freek, where I show some of the techniques I use for my photography. The film photography community is growing on social media faster than ever, and there are already some cool channels on YouTube, so for me, it’s a now or never kind of thing! I’m really happy with how I’ve been progressing with photography and I’m excited to see what happens in the future.