In an age of Instagram and smartphones, we’re swamped in a constant stream of pictures. So imagine how refreshing it is when a newcomer rips up the rulebook and creates images from a leftfield perspective. Self-taught photographer Karen Storey works with light installations and props to create a surreal environment.
When did you first start taking pictures?
When I was six I used to take pictures of my figurines in the kitchen sink – I photographed them with a disposable camera and pretended they were fishes swimming in the bowl. I was 13 when I got my first Canon 35mm and I used to walk around my estate in Mortlake [south-west London], taking pictures. Everyone thought I was strange. I remember these two rude boys came up to me and were like ‘what are you doing?’ and took the piss out of me. I felt really silly and I didn’t pick up my camera for a long time. But I resumed when I went to college in 2006, took a gap year where I continued to shoot and got into university on the back of my portfolio.
I’ve noticed in your work that you use unusual props and positioning to create the image. Where does your inspiration come from?
Most of my ideas come from bad dreams. My concepts also come from tired points in time and being on the tube; it can start with someone catching your eye – you observe them and the strange things they might do, then you go away and exaggerate them.
You’ve shot numerous fashion stories and it seems like you’ve deliberately veered away from conventional routes. How difficult is it not to recreate things you’ve seen?
I have no idea who’s who in fashion. I’ve never assisted a big photographer or anything fancy. It’s very easy to look at other people’s work and be influenced. Sometimes I’ll look at what people in fashion photography are doing and think “I need to get better camera, I need more megapixels, I need to be featured in Vice”. I’ll panic but then I just think I’ll just carry on doing what I do.
The majority of photography is based on collaboration, but have you had any difficulties when shooting?
You have to rely on a people to turn up on time – make-up artists, stylists and models. Starting out, the money is non-existent so you’re forever calling in favours.
What have you been doing to increase your knowledge of light?
I’ve done a lot of freelance work in prop making and helped out in lighting design studios to understand the physical side of light. I did a placement at Cinimod studios in west London – they’re an interactive installation company. I had no programming or CAD (computer-aided design) skills, but got lucky and spent three months in a room messing about with ice and lasers. But recently, I’ve moved from an interactive point of view to learning about light in a sculptural and atmospheric way at Eva Menz, who specialise in bespoke chandeliers and light installations.
What have you got coming up next?
I worked on a project with Hush Puppies, and that will be featured on their site soon.
Is it easy to define the role of the photographer?
I think it’s become segregated into different things – the physicality of just taking photos and the art directing side – and I identify with the latter. I like putting together the image that’s in front of the lens. I’m just doing what’s in my own mind and hoping it turns out ok.
Words: David Woode