Self Portrait artist Kellie North creates thought-provoking, beautiful imagery of the feminine form. Capturing feminine, mostly faceless figures draped in billowing fabric in water or juxtaposed against the ruggedness of the natural environment.
Her work has been described as visual poetry – it’s highly emotive and unwaveringly evocative. Her art explores the vivid contrast of fluid organic shapes and the natural world, it celebrates their differences yet unites them, creating a lasting impression with the viewer.
Exclusive Interview with Kellie North
Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?
I’m a Queensland girl now hailing from the Gold Coast where we have been settled for the past 15 years. From around year 2000 my husband and I travelled the globe for many years, living and travelling in countries like UK, Europe, India, South America, America and Canada, this is certainly where my passion for photography began.
I always lugged around a heavy SLR camera even on the hikes where I was told we had to take minimal gear, the camera would always come. I started out on film which still today I am thankful for. The experience of shooting with film and learning to read light and manipulate camera settings was invaluable in honing my skills as a photographer.
As technology has advanced, digital photography has become more accessible and offers a wide range of creative possibilities. While film photography has its own charm and challenges, digital photography allows for greater experimentation and instant feedback. It's an exciting time to be a photographer with so many tools at our disposal like the incredible world of Adobe Photoshop, imagination and inspiration is endless.
Not one for treading the traditional photographic line, I often like to combine natural forms and landscapes with surreal elements, using carefully refined composite and digital art techniques.
Living in Queensland with the ocean to the east and the green hinterland to the west, I have a diverse range of photographic opportunities at my doorstep which is why we as a family are always out and about camping and bush walking. The natural landscapes and beautiful surroundings provide me with a wealth of content to capture. I love discovering new areas and making the most of each opportunity.
Photography is definitely more than just a hobby and has been for years now — it's a passion that has shaped my life and continues to bring me joy and fulfillment.
Whether it's exploring new places or appreciating the beauty in my own backyard, I try to always continue to find inspiration and create images that reflect my perspective and love for the art form.
Was creativity and art important to you growing up and is this something you have encouraged in your children?
Creativity and art have always been important aspects of my life, even as I was growing up. I was constantly engaged in various forms of creative expression, whether it was drawing, sewing, crocheting, or building things. The act of creating allowed me to explore my imagination, express myself, and develop a sense of identity.
I strongly believe in the value of creativity and art in children's learning and development. Engaging in artistic activities nurtures their ability to think critically, problem-solve, and explore different perspectives. It encourages them to observe the world around them more closely, fostering curiosity and a sense of wonder.
Art also provides a unique outlet for self-expression. It allows children to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a visual and tangible way. This can be especially important for those who may find it challenging to express themselves through other means.
Encouraging children to create and engage in artistic practises helps foster their confidence and independence. It teaches them to trust their ideas, make choices, and take ownership of their creations. By offering support and encouragement, we can empower them to explore their creative potential and develop their own unique artistic voices.
My kids always make hand-made cards for friends and family, they love to draw pictures for their grandparents and sometimes they help me to make my props when they are around. In doing this we are creating special moments and enjoying the gift of creating either for someone or for themselves and instilling a sense of pride and accomplishment.
I strongly believe nurturing creativity in children is a gift that will benefit them throughout their lives, regardless of the career path they choose. It fosters an appreciation for beauty, encourages innovative thinking, and cultivates a sense of joy and fulfillment.
Your work is primarily self-portraits. What challenges and benefits does this bring?
Self-portraiture can be a powerful and introspective form of expression, allowing me to explore my own identity, emotions, and experiences. I discovered this genre during my photography studies and found it to be a refreshing change from the somewhat stresses of wedding photography which I was doing at the time.
Engaging in self-portraiture opens up a world of possibilities, as you become the subject and creator simultaneously. It allows for self-reflection and experimentation, as you have complete control over the composition and narrative of the image. It can be a deeply personal and therapeutic process, offering a means to convey thoughts and emotions that may be difficult to express in words.
The introduction of Photoshop further expanded the creative potential of my work. Photoshop's digital manipulation tools enabled my imagination to run wild and allowed me to enhance my images in many ways like creating composited pieces, bring my artistic vision to life. This fusion resulted in my whole creative world falling into place.
Of course, every form of photography comes with its own set of challenges. In self-portraiture, one of the initial challenges lies in setting up the shoot. You have to consider the lighting, props, backgrounds, and poses, all while being the subject and the photographer simultaneously. It requires careful planning, experimentation, and patience to achieve the desired results. Additionally, reviewing and selecting the shots can also be a challenge, as you have to objectively evaluate your own work.
However, these challenges also present opportunities for growth and creative problem-solving. They push you to refine your technical skills, develop your artistic vision, and explore new techniques. Over time, you become more adept at setting up your shoots efficiently and capturing the shots you envision, so as to make the work flow faster.
There has always been pressure for women to conform to certain body standards. Has capturing yourself on film and then editing these images changed your self-confidence?
It took me a while in my early years to speak about my practise as Self Portraiture. I wasn’t completely comfortable with talking about it openly and loved that people didn’t really know who the figure was. But as time went on, and when I connected with people at group shows they were always so interested in who I used in the images. I slowly got comfortable and more confident with explaining it was me, realising this was a big part of my story and that viewers found this very interesting and wanted to know more about my process.
It’s funny, you would think when you are younger you would have more confidence with your body and ‘self’, but it is only in these later years of my life I have fully come around to embracing and celebrating the changes. I find now it is a powerful and empowering act of self-acceptance, and it’s a beautiful thing to be able share the changes and the experiences they bring, with others.
My hope is that by including myself in my work, I create a relatable and authentic connection with my viewers. The decision to keep the majority of my work faceless and maintain anonymity is deliberate and my intention in doing this, is to allow women to see themselves in the images and connect with the stories I try to convey, I think it adds a layer of universality, allowing viewers to project their own experiences and emotions onto the work.
I don’t manipulate or alter my body in the final prints reinforcing the message of embracing natural beauty and individuality. This has further impact when my collectors get to know me and know my story and age. It allows viewers to see real bodies (somewhat covered by water or fabric) but it encourages them to appreciate and accept their own unique forms. Tidying up minor spots or imperfections is an adjustment I sometimes do make if necessary, but it will never alter the essence of the body or face itself.
Not to say that I don’t try to capture the most flattering side profile if I can hahaha! Seeking the best side profile is a common practice in portraiture, as it can highlight the most flattering angles and features. The aim is to present the figure in image (mostly me) in her best light, ha-ha! while maintaining authenticity.
My artistic approach and philosophy hopefully demonstrates a deep understanding of the power of visual storytelling and its potential to resonate with others.
By creating work that invites self-reflection I hope to foster a meaningful and transformative experience with my audience always challenging societal norms, promote self-love and acceptance, and inspire others to embrace their own unique journeys.
Your work is often in water or nature. What draws you to these elements and the juxtaposition of elegant flowing forms and the unpredictability of nature?
Being in nature grounds me, it’s my therapy, and getting back to it is imperative for my mental health. I quite often need to be away from the hustle bustle of everyday life to quiet the noise in my head. I find nature dependable, you can always find a beautiful backdrop somewhere, worthy of creating with. The weather however can sometimes be unpredictable, but with that too can come interesting outcomes for images. It adds an element of excitement and possibility to photography, and having to adapt to the changes keeps me on my toes.
I love using water in my work, water has a transformative quality, and when fabric interacts with it, it takes on a fluid and ethereal nature. This can create visually captivating compositions, as the fabric dances and moves with the water's currents.
Incorporating elements of nature and water into the work can also create a sensory experience for the viewer. It allows them to connect with the ethereal beauty of nature and elicits a sense of wonder and tranquillity. But the real reason I do it, is for therapy. By being surrounded by nature and immersing myself in its beauty I can let go, breathe and further deepen my connection to the world around me.
Is there a concept in your head that you have yet to capture? What do you feel you need to be able to capture it the way you imagine?
I have had a concept in my head for a while now, and have slowly started to bring it together. These works are a little different for me, so hopefully in making them it will help me to step out of my comfort zone of working on my own to collaborating with other people/models. Direction is a skill and one that I am yet to perfect so making these works is deliberate in helping me to evolve.
The collection is centred around the concept of ‘The Triple Goddess’ the archetypes of The Maiden, The Mother, The Crone and the different stages of a woman’s life. Exploring the different facets of womanhood and the transformative journey through these archetypes has always been of importance to me and continues to be so heading into the final stage of this incredible journey. It's a concept that allows for the exploration of femininity, strength, vulnerability, and the interconnectedness of generations.
Rather than having nature as my backdrop, these works will be made out of my studio which presents a different creative challenge. Studio photography offers more control over lighting, composition, and set design. It allows me to shape the environment precisely to suit my concept and create a distinct atmosphere. More importantly, I love that my glue gun is getting a work out with creating props, such as the crowns and other elements to help tell the story visually.
These works will be an ongoing project, as I plan to work with young woman, middle aged women and older women that I already know, some of which have never had their photo taken in a single portrait style, let alone draped in fabric wearing a crown. I think it will be exciting, perhaps nerve wracking for some, and as it does with me, will most definitely challenge some inner self talk. But…..my hope is, by taking part in this project, we as a group are able to let our guards down, be enriched by the stories of our lives and give in to the process, hopefully allowing ourselves to evolve and let go.