k e z i a n a t h e - f r e e l a n c e p h o t o g r a p h e r
Don’t worry about pronouncing her name right (but for the record it’s kez-ee-ahh). Kezia is a Canadian photographer and creative spirit who is pushing the boundaries of traditional art and has successfully made it her career. She has a knack for capturing the true essence of people. She’s constantly innovating within her own work. She's probably the best workout buddy you'll ever have. And did we mention she’s just moved to London? Keep up with her work and her travels @kezianathe.
How is your day going so far?
My day has been going great - I got off to an early start. I started my day with a good sweaty workout which is my favorite way to start the day. It really gets me going and energizes me. It’s so positive. I don’t think I have a typical day. Since I freelance, doing photography, it means that my schedule is different all the time. Today is actually a little bit more of a chill day for me though, I’ve made some plans with a friend so I’ll meet up with her after this and then I’m going to get some more work done at home later.
How did you get to the place in your career where you are now?
I’ve always been a creative person. I grew up loving drawing and painting but I didn’t really get into photography until my last year of high school when I was in charge of designing the sports section of the yearbook. I was told that coaches were going to send me photos so I waited a while and got a couple of photos that were pretty blurry, and the white balance was off. They were terrible! Luckily photography was a hobby for my dad and I borrowed his stuff to go shoot my own photos, just to see how it goes. I thought I could do a better job. I shot a whole bunch of stuff, especially at basketball games. I loved it. The summer after I graduated I decided to keep doing shoots with friends here and there - I took a year off after high school to see if it was really what I wanted to get into. I had heard about one of the photography programs here, which is a two here full time program. I ended up applying to it and they accept 28 of the 150 or so that apply. You have to go into for an interview and I was thinking “I’ll see how it goes, and if this door opens then I’ll give it a shot.”. I went to my interview and it was the next day that I got my letter of acceptance. Once I got into the program and started talking to people, I found out that no one really got their acceptance letter until a couple of weeks later. So I was like ‘yes!’. It was a wide open door and I just went for it, loved it, and here I am. I’ve been freelancing ever since I graduated. I went traveling for a little bit, and then it took about half a year to really get the ball rolling with clients.
That’s so entrepreneurial, to build out an entire list of clients. How did you do that?
Luckily, everything kind of fell into place. One of my main clients ended up being someone that I did a lot of my practicums with in school. We had to do a couple of practicums assiting ph otographers who were established in the industry. One of them is such an awesome guy - one of the top photographers in Vancouver. It’s been so great getting to work with him because he’s such a humble guy and he’s always encouraging in my work. He makes it feel so much like a team effort rather than I’m working for him. It was a slow process of forming that relationship with him. I would only work with him once or twice a month but the more we worked together and the more he saw what I could do, he gave me more responsibility. My work gets passed along and has just ended up in the hands of the right clients.
So with that and your personal work too, what is your creative vision?
My work has more of a commercial style - I love lighting and really trying to give it a painterly look. My images focus more on making the subjects pop. I love working with athletes too and using the light to define their bodies and capture their intensity. In general with my photography, I love shooting portraits - that personality, that intensity, and to do all of that with beautiful lighting is kind of what I want to have go through my work.
Where are you most productive?
That’s a tough one because I don’t have an office and I don’t own a laptop right now. I only have a desktop computer so when I’m working at home I’m tied to being there. It’s definitely a struggle sometimes to be productive in that situation. I’m most productive when I go to other people’s offices to work for them - sometimes it’s to lululemon or the other photographer that I work for. Usually when I’m with other people working, that’s when I’m productive!
Describe the Vancouver creative and artist community - how do you see that?
Almost non-existent! It’s really small and the more I get into it and meet people, compared to other places, there’s not much going on here. I remember Phillip describing to me that there are six or seven really established photographers in Vancouver and it’s pretty much fighting over scraps. The jobs we get aren’t that big and for the amount of work, it’s oversaturated.
Do you find it hard to maintain motivation or focus or are you able to dig through and find projects that you’re passionate about?
I still find projects that I’m passionate about and it helps that I still do so many other creative things besides photography. I love just trying to make things with my hands and being creative in different ways - building stuff, hand lettering, painting, drawing, leather working. All sorts of stuff! We’ll see what London brings!
Let’s talk about London! Are you moving there for sure?
Yes. Well...I’m going traveling there first - September 22 to November 2. I’ll be there and it gives me five and a half weeks to travel around and be in London for a solid few weeks, then backpacking around Europe for a bit. I want to get a feel for the city, what will it actually be like to live there? I want to get into a routine, take advantage of ClassPass there and find some good places to workout. They have 250 studios! I’ll go for a morning workout and once I buy a laptop, I’ll work at a cafe for the day and cook my own meals when I can. My goal for when I’m over there is to see if I would enjoy living there so then when I come back, I’ll apply for my visa.
What is it that drew you to London?
I’ve heard that it’s so big with so much going on, so creative, so many different people and it helped that one of the retouchers I know here is from London. One of his friends runs an agency there and I got his name passed along to me so I contacted this guy and he was pretty much like, “We’re always looking for good people and you come highly recommended, let me know when you’re here and I’ll show you around the department and show you what we do.” Going somewhere with a potential job opportunity always helps.
In all of your projects, what has been the happiest accident?
I was putting together my website and I wanted to figure out how to show that I do illustration and photography. So I had this one photo that I took of my friend that I had illustrated as well in an abstract watercolor style. It was a really different painting from my typical style because I’m usually very much a perfectionist and hit every single detail. This was more watercolor with bright colors - I just threw paint down and went for it. I was so excited about how it turned out. I was so stoked when I combined the two images and I showed the photographer that I work for, Phillip Germaine. We ended up building this collaboration together based on the idea. This project was with three models with slightly different hair and makeup and I did watercolor paintings of all three of them. They used natural skin tones but all had the same watercolor feel. We submitted it as a series to Applied Arts and actually ended up winning for illustration editorial!
What is the first thing you notice about people?
If I’m walking by them on the street, I notice if they smile. A lot of people don’t smile when you walk by them, they barely look at you. If someone smiles at me then it kind of makes my day. Also, eyes. Even when I’m having a conversation with someone, I notice their personality and how I connect with them. I tend to notice people’s energy because I used to be really shy. So if I’m with a shy person, I’m really quiet but if I’m with a really outgoing person then I tend to be outgoing too.
It’s so funny how we match people’s energy! What sorts of rituals do you have?
Exercise! I don’t know, would you call that a ritual? I’m in a pretty good flow of working out now, but team sports. After I graduated high school and didn’t play anymore, I joined a couple of rec teams here and there but it’s a lot harder to keep with it. Especially with ClassPass, I’m in a good place now. Even if I’m insanely busy and have a whole bunch of jobs on the go, I try to always find time to work out. With most of my work being in front of the computer, I need that energy release and physical activity to keep me going.
You were saying that you have those days where you work super long hours. Do you find it hard to create the barrier between life and work since you freelance?
Definitely. It helps that with a couple of my clients, it is about nine to five. I always have my own stuff to do after that though, whether it be freelance work or personal projects. I go to work all day and then I come home and keep working. It’s definitely hard to find a balance especially because my office is my bedroom.
'"Learn to love without reason, talk without bad intention, give without any reason and most of all, care for people without any expectation'. Those are the words I try to live by."
If you have time off, and you’re not exercising, what would we find you doing?
Usually I would like to be hiking, especially in the summer. Since I’ve been dealing with some heel problems, I can’t actually really hike right now. But friends and family mean a lot to me and I really value my friendships so I spend a lot of time with them.
Do you have a moment in your life that stands out as a major moment of impact?
I would say one of my defining moments would probably have to be my trip to Iceland after I graduated from the photography program. As I mentioned, I used to be really shy and the photography program helped with that. Especially because I love taking photos of people, you really have to be able to connect with them. When I graduated, I decided to take this trip to Iceland. I had never been to Europe before, let alone by myself. I went there with my tent and my sleeping bag and I hitchhiked around the whole island for a month. I remember by the end of the first week I was like, “Oh wow why did I do this? I’m by myself, I’m kind of bored, how can I get through the rest of the month?”. Before I knew it, the trip was over! I started to really push myself out of my comfort zone and break out of my shell. I met some people and hung out with them a little bit. It was such an amazing trip and it helped me grow so much.
Do you have a mantra?
I have a quote that I found fairly recently and it totally resonated with me. It says, “Learn to love without reason, talk without bad intention, give without any reason and most of all, care for people without any expectation”. Those are the words I try to live by.