#Modellife: BTS RMIT Fashion Graduate Runway


When someone asks me what my favourite thing to photograph is, I'm quick to answer, 'people'. People endlessly fascinate me and I've held this fascination for a really long time. It underpins my entire body of work, and when I reflect on why I feel this way, I can narrow it down to three things:

1. You will never truly know anyone in this life except for yourself.

Sometimes when I sit on bustling city streets I like to think about people's lives, what they're doing in that moment, what they worry about, what makes them feel joy, what they hope to achieve one day. I think about this a lot with my friends, some of whom I've known my entire life and it wonders me how each have their own experiences, their own memories, their own perceptions and secrets that I will never know about. It's fascinating to find out these little idiosyncracies that make their life infinitely different from your own. It is exactly why I enjoy going to art galleries with people because art demands that you project your own experiences and emotions onto a piece to draw out a meaning.

2. When you take a photograph of someone, it's like taking a piece of their soul.

I read a great interview with Olivia Bee the other day about the vulnerability and intimacy that she details in her work. Soul capturing seems to be an industry-wide feeling, and it was interesting reading about how at times, Bee felt as though a moment was too intimate, too personal to capture and share, even if it was just for herself. I find it odd, and incredibly sad that I have all of these individual moments of a person's life, one millisecond out of millions, stored on my hard drive, mostly likely to never see the light of day.

3. Human connection is, hands down, the best experience you can have in this life.

I'm the first to put up my hand and say that people suck, but I'm also the first to say that people are awesome. It's so easy to see everyone as two-dimensional beings, it makes it easier to rationalise and group people, but in reality we are each so much more complex than that. I think that being able to connect with someone on more than just a surface level is one of the most rewarding aspects of life. This is why, when I first start shooting with someone one-on-one, I'll always try to take the time to sit down, have a chat, generally share some food, (because food is life, duh!) and boot any awkwardness out the door. I find that a great shoot is when the connection between the photographer and the subject(s) is obvious. This is exactly why I prefer photographing friends over complete strangers, because I have a history to photograph, not just that single moment.

I find that these three reflections flow through my work and processes When I shoot a family or an event, I'm thinking about how I can best capture individual personalities and the personal experience of being there, in that moment. Likewise, when I shoot fashion, I'm not necessarily looking at the clothes, I'm looking at the face of the model, how they fit into the greater puzzle piece, how their personality matches the vibes of the collection. 

Last week I received a surprise email in my inbox from the lovely Melissa Him, inviting me to photograph the RMIT Fashion Graduate Runway. I looked at the date, November 24, and sighed. I added the event to my already packed-to-the-brim week and geared myself up for a very long day of work. But I couldn't say no to the sixty or so graduates and their yet to be discovered collections!

Every year I photograph the student runways at VAMFF and MSFW and they are by far, my favourite. They're outrageous, challenging, colourful and just make me enviable that SO many people can use a sewing machine better than I can. Seriously, someone please teach me so that I can make my own awesome clothes. 

It was a really nice and intimate show from a photographer's perspective. The media riser was small and wasn't packed to the brim with cameras and lenses that could literally poke an eye out. Most of us were students, just there for the experience and to build our own portfolios. It was nice to feel like I wasn't fighting for a shot, for once. 

Going backstage is one of my favourite aspects of fashion shows. Unfortunately, I don't always get this opportunity during fashion week because of the sheer amount of demand and general time pressure. Sometimes, securing a good seat on the riser is more important than taking pretty photographs of models backstage.

Whilst many fashion shows seem so glamorous backstage, the truth is, they are mostly just a bunch of really good looking people waiting around. Waiting for hair and makeup, waiting for the show to begin, waiting for their turn to walk down the runway, waiting for the photographers to get the perfect shot before moving on. Fashion is a waiting game.

By all means, this isn't a bad thing, it's just an interesting and often forgotten aspect. Of course, there are the mad dashes in between clothing changes, last minute alterations to garments and a heck of amount of stress. I just find it interesting that more often than not, the life of a model (and even a photographer for that matter) can be completely romanticised.

Model life is considered to be beautiful boys and girls wandering around in designer clothes with perfect hair and makeup, legs for days and the perfect proportions, and it's refreshing to be reminded that it isn't really like that. There were no designer pink dressing gowns and champagne flutes backstage at last night's show, nor did the models have time to pose for me in between makeup artists and hair stylists attacking their heads with multiple products in a fine frenzy.

As a photographer, sometimes the best approach with backstage work is to be swift and concise. Don't spend too long looking for the perfect shot, capture the moments as they come, try to think ahead, and desperately hope that you don't piss off some poor stressed graduate or get in the way of anyone important. 

It's fun creating a fantasy through photography, but it's also good to show reality. I like being able to share these experiences with people who may never see a fashion show in their life. It's a completely different world, one that's stressful, but also really fun! It can be whatever you want it to be. For me, fashion shows are an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a different kind of art, one I'm still trying to figure out. It's also a great way to meet really interesting people.

Thanks to the entire graduating body for putting on a fantastic show, and for inviting me to capture it alongside some other awesome photographers!

I'll be sharing my photos from the two runways over the next couple of days. 

FashionCarolyn WestComment