Meet The Girl Behind All The Sick DIY Photoshoots You’ve Seen on Social Media
Remember when all those behind-the-scenes vs. the final shot photography photos were starting to pop up on Instagram? Like, you’d see a girl chilling in the floral section of a Michael’s and then see an epic, Vogue worthy shot next to it? LA-based artist Kihmberlie is like the final boss of this trend.
If you take a look at her Instagram, you’ll see a bunch of epic concept shots—which she conceptualizes, builds, shoots, and models herself. Click on one, and scroll through the photos to see more of her process. Chances are, you’ll be incredibly impressed at what this girl does with some crafting supplies and her mom’s hand me-downs (#blackgirlmagic).
We talked to the artist about how she got started, being a black creator in 2020, and more.
What’s your background and how would you describe what you do? Tell us your story.
I went to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) in DTLA for college and graduated with my Associate of Arts degree. At the time I wanted to be a celebrity fashion stylist. Around the end of my first year, I was invited to a three day styling institute with Anita Patrickson and four other girls from my school. During one of the workshops where we were styling the model, I was told sometimes you have to show the model exactly what you want, especially if they’re new models. While I was showing the model how I wanted her to pose, I realized I wished that I was in front of the camera instead of behind it, so after that I started researching and looking into modeling agencies and how to get into modeling in general. That was the start of it all.
I always tell people when they ask me what I do is that I take photos of myself in my guest room. But, if I’m being technical, I come up with a concept, research how to execute it in a way to where I don’t have to spend any money or very little. If it’s something that I don’t know how to build, I research how and look for alternative materials that costs less, like clear acrylic sheets vs glass, bedsheets instead of paper backdrops, etc. I clear out my guest room, put down a white sheet, build the set, get ready, set up my camera and start shooting.
What peaked your initial interest in not only being behind the camera, but in front as well? Were you always good at modeling and photography or did you have to nurture one skill more than the other?
I wanted to get into modeling, but at the time I didn’t have the money to pay a photographer. The ones I would reach out to [in hopes to] collaborate [with] never panned out, so I started taking photos of myself and I figured I could do it and figure it out until I had the money/resources to pay someone else.
[I] definitely had to nurture modeling [side] more. Some people are blessed because it comes naturally to them and I was not one of those people. I practiced in the mirror a lot, looked through magazines and working model’s portfolios on agency websites. I took photos of myself on the back camera of my phone and analyzed what I could do, switch angles, chin up, make the eyes more intense, soften the face to make the photo better.
What’s something you feel sets you apart from other creatives in the same industry as you?
I do everything myself, from shooting to editing, to modeling, to creative directing to building the set—and it all started because I wanted to get signed to a modeling agency and didn’t have a photographer to help build my portfolio. I work really hard, and I’m not saying that other creatives don’t, I just mean from putting on a fashion show in my hometown [at age 17] to commuting 2-3 hours to college 3 days a week and then commuting an hour to work on my off days [from ages 18 – 19], to building sets every day then every week and constantly trying to think of new ideas [from ages 20 – 24]. I’ve never stopped since.
Tell us about a difficult time in your life that you overcame and explain how you did so.
A few years ago I went through depression. It was the hardest time in my life, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone, I felt alone even when I was around my best friend at that time. I felt numb and it was hard to do even the most mundane things like take a shower or get out of bed. So much happened during that time and I felt like I was never going to come out of it. Friends that I thought would always be in my life weren’t anymore. I’d never felt so alone.
It was a mixture of a lot. God, praying, devotionals, opening up about what I was going through to my mom, and creating. Talking to God out loud and telling my mom about what I was going through were the catalyst to the start of overcoming my depression.
With the current political climate in our country, as a Black woman, how are you doing mentally and emotionally? Do times like this inspire you to create or do you like to take a step back and focus on yourself?
I’m doing better. [At the] end of May when everything came out about George Floyd, I was on my phone constantly, keeping up with everything, reading everything, completely consumed by how evil this country can be and is to Black people. It’s always hard when you see people that look like you, like your family, get murdered by the ones whose job is to protect you. I had to take a step back and during times—like these I usually do—I’d force myself to create or do something else like read. It’s not good to let yourself get so wrapped up in all of the awful things that are happening that you forget to take care of yourself. There has to be a balance.
You take DIY projects and create editorial like content. Take us through how you do so and tell us how you got started doing this.
First I come up with a concept, whether it’s inspired by something like a movie, an image I saw, Pinterest, or an idea God gave me while driving. Then, I start researching how to create it. I watch YouTube videos, look for reference photos, and read how-to articles or just go through my mind on how to create it if there isn’t something I can necessarily research—it all depends on the concept. I’ll go through my closet and my mom’s to look for an outfit, build the set…Usually it takes about 8 hours minimum unless it is something relatively simple. If it’s very difficult, [it takes] more [time to] set up my camera on a ladder, some stereos or the ceiling, depending on the angle I want. After, I’ll import all of my favorite photos, then narrow them down even more from there, and then take them into Photoshop and edit.
I started doing this because I realized I needed a portfolio for modeling, I had taken digitals, but never got signed off of them so I figured I needed a portfolio to show range and it would also help with building my experience. I didn’t have the resources or money to pay a photographer every time I needed photos, so I figured I would do it myself until I did.
What is something about you that people can’t read about online? Something you don’t share with most?
I wrote a letter to my 25-year-old self four years ago about where I saw myself, where I hoped I would be, the things I hoped to accomplish by then and where I was at that time. So, I will be opening it and reading it next year.
Any advice for our readers who hope to become a photographer and or model one day?
If it seems like your goal is taking too long to accomplish or your dream is taking too long to come true…keep going.
SELF PORTRAITS BY KIHMBERLIE
Interview By Taylor Winter