At first glance, it seems like any other beauty shot. A lovely girl with exquisite features fills the frame, her styled hair atop those perfect features, accented with nude lipstick, subtle eye shadows and dramatic lines of bright-red rouge leading the eye down her cheekbones. On her smooth and bare neck and shoulders, she elegantly displays two mimicked strands of plump, red beads, one slightly smaller and slightly shorter than the other. Though the beads are very nearly identical, you can see a small differentiation between the colors and shapes. You soon recognize that not only are the beads organic and unique, they are, in fact, fresh cherry tomatoes strung together to create a faux necklace.
Angela Marklew’s personal project the f word presents stunning examples of modern fashion and beauty photography with food either playing a supporting role to the story of the image or becoming part of the costuming and style. Striking models are portrayed wearing stunning chokers made of lettuce or sleek ties made of silvery, whole fish. In each image, Marklew’s photography juxtaposes the expectation of precision and control of modern beauty photography with the playful and intriguing nature of the unexpected.
That balance between two seemingly separate, though oddly connected, concepts fits the portrait of Marklew herself. Though Marklew studied darkroom photography for two weeks when she was 16, her education and first career were in chemistry; straight out of college, she was actually a scientist in a Canadian government lab. But the chemistry that she was doing with her job and her interest in the analog photographic process weren’t so separate as one might think. The science background gave her the ability to problem-solve and think analytically, where the photography that she pursued for fun was an outlet for her creativity and artistic sensibilities. The two lives complemented each other, and Marklew jumped at the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and escape the harsh winters of her native Canada, considering that leap of faith her retirement from science. Her new goal was to succeed as a professional photographer.
Though she had been photographing for years at this point, she had never had any formal training. Once in Los Angeles, she looked around for an internship or assistantship where she could work and learn under the tutelage of an established professional. She responded to a Craigslist posting by renowned Los Angeles photographer Mark Robert Halper, and when she went in for the interview, they clicked.
"Our personalities complemented each other, which is important when working with someone every day," Marklew explains. "I think he also saw that I wanted to learn, and my background in science gave me the tools to solve problems."
For eight months in 2006, Marklew was Halper’s first assistant, helping with photo shoots and workshops, gleaning everything that she could about lighting, posing, photography and the business. At this point, she also picked up a digital camera and started to learn that process, though it was one step removed from the familiar chemistry of the darkroom.
When her internship ended, she hit the road, seeking out abandoned buildings, landscapes and ghost towns where she could continue working with the type of imagery that she had been doing before she met Halper. For three months, she drove around North America seeking subject matter. At a stop at a friend’s studio back in Canada, she came up with a concept she just couldn’t get rid of.
Recalls Marklew, "I got an idea in my head for this image—there’s a girl, surrounded by white, everything is pristine, and she’s got chocolate cake on her face. That image was the beginning of the food series."
It was the beginning of the f word, and the beginning of Marklew’s foray into portraiture and fashion. Though she had been nervous photographing people in the past, and admits that she’s painfully shy, she felt at home with the concept, the process and the final image. "I really like food, and I’m really curious about people’s relationships to food," she admits, and photographing that image allowed her to realize that she liked working with people. Within the next year, she became exclusively portraiture-based. Her first big assignment was for the short-lived Signature LA magazine; Marklew was hired to shoot 40 editorial portraits over the course of several months for the magazine’s premiere issue. It was a turning point for her to land such a big job.
In the past two years, Marklew has been published in nearly a dozen different magazines, and has been consistently shooting editorials, fashion stories and creative work. Though her work isn’t always as subtly satirical as the f word, she has created a body of work that’s varied and elegant. She has a wonderful way of capturing the essence of the assignment and finding a visual solution to the styling, clothing or personalities that she’s representing.
Marklew shoots a variety of different types of editorial and fashion stories, sometimes for a client and sometimes for herself. "I love shooting avant-garde and couture clothes and just things that are very structural," she says. "I love how you can tell a fashion story and it’s not like a narrative thing, it’s just kind of like a feeling—like you’re shooting a feeling."
The feelings often relate to her own emotional spectrum when she’s shooting the stories. The women that she portrays are strong, confident and fully self-possessed even if there’s also a sort of longing in their eyes or a more introspective gaze. The more of her images you look at, the more you can see the similarities between how Marklew is interacting with her subjects—with the framing, the posing and the structure, despite the obvious visual differences that Marklew employs to tell the appropriate story for the subject.
"Once I get an idea for an editorial, I basically see the finished product in my mind," she reveals. "I then work backwards to figure out what I need to do to get there, meaning, what kind of post work will need to be done, what kind of lighting will I need to achieve what I envision, what kind of mood will the model need to portray?" The resulting images are always consistent, thematic and masterful, with a specific appeal that can be attributed to Marklew’s approach.
Marklew is gaining ground as a new photographer on the Los Angeles scene, and garnering more work and more exposure. Although she currently gets the bulk of her jobs through word of mouth and cold submissions rather than traditional marketing, she’s planning to start a more robust marketing campaign to build her business in 2011. However, her most important confidence booster was the time spent assisting Halper. During his workshops, Marklew was able to watch how he interacted with the students, but she was also exposed to other photographic philosophies and styles.
"Just seeing how other people work, and seeing other people try to figure things out and them asking me for help kind of gave me a little more confidence that, yeah, maybe I know what I’m doing. I’m not just flying by the seat of my pants all the tim
e," she laughs. "Now, I’m much more confident in my ability to just picture it in my head and figure out how to get that with the lights that I have available to me—whether it be natural light and reflectors or studio light and light modifiers. I think that if I hadn’t worked with Mark, it would have been a much slower process."
Beyond working with Halper, Marklew continues to look at magazines that she would like to work for, like Vogue, Vanity Fair or Genlux, and keeps abreast of new ideas and techniques. "I feel that if you surround yourself with really great images, you’ll create really great images," she explains, though she warns budding photographers against merely duplicating what they see in the glossy pages on the newsstands: "I think it’s important for photographers that are starting out to not get caught up in mimicking other people’s styles or jumping from trend to trend. I think it’s important to just do your work and do what you like and shoot it the way that feels right to you because eventually someone will pay attention. If you’re jumping all over the place, you can never really develop a style if you’re just mimicking whatever is popular at the moment.
"There are a lot of trends that I really like, so I try and incorporate some of that stuff into my work, but there are a lot of trends that I don’t like and I never want to incorporate into my work," she says with a sheepish laugh, then earnestly continues, "I think you just need to pick and choose."
The result of Marklew’s dedication to her own style and personal preferences has led to several bodies of work that evoke different styles, emotions and ambiance that appropriately reflect the concept or subject at hand while simultaneously revealing her careful and creative approach. She seems capable of presenting any type of fashion story or editorial with a unique flavor, while her clients undoubtedly will be confident that the final product will be professional, beautiful and appropriate in theme and grace.
I love shooting avant-garde and couture clothes and just things that are very structural. I love how you can tell a fashion story and it’s not like a narrative thing, it’s just kind of like a feeling—like you’re shooting a feeling.
Marklew admits that one of her proudest moments was when Halper called her after her internship to tell her that he thought she was coming into her own as a photographer. He may be ahead of the curve, but the rest of the industry certainly will have Marklew on their radar as one of Los Angeles’ leading fashion, beauty and editorial photographers in no time, no matter what flavor she brings to the table in her next venture.