July 17, 2013

Spotlight: Chantel Beam

Go places you've never gone before (and might not again).

Aside from the striking beauty evident in each of Chantel Beam's photographs, a stark realization hits you after mere minutes of scrolling: each picture is remarkably different from the next. Yes, some familiar faces appear in different shoots, even similar clothes and hairstyles, but no matter what similarities arise, no one picture matches the next. A hard task, for someone who has hundreds and hundreds of photographs to her name. The characters, tone, and general feel of each photo shoot differs from one another, presenting a wide range that, when looking through her portfolio, one almost gets the sense that they're taking a tiny peek into Chantel's brain and the vastness that stretches there.

Oh, she's also a filmmaker. That's her first passion, really, which is startling, as so much time and care clearly goes into her photo shoots - but that isn't to detract from the quality of her short films, which obviously receive the same copious amounts of love and affection. Though Chantel's photographs already reach way over a thousand, it's evident she's barely scratched the surface of the beautiful things to come. We nabbed a second with the San Francisco dweller and asked her about photo shoots, favorite photographers, and film preferences:

THE LE SIGH: What are the steps you go through to getting a photo shoot together, from inspiration to uploading the images?

CHANTEL BEAM: The process varies a bit, depending on the shoot, but usually I'll begin with finding some location I really love. Driving through the city scoping locations is something I do when I'm bored or have time to kill. Then I'll contact some of my favorite hair and makeup artists - I tend to work with the same ones. I go about finding models in lots of different ways; other times, I'll creep around Instagram or Facebook and find someone with an interesting look. I also like to find people on Craigslist or Model Mayhem. Once I have my models secured, I pull pieces from my wardrobe that will fit what the location looks like (I have way too many clothes!). I also always ask models to bring something they think would fit the theme or anything they really like to wear.

Occasionally, I get wardrobe stylists, but am not always that lucky. The whole prep can be quite a process, and I also have bad luck with people cancelling on me last minute. This can completely change a shoot, because I have to find replacements last minute. It always seems to work out though! Getting the models ready and shooting is an all day thing for me; I've had shoots that have lasted twelve hours before, but I love it. Editing the photos can take weeks, because I spend a lot of time on each image and like to have around ten images for a set (give or take). Uploading my work online is the easiest of the process; I do love social media, so I upload it to all my sites (my website, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook).

TLS: Though both occupations are connected, do you like photography or film making better?

CB: I get this question a lot - it may seem skewed, because I do a lot more photography than film making. I enjoy them both a lot, but film making is my passion. It's what I want to pursue and be known for. Photography is more comfortable for me and less work. Making a film takes a gret deal of time, people, and sometimes money. Whenever I show photos in a gallery or just on Facebook, I never really get nervous or care too much what people think; but when I screen a film, I get butterflies and don't feel confident about them at all, and really take to heart what people say about my work.

TLS: What's the strangest place you've done a photo shoot?

CB: I'm not too adventurous in my shooting locations because I have an intense fear of getting caught and having to delete images or get arrested, so most of my locations are pretty public. In high school, there was an abandoned house in my neighborhood that I'd sneak into and take photos all over the lot.

TLS: Most of the photos you post are accompanied by a list of people you collaborated with, for makeup, nails, and clothing, for instance. How do you balance the different preferences and/or styles to create a cohesive look?

CB: I love to collaborate with different artists; sometimes my makeup or hair artists come to me with an idea they've been wanting to do and sometimes I have inspiration images I send to them, and see how they can elaborate on those looks. I feel I work best when I'm not being told what to do, and so I have that same attitude with my hair and makeup artists. I want them to have freedom to do what they want; sometimes I tell them to tweak a little something, but generally I love what it turns out to be. Recently a fellow blogger has been sending me nails to shoot and she just sort of does what she wants and I work it into my shoot.

TLS: How many photos do you go through on an average shoot? Is choosing the right ones to display a difficult process?

CB: On average, I shoot 450 images (give or take a couple hundred). Going through all of them is time consuming and my least favorite, because sometimes two images are so similar that it's hard to choose between them! Luckily, my roommate is an artist, so I can ask her opinion. Also, I had when I love na image on my camera and then once on my computer, I realize something as small as their nose is in focus and not their eyes (one of my biggest pet peeves!). I have to really inspect each image before I take the time to edit them.

TLS: What is your favorite genre of film and/or something you'd love to explore?

CB: Experimental film is one of my favorite genres and I tend to lean that way in my own films. I also like exploring character development rather than plot. I'm not a strong writer, so plot is not my first choice to drive a film. Characters will just pop up in my head and I like to create a story around that. Non-narrative, non-linear, and black comedy films also have my heart. John Waters, Harmony Korine, and Gregg Araki are my top filmmakers, and I would aspire to do some sort of a combination of their styles. My mom laughs at me because my films all end up dark, even though I'm not a dark person by any means.

TLS: Each photo shoot seems to consist of characters and dynamics that vary quite significantly from one another - do you make up a different story for each shoot or model you depict? If so, where do the ideas come from?

CB: I consider myself to be a well-rounded person with varying interests; I don't necessarily think of a story usually with my work, but more so a still from a film, or a bigger story I'm never really sure of. I'm really inspired by time periods, but try to aim for my images to be timeless. My inspirations are never consistent from where I draw them from. Sometimes they're childhood fantasies I've always loved. Other times, I'll see an outfit that embodies a story by just being worn; I truly love fashion and dressing people up.

TLS: If you could decorate your house/apartment/log cabin with any photographer's images, who would it be?

CB: My taste in art varies in style; some photographers I adore are Alison Scarpulla, Maisie Cousins, Synchrodogs, Michal Pudelka, Peter Et Gilles, and Lewis Carroll.

TLS: I see a few faces that come up in multiple shoots, but who are your models?

CB: You've probably seen my best friend Laura in a lot of my shots; I'd consider her my "muse" and shoot her consistently. I also consider myself to have pretty attractive and interesting friends, so they're often first choice. Also, if someone new comes around with friends and I think they'd be good to photograph, I'll ask them. Like I said earlier, I use social media to find people. I feel creepy a lot of times emailing random people, but it turns out to be fun and exciting. Photo shoots can feel like hanging out with friends for me, and so I become friends with a lot of my models and continue to shoot them. I also try to stray away from trendy, generically "pretty" white girls. There are too many photographers shooting these types of people and I don't think it's original at all. I love shooting queer people, androgynous people, punks, and "non-model" sized bodies.

TLS: What was the last movie you saw and what'd you think of it?

CB: I just flew back from Kauai a few days ago and started the film "Hitchcock" and liked it! I wasn't able to finish it, so I need to get on that. The last film I saw in theaters was "Spring Breakers" and I was obsessed with it. I'd never seen a narrative with that editing style and can't say enough about the cinematography and lighting!

Check out more of Chantel's films and shoots here.

Written by Molly Morris