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Kate Owen on her Racecar Photo Series

Kate Owen is a powerhouse photographer; she collaborates with Tumblr and she has been featured in a plethora of impressive places like The New York Times, Interview, V Magazine, and Bullet, to name a few. Her photography is as dynamic as her resume, ranging from fashion to portraits to documentation of her travels, and now she’s added race car photography to her belt. With the dangers of photographing such a dangerous sport so closely, Kate tells Milk Made what made her choose this topic, what it’s like to be so close to the cars, and on why you could say "danger" is her middle name.

What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be a photographer?

Naturally, my first steps were with a camera in hand. I think it must have distracted me from the imminent danger ahead (the floor), which I soon hit head first. Since then I decided life’s much better with a camera.

Your images have a lovely quality of feeling rather homespun, at times even nostalgic. How do you attain your aesthetic?

Thank you! That’s funny because I don’t think of my photos that way usually. I love hearing what people pick up on in the images. I like photos that tell a story and have the feeling of catching a moment that’s just as quickly gone. I’m rarely standing still – whether that’s because I’m trying to get the shot or have a dancing addiction is unclear.

What inspired your racecar series?

My dad is a huge racing man. I mean, talk about addiction. He can tell you any car just by listening to the engine rev. Of course, when you’re growing up with that it’s not always so fun (imagine hearing the noise of 24 Formula I cars going round and around in circles every single weekend). For a long time I hated it, but now I realize I was just a bored little kid. Eventually I started paying attention to all the action going on around the actual race – the mechanics running for parts, desperately fixing bits and pieces on the cars, the drivers hanging out, the flag guys (what are they called??) waiting to give the signal. There’s a lot of exciting stuff! And it’s all go go go! But I hadn’t seen any of that before. So much of the coverage today is just cars going around the bend. It doesn’t tell the actual story of the race and the people. That’s what I’m interested in. Who cares who goes the fastest?

What was the highlight of this racecar series?

Ummm is it lame that definitely the coolest thing for me was when I shot the Le Mans Classic in 2012 and I got to drive a scooter around the course? The team I was with gave me a mechanics outfit and I’d ride up to the entrance in it and then walk past security with my helmet on. Ha!

Was it dangerous trying to get those shots of speeding cars?

I seem to have a habit of being exactly where I’m not supposed to be. I’ve gotten pretty used to being yanked out of the way and then told that I’m crazy for standing (read: dancing) wherever it is that I am. I’ve been kicked out once for it, but I figure that’s a pretty good record all in all. I like to think that if the drivers are good enough to go around corners at 200mph that they should be good enough not to hit me. But I also feel like I just jinxed myself in saying that so I hope you don’t read the headline: IDIOT PHOTOGRAPHER HIT IN THE MIDDLE OF RACE TRACK anytime soon.

In all seriousness, it’s a really dangerous sport. My dad gave me a little lecture at the last race I was at (in Mont Tremblant, Canada). It has all the tension of fashion week but there are speeding cars coming at you. So it’s basically insane.

What has been the most challenging photography project you’ve undertaken?

Ooh I’m not sure! I think the toughest part of any project is getting yourself to actually do it. There are always obstacles and the hard part is pushing past them instead of just letting it slide. Excuses are pretty worthless when you have nothing to show for it. Plus, it feels so damn good when you get it done. That’s actually reminding me about a few projects I’ve had on the backburner for quite a while now…

If you’re stuck in a creative rut, what do you do to continue working?

God, those days are the WORST! Once I’ve gotten over the initial depression phase (usually with the help of chocolate, caffeine, and Hype Machine), I’ll eventually pick up a few of the many magazines laying around my apartment, and before you know it I’ve cut out a whole new mess of pictures and have another idea for a shoot. Same idea: going to a museum or gallery, or the movies. It’s all visual inspiration! If that doesn’t work then the beach is always a good idea. And if it’s too cold for the beach, then GOOD LUCK.

What’s the best part about being a photographer?

Creating, collaborating, meeting new people. I love it all. I’m constantly inspired by all the little things, and it feels great making photographs that carry that same energy.

Photos courtesy of Kate Owen

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