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Talia Collis Explores The Dynamics of Desire & Sexuality With 'Her'

Meet London-born, New York-based photographer, director, and producer, Talia Collis, who’s giving us the low-down and digital exclusive of her book, Her, which was shot over the course of a year. We sat down with Collis to speak about her perspective, artistic influences, and prior production experience that aided in creating this body of work. She strives to create a narrative with powerful women at the forefront; her work explores the dynamics of desire and sexuality. Upon looking at her photographs, you’re immediately able to tell who she is, and how she would like women to be seen. Collecting inspiration from male photographers like Guy Bourdin and Chris von Wangenheim, and directors like Mike Nichols and Wong-Kar Wai, she brings back the glamour of past decades, but this time through a woman’s eyes. Personal work aside, with clients like Vogue.com, DKNY, and Area under her belt, we’re excited to see where she’s headed next.

Tell us about Heryou’ve worked on this project over the course of a year—how did your perspective change as the project grew?

Her is a series of highly stylized photographs that follow multiple narratives between various women and men. Behind every picture lies a story to uncover. The core of each photograph is always an empowered female lead. My perspective did not change as the project went on–I constantly knew what the core of Her was. What had changed were the stories behind the images. With each shoot, the set grew. This gave us more creative freedom to express a new, more complex story for the woman rather than just keeping it confined to the same one character.

You are also a director, who is very influenced by film; it’s obvious that your images have a very cinematic quality—in what ways can you build a narrative with a single image?

A lot of photographers argue that every image has a narrative. However, I believe that a true narrative is formed once there are several characters and symbolic props present in a story. When there are several models in an image, the viewer naturally begins to question the relationships between those involved. What I appreciate most about the still image is that you are relying solely on that one fleeting moment that you have captured. You can’t depend on sound or movement to enhance a feeling. The narrative comes from the direction that the subjects are “frozen” in.

In Her, I can see nods to Bourdin, Newton, and Penn (even a bit of Miles Aldridge)—it’s interesting to see women portrayed by a woman. How do you think having this perspective makes your final image different?

Firstly, that means a lot to me. Guy Bourdin is my greatest inspiration. If you felt that my work reminded you of his, I’m reassured that I am creating something that evokes storytelling in fashion photography. I think that because I am a female fashion photographer and director it allows me to connect with the female model naturally. I try to create an environment where I make my female subjects feel powerful and how they should not shy away from feeling like they control the viewer’s attention. I want the women to feel dominant and to do that I believe they need to be surrounded by female artists who truly believe in this message. There is no sense of judgment. At the end of the day, I am also collaborating with the models in my images and I want them to feel comfortable in portraying what they believe is a powerful woman.

How does it make the actual experience of creating the photograph different?

Aforementioned, it feels natural to me. I like to think that I am talking to a friend and encouraging her to bring all she can to the image. How does she want to represent power within herself? What can I do, as a female, to help and support her in this image?

As a woman, do you feel any responsibility to portray women in a specific light?

Absolutely. It’s my duty as a female to portray women the way I believe women should be seen. These images are constructed through the eyes of artists who advocate for women. We want to be seen and be heard in a respectful and strong manner.

How do you feel your images transport the viewer to the past?

My images were made with the agenda of being fantastical. I want them to feel futuristic whilst still referencing a time in fashion that I am deeply inspired by. The references that I compiled throughout the project were consistently interpreted in the images that I was creating. This inspiration is seen throughout the book and that’s what allows for the viewer to be transported into a different period within Fashion.  

This was a collaborative work, how did you find the minds to create with?

I started off by working with my best friends because we had similar styles and interests within the world of film and fashion. There was a level of comfort that made it so easy to bounce ideas off one another and challenge each other’s ideas. As the projects got bigger, they required more help. I asked several producers for their recommendations for young hair stylists, art directors and set designers who were looking to build their books. First and foremost, I wanted to meet with all their recommendations to see if we had a connection, to see if we understood one another’s creative vision. Once that was settled we would begin to meet regularly to talk about our creative briefs, scout locations, pick out props and so on.

How has your other work experience, prepared you for creating this collection of work (ie producing at Vogue, working with Red Hook Labs)?

Working as a producer forces you to become realistic. You learn that there are so many new elements of a shoot that you would have never have thought of prior to becoming a producer. It’s almost as if the curtains go up and you see the backend of all the managing and organization that takes place. In some respects, it takes away the excitement and dream-like energy that you initially have going into a shoot because you come up against so many obstacles. However, understanding production and what it takes to bring a shoot to life has definitely made me a better director and one that is more inviting to work with. Production is also about people managing. Being a producer made me understand how important it is to make sure every creative role is being heard on set.

Images courtesy of Talia Collis

Stay tuned to Milk for more photography.

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