Interview: Beautifully Ethereal Portraits Blur the Line between Dreams and Reality

Parisian-born, Los Angeles-based fine art photographer Lola Mitchell blurs the line between painting and photo, beauty and unease, and dreams and reality in her digitally manipulated images of ethereal women drifting in watery realms. Staged primarily near, above, or underneath the surface of water, Mitchell's work is exquisitely unsettling in its depiction of fay-like maidens who alternately appear to float, dance, and drown beneath the waves. The subjects, dressed in airy dresses and gowns that swirl with motion underwater, are hauntingly lovely and enigmatic figures who express emotions ranging from bliss to tranquility to fear.

“Through my work I try to incite emotions, and create beauty. Making sense of my inner world through images, I use my instinct while shooting and editing,” Mitchell writes in her artist statement. “In each of my images there is a commonality: a woman, movement and stillness, textures, and a little magic. Hopefully a story unfolds that is both aesthetically pleasing and poetic.”

We had the chance to ask Mitchell a few questions about her creative process and inspirations. Scroll down to read that exclusive interview.

Have you always wanted to be a photographer?

I have always carried a camera with me, but I only started pursuing making photos versus taking photos after my boy was born and I was home. A friend of mine, Sara Tune, was making incredible art with her iPhone, and I got inspired. I made collages with photos of my children, and some self-portraits. I would make images using all the photography apps and started painting on them using the Procreate app on my iPad. It really helped me determine my style. Then, when I started becoming interested in underwater photography, I needed better resolution. I first shot with my Canon 60D and a Dicapac bag. I taught myself Photoshop through various videos and websites. I now shoot with a Nikon D810, and for underwater photos, I use an Ikelite case.

Your father was a fashion and theater photographer, and your mother was a contemporary dancer. How can their influences be seen in your work?

My father manipulated his photos; he could spend a week in a darkroom working on one photo, and would often paint over them, either to touch up the blacks and whites, or just freely add colors. My mother was a contemporary dancer. She passed away when I was really young. But I did grow up surrounded by dancers, painters, sculptors, conductors, and photographers. Art always meant a freedom to explore. I love the editing process of molding the image to become something else entirely. To take it from a captured moment of reality to a dreamlike image.

What's your creative process like, from beginning to end?

I usually have an idea based on color and mood. Sometimes a whole image comes to mind. These shoots are very short, and so is the editing process, so I actually prefer to have an abstract idea and work around it during the shoot. Then, when I sit down to edit, I play around, experiment, try things until I feel like the image is done. These images feel more exciting because I have to keep thinking throughout the whole process. I have to keep an open mind. There is serendipity involved in these images–that feels like magic.

Can you explain some of the common images and themes found in your work?

I try not to overthink about what my images should look like so as not to get stuck in one creative spot. But looking at my body of work, I see that my images are usually very ethereal, moody, feminine–although I am interested in shooting more men–and look less and less like photography, but more of a blend between photo and painting. My main goal when I am done with a photo is that it is beautiful, painting-like, and brings an emotion–hopefully positive–in the person who will see it.

A large part of your portfolio is devoted to underwater photography. What's behind your passion for underwater photos?

I always loved the idea of being able to defy gravity and exist in a completely different environment while still on this earth. It is the only place that is quiet enough to keep me in the moment.

I also love seeing how each model swims. Dresses look and move a different way underwater. Each fold is accentuated, and the motion is slower, more dramatic. Our personalities come out through movement. I've always wanted to shoot dancers, and underwater, we all dance.

What do you hope to convey through your work?

Beauty, peace, euphoria, fear, angst.

Lola Mitchell: Website | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram | Twitter | Saatchi

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Lola Mitchell.

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