Interview: Photographer Hallie Kohler
We’ve been nonstop inspired by the work of one Hallie Kohler and we finally took a chance and asked for some of her time! Here are her words, describing how she came about her magical photography skills and more!
How’d you get into photography? What started it all?
Sometime in middle school I started getting frustrated with my first-edition digital point and shoot. No matter how many of the fancy “settings” I tried, I couldn’t capture the beauty of light and motion, people and nature, that I was observing. I saved up for my first DSLR to try to solve this problem (some small Olympus with a kit lens) and then upgraded to a second-hand Canon Rebel for college. At that time, I certainly would have shied away from the term “photographer” but I thoroughly enjoyed capturing the lives of my friends. I was that kid with the camera at every party. As Studio Art major I worked only with black and white film, burning and dodging and printing by hand — digital was for advertising, not art, in the eyes of my professors.
How would you describe your vision and style?
I spent the summer after college traveling the country on a renovated school bus. The mission was to meet, interview and record local bands across the United States. As we ventured from the east coast to the west, I began to see my role in the world of photography take shape. Images of travel and laughter and fun, images of the experience of being alive, that was what I truly wanted to capture — those were the images I wanted to make.
What would you say makes your photography your own?
I find myself to be a quiet observer behind the camera, rarely catching someone as they are looking into my lens. My desire is to document the lives of others, I tend to concentrate on hands and feet, subconscious gesture and easily-forgotten moments to tell a story. The stories have shifted over the years, now including weddings days and newly-engaged couples on a hike, as well as ventures with friends and fellow photographers.
What do you aim for with every shot?
I wouldn’t say I bring my full attention to every shot, but on a good day I’d start with the light, get a good angle and try to create a composition that draws my eye in an interesting manner around the frame. I pick a focal point, note where the brightness bounces off. I especially like foreground elements in my compositions, and tend to step into bushes or tug down on tree branches for added effect. More often than not, I just capture what I see — checking the back of my camera, I’ll decide to try the shot another way and retake. It’s trial and error.
What is your favorite thing about being a photographer?
Though it sometimes doesn’t feel like my favorite thing in the moment, photography gives me never-ending opportunities to step out of my comfort zone, and relate to people. There is some special kind of magic that happens when you are working with another person one-on-one. The level communication changes from strangers to teammates, there is an outpouring of compliments, positive attitudes and kindness as nervous laughter turns to real belly-laughter and the adrenaline keeps me chattering away. (Often mindlessly and in an attempt to cover awkward silences until I realize that we’re all a bit awkward, and who cares!)
Is there anything you wish you knew when you first started?
My shooting style still errs on the side of fly-on-the-wall, but when I was just starting out I was terrified to get in anyone’s way, and would often miss a perfect shot because I was too self-aware. I edged the sides of rooms, and wouldn’t use flash (well, that’s not so bad). Shooting weddings has given me a sense of purpose and an opportunity to throw my overly-cautious fears to the wind. I wished I’d started out fearless, unafraid to step on a few shoes or interrupt a conversation.
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
Many photographers, many artists too, are striving for their viewer to feel something personal: a connection with the subject, with the place, a story imagined, an emotion felt. Sometimes I want to unfold a storyline from beginning to end, to bring my viewers in and point their emotions in one direction or another. Sometimes, I strive to capture images that allow the viewer to create their own story. It’s totally open-ended — this could be anyone, this could be you, anywhere. And other times, photography is really for myself. I want to remember this person, place, time, feeling. If people connect with these shots, awesome, if not, that’s okay too.
What is a notable or special experience that you’ve had being a photographer?
Last summer, a couple (both photographers themselves) asked me to capture their vow renewal, set to take place on an island off the north coast of Michigan called Mackinac. The two men had gotten officially married in California a few years prior, but they were celebrating that their home state of Michigan had finally legalized their union. Friends and family gathered up in brightly-decorated cupola bar, at the tippy top of The Grand Hotel. With only twenty or so people in attendance, they all took turns toasting and laughing and crying, as I snuck around the room capturing a range of emotions. It was an intimate setting and a special moment for all involved. I felt honored to be invited in to observe, document, and celebrate the legal turning point for our state and the ground-breaking joy for these lovely humans.