Portrait Photographer Millie Clinton - Interview

I'm excited to showcase some of portrait photographer Millie Clinton's work. I remember first seeing Millie's work a couple of years ago and I have to admit, it was a big part of what made me fall in love with the look and feel you get from using film. I was delighted to get a chance to ask her a few questions.

How did you get started in photography?

When I was about 13, I was going on a school trip to Austria and my dad bought me a little compact, point & shoot camera (it was pink, too!) to take with me. I was just playing around with it at home to learn how to use it before I went away, and I realised I enjoyed it. 

At what point did you start using film?

Not long after that - I was still only 13, I think. I begged my dad to buy me a film camera, I think I’d seen a picture online shot with film, and I wanted to do that too. My dad said no because ‘it’d be more expensive in the long run’, and offered to buy me a DSLR instead.

And what do you do when your parents say no?

You go to your grandparents.. So I asked my grandad instead, who said, ‘you’re not using any of that plastic sh*t’ (sorry! - his words, not mine), bought me a Canon A1, and here we are. 

What are the most problematic things about the genre of photography you work in, and how are you trying to subvert them?

I’m mainly interested in portraiture, and more often than not am photographing women. I think women especially are subjected to unrealistic beauty standards thanks to excessive retouching, which I think I have a relatively unique insight into thanks to being a woman, and a photographer also. When I was first starting out, I’d ask my friends to be models, and you’d be surprised how many times I’d ask truly, objectively stunning young ladies to model for me and they’d say no because they didn’t like the way they looked.

The pressure on women to look a certain way is immense, and I think the manipulated images you see in magazines and - more commonly these days - on Instagram, are hugely to blame for women in general suffering with debilitatingly low self esteem. When you’re constantly bombarded with images of ‘flawless’ people - who have unblemished skin, ‘perfect’ figures - it’s hard not to compare yourself to them and feel dissatisfied with the way you look.

I don’t excessively retouch my models. I don’t edit their figure at all, and I only edit a pimple out if it’s distracting - ie you look at the picture of their face and it’s the first thing your eyes travel to, I’ll get remove it. If it’s just there, I’ll leave it. Another example is that one of my friends and long time model, Georgie  has a large scar on her shoulder, and I’ve never edited it out. Because it’s just part of her, it’s just the way she looks - why would I want to remove it?  

Another issue is women being over-sexualised in portraits. I’ve seen so many male portrait photographers that pretty much exclusively take photographs of naked women.

I definitely think having flesh showing serves a photograph in many ways - to show femininity, intimacy - that’s always what I’m trying to achieve in my lingerie shoots. But I’ve seen some pictures where it’s pretty much soft porn - which is fine! - but it’s being presented with the veneer of being artistic.

Not only is it just seedy and tacky, in my opinion, but the desire for over sexualised portraits leaves some models who aren’t inclined to work like that in a vulnerable position. I know ladies that model in their free time and have horror stories of being made to feel incredibly uncomfortable by male photographers, like being asked to take their bra off, even when they’ve explicitly said well in advance that they don’t do that.

From the men I’ve spoken to who are into modelling, they’ve not encountered the same issues. Moreover, I’m surprised by how many images I see that aren’t really ‘good’ by any standard; they’re not really ‘photography’ in the artistic sense that we mean it - they’re just snap shots of a woman naked. I really get the impression sometimes that some photographers are using the guise of “photographer” as an excuse to get a woman in front of them willing to take their clothes of.

Maybe the photographer-and-nude-model dynamic is even a kink in and of itself. I honestly can’t over exaggerate how many female models I know that have said they’ve worked with photographers who have tried to push the boundaries and made them feel uncomfortable.

I know it’s a small minority, and that there totally is a time and a place for nude photographs - artistic and otherwise - but seemingly unnecessary nudity and models being made to feel uneasy are real issues. 

Who or what has influenced your work the most?

Probably my grandad. He taught me everything I know, and he’s an absolute stickler for technical accuracy so he made sure I knew what I was doing. He’s my biggest fan and my toughest critic at the same time. I’m quite happy to do things technically wrong (I love a little bit of over exposure, for example!) for artistic purposes, and he still likes to point out my ‘mistakes’ - even if I’ve done it deliberately.  

How do you decide between colour and black & white film?

It’s not really a conscious process, I can kind of see the ‘finished product’ - if you will - in my head before we’ve even gone out to shoot, so I just know if I want colour or black and white. Although I think I prefer black and white more when I’m going for emotive shoots (sad expressions etc) and colour when I want to create a whole scene.

What do you look for in particular in an image?

I think I like to create a whole scene, not just a snap shot. Even if it is essentially just a close up of  a face, I do like to think it looks as if it has a back story to it. At least, that’s what I’m going for!

Can you explain the story behind your favourite photograph?

Alice, the model, owns a Nissan Figaro that she’d said we could use in a photo shoot one day. I was in the mood to get creative but the weather forecast all week was overcast and drizzly. I thought I’d take the opportunity and try something a little different for me, and get some cinematic ‘rain on the window’ shots. I was really uncertain how they’d turn out because the only black and white film I had was only 50 ASA, and like I said, the weather was miserable. Plus, we were under trees (deliberately so we wouldn’t be under heavy rain, and to get the mottled lighting). It was pretty gloomy and I had no idea how they’d turn out. Safe to say it was a pleasant surprise! 

Why is photography important to you?

In my bedroom as a teenager, I had a David Bailey quote stuck onto my wall: “In photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary”. I think that’s true, and I think that’s why I love photography so much - I love being able to see or make something extraordinary, out of the ordinary.

What is something you are working on this year?

I’m planning take some images that embrace film ‘mistakes’ (although doing them deliberately) like having visible dust on the scan, light leaks, using expired film, using faster film speeds in daylight for the grainy effect. Getting ‘details’ shots are also on my to do lists - like taking photos of the models freckles, eye lashes, for example - not just their whole face. 

You have the last ever roll of your favourite film left, where, who, what do you photograph? 

I’d probably have a roll of Fuji 400H, I’d go back to Paris with Ellis to take photographs. We just got back from our first photography excursion abroad last week, and we had so much fun. I used up 19 rolls of film! I’d love to do something like that again, especially with Ellis because we’ve become good friends over the year and a half we’ve been working together. 

I would love to thank Millie, for taking part and sharing her work! If you'd like to see more of Millie's work here's a few links to her social media and website!



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