The many different images that we are exposed to in our online society nowadays serve as an interesting inspiration for creative projects. Photographer Aleksandra Kingo is making good use of these everyday stories that we are confronted with whether we’re interested or not. It is safe to say that her job is a good representation of how she is as a person. Quirky and sarcastic, with a cheeky wink to society —her work is often fun and entertaining, but there’s sometimes also a deeper meaning that makes you think about our current culture of social media.
When and how did your interest in photography start?
I was around 15 years old when I got an old film camera from a friend. I began wandering around town, taking pictures of friends and feeling all artsy —those were good times. My influences were pretty different at the time though —think Lina Scheynius or Ryan McGinley. I was dreaming about going on a road trip with my mates, going skinny-dipping and taking pictures of that. Ha!
Your photographs are being said to reflect your personality. How would you describe yourself and thus your photography style?
I think I have this quirky, sarcastic and sometimes quite dark sense of humour, a mix of British and Eastern European, which is one of the key influences on my work. I am very self-ironical and I am always keen to laugh at myself. I am also one of those girls who are trying to be classy and elegant but at the same time I am really clumsy and often awkward. Mostly nice-looking but with occasional lipstick stain on my teeth. My work influences me as well, I started wearing much more colours in the last couple of years, while before I would mostly wear black. Colours I use in pictures very often reflect the colours I am wearing in the period of time when I am shooting them.
In what way did your study fashion styling and photography at the London College of Fashion influence your personal ‘autograph’ in photography?
To be honest, it didn't really! Looking back, I was very much carried away by the pressure of being a 'good student' and developing my style just wasn't on top of the list. Although I certainly had a very good time there and met lots of amazing people, it was only in years after the uni, free from assignment pressure, that I was able to really reflect, test and figure out what I really liked doing.
Your inspiration comes partly from popular culture and memes. How do these things intrigue you in a way that you can use it in your work?
I am quite intrigued by the fact that the popular culture, including memes, is some sort of common knowledge among a certain crowd of people nowadays, it is something that is hard to avoid as long as you are using social media. Simple example: never have I ever watched the Kardashians, but somehow I know what's up with them! So having popular culture as a base for my work allows me to use signs and symbols that are understandable to the viewer and provoke familiar connotations.
Together with art director Gem Fretcher, stylist Natasha Freeman and set designer Amy Friend, you created the series called Spa Days, can you tell a little more about this project?
Spa Days started with Gemma and me looking at different, often ridiculous, ways girls are pimping themselves up and the crazy beauty advice the Internet culture promotes. Ridiculous online tutorials, makeup artists using spoons to create perfect eyeliner wing, Kylie Jenner lip challenge and so on... We took those ideas and pushed them to the point of absurdity. And I think people related to it, as it got picked up quite well in social media and got featured in tons of publications.
How, in general, does the process of a photo shoot go for you?
To begin with, I am constantly making notes on ideas or just even traces of them, either by saving something on Pinterest, sketching or screen shooting a quote on my phone screen. With time, they might naturally form into a solid concept that I would then develop, or I might start with a more general brief and then use some of those earlier notes to build it up. It depends. Then, I'd sketch my shots out and pretty much recreate the sketches on set with the help of my team. Most of the time I know exactly what outcome I will have from the shoot and I would know my best shots on the day —although there's always room to spontaneity if needed!
What is it that you’re trying to communicate with most your work?
It depends; some work is clearly just fun and cheeky, while other, like Spa Days, is intentionally more thought provoking.
Is there also a certain feeling you want to evoke with the viewer when they see your artwork?
No, not really, I want them to feel all sorts of feelings! I also absolutely love people finding their own connotations in my work. It happens pretty often that viewers make their own conclusions that I might not have thought of. It’s all about familiar signs, I guess.
You shot a video in 2015 for the song Moteur Action by YELLE. How was this experience, to step away from the still image for once?
This wasn't my first video to be fair, I directed an ad for a Korean brand (Suecomma Bonnie) a couple of months before that. But as for the Moteur Action shoot, it was great fun! I met Julie earlier that year when shooting with her for Turkish XOXO Magazine and I think we really clickedm which is why she came back to me for the music video. It was very collaborative and experimental. We came up with ideas all together had great long days on set in their hometown in Bretagne, dancing, exploding things and having BBQs in the evening. I love video as it allows a very different way of expressing ideas!
How is your personal work different from your commercial work?
Commercial work usually has a very clear product or message it wants to sell, so obviously it's usually more straightforward and sometimes there are things you might have to compromise, as your idea must appeal to a wide range of people. However, I am very lucky to have gotten to the point where I am approached for my style and ideas, so I barely get to do any commercial work that doesn't reflect what I like shooting.
How do you approach still life different from photographing people?
Even though I photograph people quite often, I rarely shoot portraits. What I mean is that people in my pictures are mostly used for the purpose of telling a story, just like the still object would. My images are very rarely about the actual person that is in it —the collaboration with YELLE is probably one of the exceptions. So I approach them in almost the same way as I would the stills. Most of the time I tell my models exactly what they should do and where they should stand and then I move them gently to fit in the composition, just like I would do with an object. I do feel bad about it sometimes though when I ask them to stay in one place for too long!
Which commercial work are you most proud of?
Bookatable ads, which we created with M&C Saatchi Accelerator last summer. It was one of the most creative and collaborative commercial shoots I have done so far. We spent days and nights with the M&C team brainstorming, doodling, and interpreting the tagline to create a very tongue-in-cheek set of ads. It is now all over London —I still get friends' selfies in front of the buses or tube stations with it.
You became a mom last April. Did this change your perspective on the world and thus the inspiration for your work?
Yes, I had a lovely baby Leon last April! I can't say that my inspirations have changed really, but I certainly became more productive and more creative. There's no time to waste anymore, so no more procrastination! Last summer was probably the busiest time of my career so far. Leon is adorable and really keeps me going. He comes to many of my shoots, so I call him an art director as a joke, although he's probably more of a muse. I started a mini project where I photograph him in set whenever possible, so there's already a little collection of those images.
What can we expect from Aleksandra Kingo in the future?
More playfulness! I really got into moving image —there will be two very exciting videos out by the end of the year. Stay tuned!