Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Maree Hamilton.
There’s nothing subtle about the bright, brash style of Palma Wright, LA-based artist, photographer and Instagram personality. But what’s truly captivating about her work is the undercurrent of bare, unadulterated passion that runs through it. Whether an album cover or behind-the-scenes shot from New York Fashion Week, it’s clear that Wright isn’t afraid to do things her own way. We talked to her about styling, shooting and why other photographers might disagree with her methods.
Your work is defined by the way you style your models and subjects (body painting, make-up, etc.). What came first: the photography or the styling?
Styling came first for me. I learned to style and art/creative direct first, early on in very low-stress editorial situations. It was nice to be trusted to create a specific vision or moment, and have it accurately and beautifully portrayed by another photographer. It was really powerful for me at first! This is when I worked a ton with Ted Emmons, because he was the first photographer I ever worked with where I really saw how my work could look when photographed by someone that talented. But even with that, at the end of the day I was greedy and I wanted more! More shots and more control, so that forced me to pick up the camera myself and more seriously begin to enjoy the photography side of it as well. Where I myself could make sure we got the shot.
How did you get into instant photography?
My mom had many Polaroid pictures she passed down to me, she bought me a Polaroid camera when I was young at some point, and other random tiny instant cameras. I always loved them, and as I got older I would just buy them at vintage stores. They’re everywhere. They’re precious to me, so for shoots I only get them when I really want to add something special. For me, I treat them as a creative luxury.
Any tips for photographers who want to use instant film on shoots?
Just try and have it budgeted in when you’re shooting, so you can take more than a couple shots if possible! it’s definitely fun to have the luxury to experiment with Polaroid film.
Anything you’ve learned the hard way?
What’s your ideal shooting environment?
Low-stress shooting situations where it’s more like hanging out than shooting. And there’s no pressure on time in any way.
How far do you go in creating a mood when you’re shooting? Or are you all about the outcome of the picture itself?
I feel like I try to let the moments speak for themselves, and let the subjects be authentic in whatever moment they’re having, or comfortable with having, in front of my camera. When it’s a fashion shoot I definitely want the subject to have a fun time, it’s never forced. And sometimes I direct in certain emotions, but usually I’m a fly on the wall, letting the subject feel whatever they wanna feel in the garment, in the makeup, in the moment. There’s no wrong that can ever be done for me, so there’s no pressure on them to present themselves in any certain way. They can just “be.”
How do you create personal relationships with your subjects?
It’s different with every single person I shoot because you don’t always have a super strong connection. But I can say that I do genuinely want to shoot people that I like, and for me there’s so much more that interests me to a human than just a pretty face. Every person I’ve ever shot has had something about them that just makes them exceptionally special, an x-factor of some sort, and the only way that I could fully appreciate those things about them was getting to know them on a deeper, or real, level. I always try to befriend the people I shoot because I admire them. But for me it isn’t always about taking pictures, because that can be hard work at times. I do just genuinely enjoy interacting and getting to know other people who aren’t the status-quo of what they were programmed to be, or who the world thinks they look like. I like people who aren’t what you’d expect. I’m attracted to them, and I find them beautiful. But you don’t get to have that type of closeness with every person you shoot. But when it does happen, and I get to create with those muses it’s really beautiful work. And it’s powerful because we are so comfortable with one another and we have love and admiration for one another, and you can tell. So I personally find it to be one of the more authentically created beauties in this world.
What was your first “big break” into fashion photography?
Wow. I don’t know! I feel like I still haven’t had it. I’ve always just created works because i wanted to create works. It’s never really been for a specific purpose. People always ask me who it’s for and I say, It’s for you! It’s for everyone. But I would say my biggest break is probably working with POP Magazine, and doing fashion week coverage/videography for them. They’ve been the only major fashion publication that’s been really supportive of my work, and it’s a dream for me. It’s extremely encouraging, and I think it’s very cool of them to give this self-proclaimed underdog a shot. They get it, in a world where the connection between me and that type of fashion can seem so foreign to one another.
What’s it like shooting backstage in the chaos somewhere like NYFW?
It ranges! Sometimes it’s stark and very serious and everyone is super extra or mean. Sometimes it’s super chill and everyone’s pretty relaxed and it’s fun. But you just try to go in to whatever situation it is and do the best you can do, and get whatever you can get. I feel like it’s a battle sometimes. It’s not an easy situation to form a bond with any one subject, but for me I always air on the politer side of things because I go in as a creative not as a journalist. And sometimes I don’t get the shots because of that, but I’m okay with it. I’m not gonna fight someone for a picture. And I don’t want to disrespect the designers or people working at the shows either! Especially not the models who are sometimes friends, or people I’ve worked with. But there are photographers who would tell you I’m an idiot for saying that.