May 3, 2018

Keeping the 70s vibe alive with Kristin Gallegos

Featured portrait of Kristin shot by Jen Senn. Interview submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Lou Noble.

How did you come to create such a retro-inspired world inside your photographs?

I have always had a thing for vintage clothes and styling. I am very into the 60s and 70s, I always have been. I just find it to be a really inspiring time. And I have a background in beauty. I started off as a makeup artist. So on my shoots I do everything! I style and do the hair and makeup and I art direct my shoots as well. So I am able to create a world of my own and time travel in the photos.

So you’d say that nostalgia is important to your work?

Yes, absolutely. But as an homage. I try to shoot in a way that is a nod to the past while still having a modern element. I am very inspired by old films as well. I just recently watched Klute in 35mm at this awesome theater by my apartment in New York called Metrograph. They screen old movies all the time on film. I also saw Chelsea Girls by Warhol there in 16mm. They screen things you can never find in a regular theater. The films from that era were so cool! I guess I am also really inspired by filmmakers like Wes Anderson. That really art-directed vibe. He has created a world of his own. You know when you’re watching one of his films. I like how detail oriented he is. That is how I am on my shoots. I want people to see one of my photos and know I shot it before seeing my name. Which a lot of people have told me has happened. That makes me happy!

What is it that draws you to this particular era?

I am influenced by my parents a lot. The late 60s and 70s was their heyday. They were 70s rock and roll kids. They went to all the festivals in Long Beach (where I grew up) and all over L.A. I also have an older sister so I picked up on all of their musical influences. Music was a big thing in our house especially 60s and 70s rock and roll. So I’ve been listening to it my whole life. So as a kid I became obsessed with everything from that era. I feel like people back then were way more stylish. I personally never leave my house without my makeup on. I always have a cat-eye on and I am known for my heavy bangs. I am always in a look. I stand out today in NYC shockingly because people don’t really dress up on the whole anymore.

How did you get into photography, and start working as a photographer?

I actually never thought of myself as a photographer. I have had Polaroid cameras since I was a teenager but I used to just take photos for fun. I never thought I could be a photographer because I never went to school for it. It all just happened gradually a few years ago when I got burnt out from being a makeup artist. The fashion industry changed really quickly and I was feeling creatively stifled. Suddenly with social media, a lot of makeup influencers were rising to the top. That left artists like myself who had spent the past decade or more doing things the old school route being pushed to the side. I feel like the industry got a lot more commercial as well. When I first started doing makeup I got to do a lot more creative work but it later became very minimal commercial. It just wasn’t inspiring after a while. I got a 35mm film camera and started playing around and posting my photos on my Instagram and people started to take notice – asking me to shoot for their brands. It happened organically from there. In the end, it was social media that also pushed me out of one field and opened up another to me!

How did it feel to move away from a career that you’d dedicated so much time to?

Don’t get me wrong – I got to travel the world as a makeup artist and do so many amazing things. Which I am forever grateful for. It was amazing! I had some really great clients that took me to some crazy places that I would otherwise never get to see. I never got to travel as a kid with my family. But I just think that after 10+ years I was over the job and ready to move on and find something else. And I was very fortunate to be able to do that. I also still do makeup on my shoots so it’s still a part of my life and creative process.

Was it a smooth transition from career choice to another?

At first, I was just looking for fun things to do on the side, not to change careers necessarily. I already had a bit of a following on social media from my makeup work and nightlife. So when I started posting photos I had taken of my friends like Camille Rowe and Alexa Chung, for example, it just took off from there. I used some connections that I had built up in New York working in fashion but it wasn’t always easy. I feel like some people couldn’t wrap their heads around me switching careers and were a bit judgmental about it. But there will always be haters! Eventually, I had to take the leap of quitting my makeup agency so people could take me seriously as a full-time photographer. People were confused because they’d known me as a makeup artist the whole time. It was a hard decision and it was scary. But at the end of the day it was the right decision. And I am so much happier now.

What role does film photography play in your creative process?

I love the surprise of shooting film. I know to a certain extent of what I am getting but then when I get the film back, there’s always surprises – cool light leaks or weird grainy effects. It just comes out, the texture, the colors etc. It’s way more interesting than digital to me. When I first started doing makeup I worked with a lot of photographers who were still shooting film. Then there was a huge switch over to digital and no one shot film anymore. For me as a makeup artist on set with digital you see everyone staring at a big screen the entire day nitpicking every last detail, it’s insane. I feel like it takes away a lot of the realness of the photo. I am all for letting the subject do their thing and to feel comfortable. And that they can move without worrying if the clothes are going to get messed up or if a hair will be out of place. You really lose something when you have people running on set every 5 seconds to fix something.

What is it about Polaroid specifically that you dig?

I’ve always been obsessed with Polaroid – I’m so old school that way. I have a box at my parents’ house filled with Polaroid photos, and boxes at my apartment now. I love the texture and the colors and the haziness. But also the surprise too, because sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to develop. I love the instant quality too,  that it feels from another time. When I post Polaroid scans on social media people always ask me what filter I used which makes me laugh! I exclusively shoot film and Polaroid in all of my work and always scan my photos on my jobs. Then I can include them as extras or outtakes to my stories which is always appreciated. Clients love to see Polaroid teasers to see what we shot that day.

You’re based in New York City, how would you say the city influences your work?

Growing up I always wanted to move to New York. I guess I’m not much of a California girl. I never wanted to move to L.A., I always dreamed of NYC. I was a ballet dancer growing up, I wanted to dance with the American Ballet Theater based in the city. When I quit ballet and decided to do makeup as a career I wanted to go the fashion route and so I moved across the country. In New York I was able to do fashion week, advertising and editorial work. Aside from my career I just wanted to be in the city. The minute stepped foot there I fell in love. I felt like I could be myself.

It influences my photo work a lot because of its rich past. NYC is one of the most inspiring places in the world. You had Warhol’s silver factory, the Chelsea Hotel, Studio 54 etc etc. The city was a place where you could be a starving artist and an individual and be praised for it and you could thrive. The city itself is such a beautiful place to me and I have met so many creative and inspiring people here. I also feel like my hometown inspires my work a lot too. A lot of people think I am based in Los Angeles based on my work.  My work is very 70s L.A. vibes as well. I think I am a good mix of the two cities.

What is it that you look for in your subjects?

I need to be inspired by them, first of all. I need to get along with them and like their personalities. I look for women that are doing cool things. I usually shoot good friends of mine or friends of friends. People that I want to hang out with. I don’t typically shoot super young girls either and don’t really ever go through agencies. I love a woman that wears many hats like myself. Out there hustling and not living a normal conventional lifestyle. I sometimes come across a girl with an incredible style that I don’t know and I will reach out and ask to meet to see if we vibe.

Do you try to come up with concepts beforehand?

I usually do if its a personal project or editorial. I like to create a bit of a fantasy based on reality. My shoots are very stylized and I am very detail oriented so I have to prepare a lot prior to each shoot. I like to transport to another era but then to have a modern twist on that. And have my subjects doing normal things that you do in everyday life. And I cast according to the concept. Or if I am really inspired by a certain person I will create a story based on the person.

Would you say you prefer the process of shooting film or the result you get from it?

I like both! But the process is really fun. I love being on set and getting to hang out with the person I am shooting. Putting together the whole shoot is cool too. As I mentioned I do everything myself on most of my shoots, not all. I sometimes hire a team. It depends on the job. But if I am doing everything then I am pulling clothes, steaming, putting a makeup and hair kit together, finding props, location scouting, photo prep etc. It’s a lot! But that’s part of the fun too because I have my hands in everything so it’s my full creative vision. And I love doing it all! Once you’re on set and making magic its so much fun.

Do you have any kind of big specific plans for the year?

I had my first solo photo exhibition in the fall and I definitely want to do another show. I also started shooting Super 8 film fairly recently, as well, so I have been working on a series of short films. For different bands, I work with and just on shoots I am doing. I am starting to get more into the music world. I have been working on creative direction with some bands, which has been great. So I just really want to build on what I have been working on and to branch out a bit with who I work with. I would also love to work in Los Angeles more. I am trying to be bi-coastal if possible! I think after being in NYC for 14 years I am starting to really love and appreciate my hometown a lot more.

Dive into the nostalgic dreamworld of Kristin’s Instagram feed @kristingallegos.

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