Midwest-based photographer Muriel Knudson isn’t an artist who lets a little thing like geography keep her from doing what she wants, or, more importantly, getting whoever she wants in front of her lens. And despite the fact that she’s photographed an impressive list of notables, from Halsey, Future and A$AP Rocky to Raury and Anderson .Paak, (or maybe because of it) she still loves shooting unpracticed subjects. Hence her Photoshoot Tour, where she drove across the country to do portrait sessions for whoever wanted one. She created a Polaroid scrapbook of her travels, and the people who made the journey worth it, and we caught up with her to talk inspiration, analog film and #TakeMorePicsOfUrFriends.
When did you start getting interested in photography?
In elementary school, I used to write down all the lines of my favorite TV shows like Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven so that my neighborhood friends and I could set up my VHS and record our own TV show. This lead to posting many YouTube videos. My dad got me my first digital camera when I was in third grade, it was bright blue. After being gifted the camera, we went on a camping trip. I took a photo of the sun setting off the dock, thinking nothing of it. When we got home from the trip, my dad surprised me and printed it into a huge poster. That was the moment I realized that one single photo could take you back to an exact feeling.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything I see, it looks like a photo or a movie scene. An older couple holding hands, young kids playing soccer in their front yard, the girl with green hair and makeup from last night looking out of window of the train. I observe everything around me and that’s where my inspiration comes from. I try not to get too caught up in finding inspiration through social media or [other people’s] photos, because then I find myself trying to be too much like them. I just live my everyday life, talking to strangers, walking around town, and observing real life moments to make something of my own.
What is your favorite project you’ve done so far?
My favorite project has definitely been The Photoshoot Tour. I was receiving so many messages from supporters saying, “Come to Omaha!” or “Come to Ohio!” I was honestly drinking too much expresso when I had the idea… a Photoshoot Tour. Within the next hour I had posted dates and started booking sessions. The reason I loved it so much was because almost all of these people had never stepped in front of a camera before. To see their confidence flourish within just the hour of the photoshoot was the most special thing to me. I’d turn the camera around to show them and they’d be like, “Oh my god! You’re so good!” and I’d say “I’m literally just capturing what was already there!” One of my goals is to take someone who wouldn’t just be in front of anybody’s camera, or any camera at all, but to confidently be in front of mine. I want to show people just how beautiful and brave they are, all on their own. My job is just to capture it, so I can turn the camera around for them to see for themselves.
Tell us about the Instagram hashtag you started, #TakeMorePicsOfUrFriends.
Whenever I would give someone advice on how to take better photos, I would always say, “Take more pictures of your family, your pets… take more pictures of your friends!” A few days later I made a jean jacket with iron on letters on the back saying take more pictures of your friends, but to have the letters fit properly on the jean jacket, it read, “take more pics of ur friends.” A few days later, this girl Alexis tweeted me the hashtag with photos of her friends, I replied and seconds later, my twitter mentions were FLOODED with hundreds of tweets to me with the hashtag and photos of their friends. Days later I had an Instagram page reposting photos of friends and selling stickers with the hashtag and photos I took of my friends. This hashtag belongs to everyone who uses it. It is so special to my heart because it’s everything I believe in. It inspires others to pick up a camera: a disposable, their Polaroid camera, whatever it may be.
What drew you to using film as a medium?
I just feel film more. I can physically feel a moment captured on film. I still use and love my digital camera, but film is always a challenge and that’s what I love about it. You only have a certain amount of frames so every photo is so thought out. I move around more when I use film.
How has it been working with people like A$AP Rocky and SZA?
I really just appreciate any artist who allows me to capture those intimate moments of their lives. I remember specifically walking into the photo pit of SZA’s show, my heart was beating really fast, and I was trying to steady my breathing. Not because it was SZA but because this is everything I want to do for the rest of my life, it’s so important to me to do my best. There was a photo I took where in the viewfinder, as I was still shooting photos, I thought to myself, “This is the one.” Right after the show I went to a diner and edited that photo, posted it on Instagram and sent it to her management. The next morning, Complex, Genius and SZA reposted it with proper crediting. I couldn’t stop smiling that whole day! Not to mention this was my first time taking photos at First Ave. Minneapolis is my home city, so to have the honor to take photos at that venue, and for that photo to be reposted was super overwhelming in the best way possible.
What things would you like to see change for other young female photographers?
I just want them to know that they are just as powerful as everyone else surrounding them in this industry. I really love where we’re at right now with women in photography because for so long all I saw was 40+ year-old men shooting naked white females. Now you get on Instagram and there are so many women photographers shooting women, in a whole new way. Different ethnicities, ages, body hair, LGBTQ+, and everything else that men were not doing. I’ve shot with many women who say, “This is actually my first time shooting with a female photographer, and I’ve never felt so comfortable.” We just have to remember that we are women, and THAT is our power.
Where do you see yourself in 10 to 15 years?
In 10 years, I’ll be 30, and although that’s a scary thought, I see myself definitely owning my own magazine, or clothing line. I’ll definitely have shot for Vogue and been on Ellen by then. In all seriousness, I see myself owning a gallery or giant space/studio for other young creatives to have an open space to create. Where I am right now with my photography, it feels like I’m just waiting for that one magazine, or person to see how incredible my work is, to give me a chance to put it on a bigger platform and inspire more people. I want to be that person for others when I’m older.
Who would you love to collaborate with in the future?
Oh man. I love so many photographers and artists. I would love to work with Petra Collins or go on tour with Jaden Smith. I’m really open to every single opportunity that comes my way. It’d be cool to work these people I’ve looked up to, but in reality, I just want to take photos for the rest of my life. Doesn’t matter if that’s taking photos for Vogue, or scouting the local coffee shop cashier and putting them in front of my camera lens.
What’s next for you?
I need to make some more coffee, than take over the world.
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