An Interview With Kelly Barker

Kelly Barker - An Image Creator AIPP M.Photog II

I am an image creator, a wife, a mum, a daughter and a unique individual. I simply love that I am able to create memories, pieces of art and imagery every day.

I have a passion for photography and image production. With a vastly creative eye, my camera is my private portal to allow the world to see a personal side of me that influences my unique creations.

I love bringing together a technical side and a creative side and watching the magic appear. I am heavily influenced by surrealism and my own surrounding environment. My mind wanders and my heart creates.

How did your photography journey start?  

My journey started in high school. In year 9 with the elective selections – I had already taken all the art streams I could so I opted to add photography in but I had never done it before. A few weeks in I was already hooked! My teacher was fantastic and the darkroom was a favourite hang out. Learning to develop film and print my own work in the darkroom was one of the best lessons I could have had. I finished year 12 and was told photography will never make me money so I studied graphic design, for 3 years but soon realized photography was calling me. I then enrolled in photography and received my diploma 2 years later.

You have been in the photography Industry for over 17 years. You started out, and still do architecture & real estate photography. Describe to us how your progression into illustrative / creative photography came about?

I have had art and graphic design in my life since high school and when I first learnt photoshop I experimented with compositing. The seed was planted. From there I learned further skills and developed my style (which I think is forever changing) and I simply loved the freedom it gave me to bring my imagination to life. It was later down the track that I really started being conscious of what I was saying in my images. While I love the structure and income of commercial photography, the arty voice and passion inside still needed an outlet.

You are an owner of Labyrinth Art & a business partner at Immer Photography. Also, a volunteer, a mum of two beautiful young children and a wife. How do you manage your work life balance? How do you find the time for your creative outlets in photography?

​To add to that I have also purchased a small business in commercial product photography here in Perth called Bottleshots. And the simple answer to your question is I don’t find the time. I think the time finds me. So many other priorities take precedence but events like the AIPP awards give me a reason or excuse to work on illustrative projects. I would love to spend a lot more time on them but it doesn’t put food on the table. Work life balance is another topic altogether. As mums we sacrifice so much to raise children and everything in our being is dedicated to make sure the child has everything within our power. As my children have gotten a little older, I have built up more work, not only for them to see mums can work, but also because it truly makes me happy. And that is also very important for my children to see. Running my own businesses gives me a flexibility to still be there for my children and attend their school activities. I take it one day at a time and I plan my weeks in advance and set goals.

As a Master Photographer II in the AIPP (Australian Institute of Photography), you’ve surely had some ups and downs preparing your images for the awards and watching them being judged. Can you tell us how you have dealt with the emotional rollercoaster, both positive and negative, of having your work judged?

Ups and downs isn’t even the half of it. Yes it’s an emotional rollercoaster but I think that is exactly what makes it so special. I believe attitude has so much to do with how you deal with the highs and lows. For me personally I remember getting my first gold at national and it was such an amazing feeling, the elusive gold distinction is yet to come but I know that feeling will equal or be greater!!

When the lows come I take it as a sign that I need to assess what I am doing and try a little harder. It makes me crave that gold distinction feeling even more. Either way I take it and harness it to push me further and do better.

You’re currently the West Australian (WA) AIPP Vice President, Events Coordinator & previously an AIPP council member. This year you were also a judge at the AIPP national photography awards. Describe what you get out of your involvement in the AIPP, and why it’s important to you?

I have gotten SO much out of being a member and volunteering for the AIPP. The most important is the people I have met. Life long friends, employers, work referrals and just some really amazingly talented and genuine people. Volunteering gives me an excuse to talk to people I would normally be way too shy to speak to. There is also an addition of education. Not only from the seminars but from photographers I now call friends. If I am stuck I know there are people I can call to help out and I’ve had people call me. I also feel input is equivalent to output. I want to support the industry I love and I work so hard to be a part of, and in return I receive so much more.

Describe to us what the judging experience was like for you? Also, what value do you get from seeing and judging the work of others?

​The judging experience is one of the most nerve racking experiences and it doesn’t change no matter how many years I am involved. However, I love it and I am very passionate about it. I think we can learn so much by how others see our work and I really enjoy the intensity at which I am able to take in the image and be immersed by it with the requirements of judging. The value for me is selfish in that I don’t believe I truly immerse myself in any other situation like I do when I am judging and it expands my mind, my experiences (through a viewpoint of someone else) and my interpretive ability. Those talents are very important when judging but it really diversifies my own work in my personal projects and my commercial work.

On your website you state that “I Invite you into a world of surrealism within reality” and “my artwork has been described as unique, encompassing, engaging & thought provoking”. While l was looking through your gallery it’s exactly that, your pictures draw you in. They make you stop and look, and look some more. They have you wondering, and some pull at your heart strings. I was particularly attracted to two of your images: “Life within the Rocks”, and “I See Through You”. Can you tell us a little more about those two images? What inspired your vision for them? Can you explain how the descriptions of the images came about, as they enhance the emotion while viewing them?

Firstly, thank you, that is very sweet of you to say. All of my work is a piece of me at some stage of my life so far. As I am creating them I write down descriptive words and mould my concept based on my feelings at the time. The descriptions tend to come from what I have written or experienced while creating the work. “Life within the rocks” came to me while I was going through contemplation of how we treat the earth, the battle between man made and naturally occurring structures. As I was exploring this it occurred to me that there was a correlation between that and my own work and style. I have always been quite true to myself but my confusion was always what is ‘myself’. Who am I really? Breaking it down to my true self or my natural self in a world of ‘man made’ selves. (If that makes sense). “I see through” came from my travels. I saw this door in Ireland and was so captivated by it that I stood there for quite a while. Many others passed the door and many others stopped and commented. But no one came in or out the door. (To this day I’m not even sure if it was a functioning door). It occurred to me this can be how we see each other. We talk but we don’t really delve into our souls or ‘walk through the door’. So I started sketching a concept based around doors, eyes and souls. This artwork is what came out. Yes I know my mind works in mysterious ways and I hear that often.

It can often be difficult balancing earning a living and staying creative in photography. How do you balance the two in your career?

It is very difficult but I use the awards entry as my creative outlet. It allows me to have a reason to create my artwork. Income is quite important to my family life as I have 2 young children so many other things take priority. It is still so important to me to have a little something that I am extremely passionate about so I make the time and push myself to continuously enter the awards for that very reason. Planning is also a big part of it. I plan my weeks and months and schedule time to shoot something personal.

Do you have any struggles or challenges you face in photography, either business or creatively? And, if so, how do you address them?    

Ah struggles and challenges, yes of course, and many!! And anyone who says otherwise is fibbing. I am and always have been a fairly positive person and I believe that our struggles make us stronger and wiser. So, for me that is how I address them. I do my best to analyse it and look at it from the outside. Ultimately if it really isn’t dangerous, or going to kill me or someone else, there is a way to overcome it. I just have to find it.

Have any photographers inspired you in your career? If so, can you elaborate on how they inspire you?

Oh sooooo many. The list is massive. I find inspiration in so many things. I’m inspired by photographers who have found their own style as this is something I strive for. I’m inspired by those pushing the boundaries and experimenting. Also by those who photograph particular genres that I feel are not my strong point. To be honest I am inspired by things I see everyday, even the simplest things what my daughter draws in her notebook. I don’t think I would have enough paper to write how much and by who I am inspired everyday. We live in a very visual world and we can choose to ignore it and become accustomed to it, or choose to notice it and be inspired by it. I obviously take inspiration from the the surrealist painters like Dali, and I’ve always had a fascination with Jeffrey Smart. Some of the AIPP photographers like Steve Wise, Kris Anderson, Leah Kennedy, Rebecca Croft, Vanessa Macaulay …… honestly the list is sooooo long!! They just inspire me to think outside the square and open up my own mind.

Editing is becoming a more recognised tool in photography today. With your illustrative work, it would be a very important tool. Do you experience any challenges with the perception of photo editing, and how do you handle it?

Of course we all have an opinion of whether it is wrong or right, or true to the art. To put simply, it is something I love and I feel enhances my opportunity to share a message that somehow my heart and mind feel it wants to deliver. On this point I really only feel my own opinion is what matters. Artwork is subject to the viewer and if people don’t agree with my process or feel there is no place for the post production I do, then that is ok. I produce my artwork for me and I love the image production as much as I love photographing all of the pieces that make up the artwork. It is ok if others agree or disagree with it, and completely ok if others love it or hate it.

What advice do you have for other photographers looking to get a start in illustrative (creative) photography?

Just do it! Experiment, fail, try some more, and find yourself when you immerse yourself in the process. It is hard and time consuming and you can really open yourself up to some true exploration. All in all it is extremely gratifying. Remind yourself that failing is part of the process and try not to be too hard on yourself. There is always a journey and there is almost always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you Kelly for sharing some of your amazing story and inspiring insights. Also, for taking the time in what is no doubt an extremely busy life life. We wish you all the success in your career going forward.

Check out more work by Kelly Barker or follow her journey on social media.