September 13th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
Tori Mercedes is a young photographer living in Georgia in the United States. Her portfolio includes some original and unusual portraits, such as the one above which uses an octopus as a prop, and another set taken outside in the rain.
One of the things I like about these portraits is that Tori is doing something different. How many photographers would take the effort to take portraits in the rain or source an octopus to use as a prop? She has executed these ideas well, creating a remarkable set of images.
I thought it would be interesting to ask Tori some questions about her portraits and the thought processes behind them. Here’s the interview:
The Girl with the Feather Tattoo
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
I create photographs derived from stories of my childhood, the make-believe worlds my sister and I lived in, and the feelings that fill my soul. I aspire to work photographing fashion. I want to bring a different and unique look to the fashion world. I don’t want to just photograph clothes and people, but a story.
A lot of photographers have resorted to heavily using Photoshop to make their vision possible and to make their images interesting, magical, etc. But I think magic is taking a crazy idea and making it real. I use Photoshop to touch up minor things and for curves, but not to create the magic.
When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?
It was the age of MySpace; people everywhere taking pictures of themselves —arm outstretched or in the bathroom mirror, lips puckered, hand on your hip — trying their best to be “cool.”
It was not long after I became a part of the social networking world that I was weary of the “cool” way to take a profile picture. I grabbed my point-and-shoot digital camera and journeyed out into my extensive backyard set in the Florida country to take more interesting self-portraits.
Soon self-portraiture became unsuitable in expressing my growing creative needs. I turned to my friends and my sister to use as models for my crazy ideas. Days home from school revolved around photo shoots. Hours were spent dressing up, doing hair and makeup, and running around my 10-acre backyard and the neighbouring woods and fields.
It was not long before I had saved up all my money and was able to purchase a Nikon D60, my first baby, at the young age of fifteen. From then on my spirit ran wild. I felt free and an overwhelming passionate desire to show the world my story with a camera. With photography my imagination is vibrant, inspired, zealous, and dreamlike, forever young.
Who are your three favourite photographers and why?
Being introduced to the work of Tim Walker changed photography for me in the beginning. His unmistakable style of extravagant staging inspired me to create images that told a story. Set, props, costume, hair and makeup, all became vital in expressing myself. His work encourages me to make real the things seen only in my dreams and imagination.
Nirrimi Hakanson. Her career is impressive to say the least. At just twenty years old she is a sensation, having shot campaigns for Billabong, Diesel, and much more. She travels the world with her boyfriend and new baby, living like a gypsy and doing what she loves.
Coming across Nirrimi’s work and reading her personal blog she updates frequently, has opened my eyes to more than just beautiful photographs; I have been inspired by her life and the possibilities of adventure. She has showed me what it means to really live free. She has influenced me to pursue my adventurer side and dreams of travel and exploration along with fashion photography.
In the past year especially, Rodney Smith has grown to be one of my top inspirations. Learning to shoot and develop film during my freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design, has given me a new outlook on photography.
Knowing how much time, patience, and skill is required in making each and every photograph in the darkroom has given me even more appreciation for the beautiful work of Rodney Smith. He creates urban fairy tales and surreal imagery without the deceiving employment of photo manipulation in post editing.
Almost 99% of everything you see in his pictures was shot in camera with film. He influences me to become a perfectionist in my art, a technical master, and a wonderfully creative mind.
Lights and Skylines
Describe your approach to composition. What do you look for when you are deciding how to compose your shots?
Most of my photo shoots begin with a vision of one photo, with one composition, and one pose. I base my thoughts around achieving the look I had envisioned. I then broaden my vision by sketching and writing out compositions and specific poses I would like to try capturing during the shoot that I believe are interesting, unique, and that deliver my message.
Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don’t. I find my best work has happened in the moment, unplanned, inspired by the environment and the wonderful people I get the opportunity to work with.
Where did you get the idea for the series of octopus photos?
I was originally planning on doing a mermaid/nymph-like photo shoot for Cassidy (the model). But something bothered me about the idea. It was cliché and had no personal meaning behind it. So I began to brainstorm, in the shower as usual (maybe that is part of the reason why many of my photographs are so watery.)
My boyfriend had recently headed back to college, and we were once again in a long distance relationship, 200 miles apart. Gone was our summer spent together, relaxing, traveling, and on the ocean. I missed him and simply wanted his arms around me.
The thought of the ocean and his arms led to a quote I had heard years ago, “If only I had eight arms to hold you with” which led to the thought of an octopus, and eventually to my photographs. I wanted people to look at them and be slightly scared and uneasy but still be able to find the beauty in it.
How did your model react to the idea? Was it hard to talk her into doing the shoot?
Cassidy came to me wanting a conceptual photo shoot for her model portfolio. I had worked with her before in creating a set of photos in a wheelbarrow overflowing with fresh hydrangeas set in a pond. She is fearless.
When I told her my idea she was extremely excited, exclaiming, “I’m not ever afraid to get down and dirty, or slimy!” It was not until just hours before shoot time as I was doing her hair and makeup, that she told me she hated seafood. How ironic. She was more than happy to have the creature all over her, as long as she didn’t have to eat it later.
I like your Aqueous set on Flickr. Can you tell us a little more about the role that water plays in your images? Why are you so drawn to it?
I have lived my whole life on the Florida and now the Georgia coast. I spent summers at the beach swimming in the surf and at the pool. When on vacation, my family and I hike to magnificent waterfalls and tube down cold rivers with crystal clear water.
Water has always been a big part of life. I am drawn to its feel and the way it photographs. For me, water, like photography, is just another way that I can express my feelings and emotions. Whether it be drops of rain, falling snow, a misty fog, a stream, the ocean, a pond, a pool, or a rushing waterfall… I love it.
The octopus idea is pretty crazy. Is it the craziest portrait idea you’ve had? What else have you done?
I honestly did not think it was crazy at first. It was just…me. Then with Cassidy’s excited reaction in modelling, and my sister’s excitement in assisting, I thought of it as nothing. It wasn’t until I went to my local supermarket and asked if they had any whole octopus and explained what I was using it for that the “you’re crazy” looks started to show up.
To many people it may be the craziest because they are terrified and appalled at the idea of the creature. But for me it’s on my “greatest experiences through photography” list along with the photographs: A Fish Tale series, Drops of Dreams, The Girl With The Feather Tattoo, You Are a Pirate I Am a Princess, Lights and Skylines, and Reflections.
If you could photograph anyone in the world, without limitations, who would you choose and how would you shoot them?
I would love to photograph Lady Gaga. She is so open to creativity and outlandish ideas, it would be so much fun. I am torn between wanting to photograph her simply in a series of black and white nudes and in clothes with gorgeous classic silhouettes (very Marilyn Monroe-esque), or coming up with the most fantastical crazy idea possible and going for it.
You have a lot of beautiful photos. If you had to pick one as your favourite, which would it be and why?
Raindancer. When my little sister, Alli and I ventured out into a cold downpour one uneventful summer afternoon, my life changed. After some pleading, I finally talked her into running out into the wild weather to the road in front of my home.
With a black garbage bag pulled tight over my goose-bump-covered upper body and precious camera, I peered at my sister through a small hole in the bag that my lens fit tightly. In the rain wearing pointe shoes and a sequin covered thrift store find, soaking wet, my sister was absolutely beautiful.
Together we created magic on the steamy black pavement that summer afternoon. From then on photography became more than just a form of entertainment, it became my freedom and expression. Through the lens of a camera that afternoon, I discovered the beauty of the world and myself.
You can find Tori at these links:
Here is some more of Tori’s work: