Bella Kotak: Capturing Creativity

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 07th October 2020 08:41 EDT

Fine art melds into the digital age with Bella’s stunning, ethereal photography. Having graduated with a degree in architecture, where she also mastered the wonder of Photoshop, the artist creates vivid feminine stories which typically edify her luminous work. Bella told us: “My love of photography started early on with my father keeping a camera in the house. I’d also paint and draw a lot as a child – there was always artistry in me, waiting to be released. I just needed the right medium.” Indeed, Bella’s current photographs are strikingly complete. She commented on her process: “As well as getting the final, refined image, it is very much about setting the scene and creative vision beforehand. My portraits are ultimately as if little paintings, drawing on the surrounding beauty.” Working with fashion designers and models, especially those who are independent and equally passionate, Bella might pair a gorgeous golden headdress with a billowing silky gown (pictured), or place a wooden butterfly crown over a flowing lavender dress. The female subjects themselves display the empowering themes of fairy-tale: “That’s what people relate to. There might be a smidgen of Sleeping Beauty, or nod to Rapunzel, but wonder, magic, mystery and otherworldliness generally emanate from the work.”


Aptly named, Bella elaborated: “the mythical element evolved organically over time. It reflects my personal journey. When editing photos on Photoshop for my degree, I realised I loved taking evocative photos. I followed this passion, beginning to photograph myself emotively, and posting the content on Flickr, which was the equivalent of Instagram as visual social media. The reception was positive so I started photographing friends and family, and moving the shoots into bigger sets and landscapes to make my photos: I’d knock on doors and ask if I could use people’s beautiful English gardens, inspired by blossoming nature and different flowers – this mirrored my position at the time. I didn’t have much financially and was still emerging as a woman in the world. I’d buy lacey clothes and affordable props from charity shops to dress my volunteers, and go to these different locations across the countryside. As time went on, the colours became richer and the clothes more opulent and I started to think of my female models as characters in a narrative that the viewer could also imagine themselves as. Becoming increasingly confident, and reaching outwards myself, the different women I was portraying were stronger and stronger. As my world expanded, flying out to international shoots and growing as a professional, so too did the imagination in my celebratory shots.”

Bella’s work certainly carries a paradoxically intimate glamour: the rich rurality being a significant part of this allure. Coming from the profoundest place within, the photos not only project her burgeoning independence, but at once reclaim the traditionally heterosexist representation of women in western fantasy. She emphasised: “It is important for me to feel as free as possible to create.” Indeed, ever-growing, Bella wants to explore the fluidity of gender and sexuality through her innately colourful style for future projects: “True diversity is the main aim.” Talking on the secret to universal productive success, Bella again advised: “to keep the connection” to personality. Chasing the literal perfect image for a living, she has observed her best work to be when she’s “most emotionally present.” This is clear in her reimagining of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (pictured): one of her grandest and most popular pieces to date. Steeped in shared vulnerability, which is arguably the majesty of pure love, the photograph depicts a royal couple in private embrace. This epitomises both Bella’s keen talent and her own experience of modern romance: “This was just before I got married, planning the wedding and travelling to Sweden for the photo shoot. Foraging the signature sunflowers and working with a great alternative designer, I was working on adrenaline, and it all came together for me. I remember wanting to leave the two models there alone: they looked so much like an actual Fairy King and Queen. I’d accurately captured a dream…”

Bella’s breakthrough moment was not then earning a huge amount of money or gaining a prestigious client, rather the subtly seamless convergence of physical craft and inner spirit. “You should never measure yourself by the number of followers,” she added. “Sure, it’s a useful marker, but not fundamental. Gauge the value of your work by how you feel: were you immersed doing it; most expressive? How clearly could you channel yourself? Remember, if something moves you, it will likely move others. However, you won’t move everyone either. Put your work out there honestly, and this will invite the right audience in.” And so, Bella’s dreamy escapes aren’t simply an ode to everyday excitement, but also the timeless power of the authentically unique. “It is easier to make opportunities for yourself now too, “she concluded, “so don’t be afraid to put yourself forward: write those emails to the right people – to a specific art department, book designer or publishing house; promote your work online." Going beyond the championing of free identity to inhabiting a liberated lifestyle altogether, the warm photographer wonderfully demonstrates that it’s better to be bright than forever falter. Believe in what you do. It can be scary, but the affirmations you do get are priceless."

Who is a big inspiration?

British fashion photographer: Tim Walker.

Do you have a favourite technique to which you find yourself returning?

Firstly, you don’t need a great camera to take great photos. The gear is secondary to personal vision: people care what you are showing them and whether you are making them feel. For me, I enjoy shooting slowly and focusing on the world around the model – this means cropping is really important around the technical elements: the lighting; the clothes or lack thereof; the location. How you crop these affects the way you tell the story. It can enhance it.

What’s some further advice for other up and coming artists?

Emotionally: don’t expect to be your best all the time. I realised that it was important to take a break and feed your soul with different activities outside of the work. At one point, I wasn’t really producing anymore, but using the downtime to learn Japanese, and pursue other interests. You can’t force imagination or you might actually break it – it might become something negative. Instead, bide your time. Know that it is necessary to have the lulls in order to create greater, meditative work in the long run.

Business-wise: present yourself professionally from day one – online and in person. In terms of your portfolio, pick a few quality works to showcase over trying to show every single one Let people really see you. In terms of pricing, I recommend to reaching out to others in the industry and learning what they charge. It can be tempting to work for less, but then you undercut everyone else in the industry as well as yourself! Finally, don’t be deterred by rejections. You will get many but trust in the eventual successes. They will be truer to you.

Insta: @bellakotak


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