Meet the Photographer of the Trail – Kristen Turner McDonald

Meet the Artists Q&A
About This Project

What medium/s do you work in and why do you love it?

I’m a photographer working with both digital and 35mm film. I photograph creative women in business down here on the Surf Coast – primarily solopreneurs who are artists. I also photograph families and newborns and my aim is to capture these with honesty – I typically don’t style or pose, and I work hard to connect with my subjects so that their own unique personalities can shine through. Film as a medium is remarkably different to digital, and not just in its aesthetic but in the artist’s process. It’s easy to overshoot on digital, but film is expensive and you have limited frames on a roll, so intentionality is key. Something I’ve come to appreciate more about film is the post-session ‘and now we wait’ – wait to see if the shots worked out how they were in my head. Wait to see which split-second moments in time happened to be the ones my camera captured. On digital, it’s so easy to flick through frames to pick the one that’s compositionally stronger, with everyone’s eyes open – and there’s a degree of honesty that’s removed when we have the power to make this choice.

How would you describe your creative practice and process?

My sessions are usually quite collaborative with the person or people I photograph. It’s very important to me that we are honest in our storytelling, and this goes right down to making sure the space is reflective of them (i.e. not too styled if they’re a ‘brushes still in a yoghurt pot full of water’ kind of person), and even the way they are sitting or standing needs to be how this person would actually sit or stand. I embrace a lot of colour and mess, but (perhaps paradoxically!), my compositions usually aren’t cluttered. It’s a balancing act! 

When I’m in the editing phase, I love to incorporate feedback from the artists I photograph. Typically, they have a strong unique aesthetic, and my job as their photographer is to give them images that feel cohesive to their own voice and style, to carry through particular colours and tones, so that when they use these images on their websites and socials, the photographs look and feel like them.

How would you describe your studio?
I always work on location for photography sessions, and then run my business and edit from my kitchen table, usually while my four year old is at kindergarten and my two-year-old naps! What a dream to one day have a studio – but in this phase of life I’m content to meet my clients at their own studios or outdoors. We’re pretty spoiled for choice with beaches and forests down here on the Surf Coast, so making everyone’s session feel unique to them is easy. I do many in-home family sessions around Torquay, too – and the challenge that every new space creates with its combination of light, architecture, humans and mess helps me weave together their story.

Have you always worked in a creative field? Can you talk about what has lead you to where you are today as an artist?
Photography and filmmaking have been the through-lines of my creative journey (film was my university major), and I’ve been a high school French and Media teacher for 15 years now. I think teaching is a very creative profession, particularly coming up with creative ways to help students learn difficult concepts, and connecting with my learners with empathy has no doubt shaped my ability to connect with clients in my business today.

How does living in the Surf Coast region inspire or inform your work?
I don’t think I realised how much growing up on the Surf Coast inspired me until I was living on Canada’s West Coast. I took an abstract landscape-painting course with Susan Woolgar that emphasized colour theory. I attended with my father-in-law, Canadian artist Rory MacDonald, and we noticed how the colour palettes we gravitated towards were linked to landscapes we grew up with. The Rocky Mountains had ultramarines, the verdant West Coast had a spectrum of green hues, and I was the only person returning repeatedly to the phthalo blues and greens we see in our oceans here, contrasted with the oranges of the Wadawurrung earth and sky. These colours translate into how I edit my photographs, and there’s a lot of creative expression in the way a photographer edits their images. I also seek juxtaposition of texture – think gritty rocks like the cliffs of Jan Juc against a smooth calm ocean, and I adore negative space and our big skies and wide horizons give scope for play in this area.

Why do you participate in the Surf Coast Arts Trail and what are the positives it brings to you as an artist and community member?

Working on this project with Gillian and Michelle has been an honour. Our region has seen a real growth in the number of creative entrepreneurs who have moved away from the big cities in favour of a slower pace of life, with space to create. The Surf Coast Arts Trail is both a celebration and a humble opening of doors to welcome visitors into these worlds. I love the spotlight that the Arts Trail shines on our community every August. For visitors, it’s an opportunity to discover new artists, to get to know creators, to purchase new pieces, and to be invited into creative spaces. For artists, it’s an opportunity to reach new audiences, have potential collectors discover and fall in love with their work, and feel more connected to the creative community we are fortunate to have down here.

When I found out Gillian Farrow was to be highlighted as a featured artist for this year’s Trail, I felt so honoured to be a part of this project. Gillian just breathes art. Learning more about her story, her textile printmaking, her background in the film industry, her artistic process involving time, growth, and numerous iterations of particular designs over the course of years, as well as the incredible museum-worthy space she and fellow artist and partner Ian have created in Deans Marsh was so humbling and inspiring.