November 20, 2012

London-born, New York-based photographer Frances Tulk-Hart has a knack for succeeding at everything she does. (Okay, disclaimer: I know Franny personally. But we don’t see each other too often; just often enough for me to witness, over and over again, how inspiring she is.) In the five years that she’s been a photographer, she has already achieved an incredibly successful career with a diverse range of clients, from Marc Jacobs to British Vogue and The New York Times. Before that, she was a talented stylist, working for magazines like Purple and i-D. And recently, she’s moving into the spotlight herself, singing in the band Love Taps. Oh, she also cooks a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner, drinks a pint like she never left England, and most importantly, knows how to throw a dart.

Franny breathes life into the people she photographs. Whether it’s her cheeky photos of a naked Paz de La Huerta, or two models flooded in sunlight, feigning (or feeling?) love, she captures a vibrancy that is unseen by the naked eye. After a Love Taps show in the fall, a friend of Franny’s leaned in to me and, still staring at her onstage, said, “She’s fearless.” That’s just the beginning of it.

Tell me how you went from being a stylist to being a photographer.
I was just playing around with [my camera] shooting my friends, and I realized I was really enjoying it and then I started building the amount of photos I had, and then I started showing people. After about a year of doing that, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to style a story for her new magazine and I was like, “No, I’d like to shoot a story.”

Do you feel like styling has influenced the way you take photos?
For sure. I definitely have to look at clothes for fashion photography. A lot of photographers don’t realize how important clothes are, even if it’s not a fashion magazine, but I’m obviously fully aware of it just because I’ve been styling for so long.

Do you think photographers should have an appreciation for fashion in order to be good at what they do?
I think it’s probably important to have a big love for fashion. When the stylist puts together something I really like, and I can see that it’s been really well-styled and it’s really beautiful, it makes me that much more excited to take the picture.

As a female photographer, how do you feel about photographing women? Both photographers I’ve interviewed so far are men who talk about beauty and attraction as an element for them. Is it easier to shoot women than it is to shoot men?
It’s interesting, actually, when I do shoot men there’s obviously an element of flirtation that does come into it, so I understand the other way around, how a male photographer will flirt with a female model, but I think [as a female photographer] you can still flirt with a female model in a different way, you can appreciate her sexiness, you can know her beauty and her sexiness, and I think [she] might feel more comfortable. In a way, I feel like maybe a girl could even let herself go even more with a female photographer. And maybe we’d pick up on a different kind of sexiness than a man.

Do you feel like you have a responsibility to portray women in a certain way, or no?
No, in that sense I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility. Maybe as I grow older I will, or maybe if I have a kid I will, but no, I’m more concerned with capturing a really beautiful picture. It’s such a controversial subject.

How would you define the relationship between photographer and model?
I just want everyone to be as comfortable as possible. It’s important to establish trust and confidence because that will help the photograph and everyone will be happy. And, as with any relationship, it builds gradually through the day, as she or he gets more comfortable, the photo will change.

Do you direct your models?
It depends on the girl. Like if she comes in and she already knows her jams, then there’s no need to. Sometimes it will even hinder her naturalness. But if a girl needs it, then yes. And also if the client needs something specific.

What I really love about your work is that there’s such a sense of whimsy and happiness and a little bit of quirkiness, all expressed through movement.
Yes, that’s what I’m going for, really. Which in a way makes it easier in this digital age, because if you’re trying to capture a moment, it means you’re going to capture also a lot of moments that aren’t that relevant. But in the editing, the ones that I’m most drawn to are the ones where you see that special moment.

Where do your ideas for shoots come from? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Everywhere. If I see an image that I like, then I might build on that. Or if I’m reading a book and there’s a quote, or a movie. Life itself will just throw things at  me, and I’ll draw inspiration from that and build on it in that way. And then once I’m onto an idea, then I’ll obviously get more focused and go searching for that to inspire the process.

You definitely have your one limb in every area of creativity. Tell me about Love Taps.
Love Taps. Mega. That’s the dream come true. I’ve always wanted to sing, always wanted to be in a band. I never even gave it a thought, that it could be anything other than a dream. So I never even thought about pursuing it. But I always loved singing, so I was going to get lessons. I found a singing teacher, and then I broke up with the boy I was dating then, and the teacher then told me that her studio was a block from his house. So no I can’t, I don’t want to go to her house. Singing was put on hold for a month, and then I went to a party and ran into a friend, Jason Rossi. He was in a band already so I asked him about a singing teacher, he goes yeah I can find someone for you. I’m looking for a singer, do you want to be in my band? So it just went from there.

Without having taken any singing lessons.
(Laughs) I’m like, are you sure? Don’t you want to hear me sing first? And he’s like, I have a good feeling.

It’s amazing that you can pick up something without any hesitation and just go for it. Where do you find that courage?
I guess if you really want to do something, like if you’re passionate enough about something, it’s more of a point that you can’t not do it. So I didn’t really have a choice. I mean shit, yeah, it’s fucking terrifying. It was terrifying getting into photography, it was terrifying getting into singing, I nearly pass out before I go onstage every time. But you just gotta do it. Because it would be worse not to do it.

What kind of creativity do you think that you get to express from singing that you don’t get to express in photography?
Well, I’m shooting people, so it’s all about them, whereas singing is all about me.

How do you like that, do you like the focus on yourself rather than being outside of it?
I don’t like being photographed. I very much prefer being behind the camera, and I also found when I’ve been recording, I’m in this little booth, no one can see me.  It’s just me and the producer, and I’m much more confident than I am when I’m onstage. I don’t think I’m a natural performer.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re hoping to do?
With photography, I’ve started this project called “Five Minutes With Franny,” and I go to people and shoot them and ask them questions. You know, it’s just like a photo essay and then a little interview.

One thing that I admire about you is that you are very down to earth and grounded and nice in an industry where a lot of people are not. I feel like you’re very unassuming, you have this really successful photography career but it doesn’t conflict with you being a genuine human being. Do you find it ever hard to keep that, within an industry that is very image-based, and on the surface of things?
So many people I know hate their jobs, and are miserable, and I’m doing this awesome job all the time and now I’m doing the singing [too], so what’s there to be hateful about? I don’t need to be a dick. And it’s so sad how many people it happens to. Also, I think, thank you for saying I’m successful, but there’s still so far for me to go that I don’t even have a right yet to have any kind of attitude. And I’m not saying I will when I get there, I won’t when I get there! I’ll probably feel the same when I get there, like I still don’t have a right.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?
I love Juergen Teller very much. You can probably see that, yeah. And Tim Walker.

Would you rather create a little magical world, or represent the real world? Do you think photography should represent the real, or should create the new?
Gosh, good question. In a fashion story, it should be whimsical, take it wherever you want. When you’re shooting a person, doing a portrait, I think you should try to capture that person. And if they happen to be whimsical or fairy tale, great. If they’re serious and mathematician, then perhaps best not to.

If you had to capture in a photo an abstract emotion, love or happiness or fear or anger, what abstract idea would you want most captured in a photo?
I have to say, there’s something so beautiful and vulnerable about capturing sadness, genuine sadness.

That’s funny, because your photos are so happy.
Yeah, I guess they are. Sometimes I’ll capture a picture of someone being quite sad, and I love it. Or sleeping. I love seeing someone sleeping because their face is, they’re not hiding anything. I have a friend that always looks very sad when he sleeps.

What do you think would be the dullest or most boring subject to capture? What would be an eyesore to you?
I mean, I would never have to do this, but like, a businessman’s headshots? [laughs]. Poor guys, they’re going to be so uncomfortable, because they’re not used to being in front of a camera, and I don’t really want to be there, either!

And comparatively, whose portrait would you love to take?
I’d really like to have shot Hemingway while he was still alive.

Any particular reason why?
I love his writing. I love his books. By all accounts, he was quite a character.

Do you feel like, what’s the most important thing to you in terms of priority in the photos? Is it color, is it capturing the moment? In a fashion story, though—
It’s capturing a moment. I think that speaks the loudest. I mean they’re all important, without lighting there is no photo, so the lighting also helps with the atmosphere of the moment. Even if you’re in a doctor’s waiting room, which is horrible lighting and no set design, if you capture someone in a moment it can be the most amazing photo.

Do you carry a camera with you all the time?
Yeah. I carry two, film and digital. I used to shoot with film all the time and switched to digi, and I want to go back more to film, because I feel like with digital I don’t pause long enough. [With film] you just have to think a little bit more.

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