Photo shoots with strong storylines

Local shutterbug quickly becoming the go-to girl for fashion photography

The work of local photographer Kathleen Willson. Kathleen Willson

The women in Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City are usually a source of envy: elegant fashion mavens and masters with a suaveness that is untouchable. The envy would be reversed if Carrie and Samantha met Kathleen Willson, femme fatale and local fashion photographer.

Willson received a fashion arts degree from Humber College in Guelph, Ont., studying marketing, merchandising, colour theory and makeup artistry.

“In our final year (at Humber) you chose to either organize a fashion show or put on a photo shoot,” says Willson. “I was the art director – I had grand visions of how things should look.”

Willson fell in love with being behind the lens, and continued her studies at Red River College where she graduated with a photography diploma in 2010.

“When I was at RRC, I met Bri Foster, who had her fine arts degree from the University of Manitoba. We shared similar interests, so we decided to collaborate.”

Foster was the creative director of the team and now studies fashion design at Ryerson, in Toronto.

Willson draws her inspiration from the iconic fantasy film Labyrinth (starring David Bowie) and from W.B. Yeats’s poem The Stolen Child, which is about enchantment, nature and a moonlight adventure.

“In every photo shoot there is magic; it needs to feel otherworldly,” Willson says.

As a photographer who is building her portfolio faster than action mode shutter speed, Willson works with a variety of clients – from brides and engaged couples to local fashion-oriented magazine Sandbox.

Willson has worked with Sandbox in every issue published this year, and has several upcoming shoots planned.

A favourite of hers was called “Fox on the Run,” which was featured in the Summer 2011 issue.

“It was at this dusty trucker stop. The model was a hitchhiker – a wild one on the run,” Willson says. “Everything was cohesive – the makeup, styling and the story.”

Another shoot was called “Rogue of the Woods,” with a model who fittingly looked like Georgia Jagger, Mick’s daughter. 

“Every shoot has to have a strong storyline; I have to get the model into it,” she says. “If I’m just shooting someone in cool clothes, it’s not going to work.”

Apart from working with magazines and brides, Willson adds to her portfolio by doing “concept shoots” with friends, such as professional makeup artist Aimee Cardinell from M.A.C., or hair stylist Melissa Bortoluzzi from the salon Sets On Fort.

“I actually don’t think I have friends who aren’t interested in fashion in one way or another,” Willson says.

Kat Willson Photography also offers boudoir shoots. Typical clients include brides and empowered, “diva” types.

“Boudoir is a photo where the model is in lingerie, but I keep it classy, going the vintage route, using props like a chaise lounge and a 1920s telephone,” says Willson. “The outcome being rather demure.”

Given the chance, Kathleen Willson would certainly hold her own against Bradshaw in New York City, decked out in Manolo Blahniks, ready whenever for a photo op. 


Published in Volume 66, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 29, 2011)

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