Features

Introducing The 2019 EyeEm Photographer of The Year: Kate Phellini

By Ellen Clipson - 4 min read

We caught up with Kate Phellini, EyeEm's newest Photographer of The Year after The EyeEm 2019 Awards Ceremony to find out more about what inspires her and what's next!

Just five minutes talking with Kate Phellini, and one is left inspired. Her gentle demeanor and open-minded approach to creativity is refreshing, but in turn, pays credit to her resilient pursuit of visual exploration, new techniques, and refined visual style.

On Monday 14th October, just two days after being announced The EyeEm Photographer of The Year, we caught up with Kate over a coffee to discuss her much-deserved title, what’s next for the portrait photographer, and her advice for those starting out in photography.

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So, Who Is Kate Phellini?

Based in Warsaw, Kate splits her time between photography, graphic design and blues dancing. Having joined EyeEm in 2017, Kate instantly caught the eye of our team and became one of the first members of The Collective - our network of top talent.

Having taken her first photo at the young age of seven (after begging and pleading her grandfather to let her use his camera) she snapped a simple portrait of her mother - and from then on she was hooked. At that point she started taking photos of anything and everything.

Through intimate connections with her friends, family, and unique individuals she meets in everyday life, Kate aims to highlight her subjects’ interesting qualities and unique beauty. Through her photos, she wants them to see themselves the way she sees them.

It’s this journey that brought Kate onto the stage at this year’s EyeEm Awards Ceremony under the iconic roof of Berlin’s Kraftwerk. With the biggest audience we have ever seen, and over a thousand viewers tuning into our live stream, our founders presented Kate with the honor she deserves. Keep reading to find out what that moment was like for her, and what you can expect to see from Kate for the year ahead!

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How does it feel now that it’s out in the public?

I finally feel that it has happened and it’s only now that I understand the horizons that are opening up in front of me. I was speaking with Aiyush, the 2018 Photographer of The Year, about the projects that we are both working on and it got me feeling really inspired to prepare for my upcoming shoots.

So what’s next?

I’m continuing to focus on the project that I’ve been concentrating on for the past year about the connection between humans and non-verbal communication. In fact, my next shoot will be with The Polish National Ballet. I contacted some of the dancers from Warsaw and simply asked if they knew anyone who would be interested in a shoot, the next thing I know, they had the whole troupe signed up!

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Would you say that this characterizes youre whole journey as a photographer, you approaching others and them contacting you? Where do you see that going in the next year?

I was so happy that I had this opportunity to be at Berlin Photo Week as I’m a strong supporter for the offline communication. As I am from Odessa, a very warm city that has a kind of ‘Mediterranean style’ when it comes to interacting and connecting with others, it’s in my nature to try and bring a kind of warmth and networking spirit to what I do. I guess my journey has always been about me approaching others, but also people being really open to come to me and ask as well.

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“My work has become much more inspired by the way that people communicate and find bonds between one another”

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How do you bring this same approach to your online presence, whether it be social media or your EyeEm profile?

I just love communication, and I’ll actively seek context and a certain tactile feeling within online communication. I really appreciate it when people comment on my pictures with more than just a ‘like’ or a thumbs up. To hear what they really like, be it a certain element of the image, the lighting, or the color palettes, means so much to me because they have really taken a moment to look at the images, analyze them and then reflect on it. I can’t just leave those conversations there - I try and respond to every comment, digging a little deeper with each.

Since I was announced as the winner at the Awards Ceremony at Berlin Photo Week, I’ve had so many messages asking for advice. I really want to take my time and pay attention to those messages because I think it’s so important.

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“Get out there and connect with people. If you see a person that interests you, go ahead and ask if you can take a picture of them.”

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We’ve spoken many times about the intimacy of your images and your ability to reflect the individuals you shoot. What are the concepts that are shaping your work at this time in your career?

Non-verbal communication between people is so interesting to me. As I am also a blues dancer, I have always been fascinated by the way that people can make one another comfortable and show boundaries. The current working title for the project is ‘Ironic Disco,’ but I am sure this will change as the project evolves.

For me, it became more about communication rather than my personal attitude towards people. Rather than focusing on concepts like sexuality or gender, my work has become much more inspired by the way that people communicate and find bonds between one another on a daily basis.

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What would be your advice for photographers, particularly those just starting out in the game of photographer, when it comes to connecting with your subjects and making each photograph individual?

Get out there and connect with people. If you see a person that interests you, go ahead and ask if you can take a picture of them. If you’re afraid to do so, remember to smile and be open - just be yourself. Of course some will say no and that’s okay. Over the course of my career so far, there have been so many emails that I have sent that never received a response.

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How have you learned to handle this aspect of your career?

Back at the beginning of my career I would find this hard and it would often lead me to think that my work was bad. But as time went on, I realised that things happen - emails get lost in spam, people are busy, or technology can let you down. It’s no reflection of your work or creative perspective.

Of course there are times when I feel burnout. Whenever this happens, I take my camera and just shoot. No matter what, I always try to have at least one shoot a week. I would recommend this to anybody - it can be of whatever you want. Try shooting in your studio with a light, without flash, outside, the lamp on your bedside table, do a shoot with a family member or friend.

In other words, it doesn’t haven’t to be a big production, but always make time to shoot on a regular basis - even if it’s just 10 pictures a week.

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In what ways have you seen this influence your creative process and even your work?

As I work as a graphic designer, I am always working within the visual field. But whenever I am overwhelmed by my everyday work, I begin to feel it in my photography. My camera gets less familiar, I become less quick with the settings and see the colors as well.

I always reference an experiment that was done with a group of photography students. One group was told that to pass the class they needed to present 100 images each week, the other just one. Of course, the best images ended up coming form the group that took more photographs.

As a photographer, it’s inevitable that you will be dissatisfied with your work, but my advice is to start with quantity. As you shoot more you’ll be able to build your style, you’ll start to feel your aesthetics and colors. For example, I now know the colors I am attracted to, when I look through my images they just appear, and with enough practice, you’ll get that too.

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You’re also part of The Collective and regularly work with brands and publications. How do you approach more editorial and commercial projects?

It’s the same as if I was shooting a person. I get to know the brand’s identity, their creative perspective, and find out what kind of materials they are using for their products.

When it comes to commercial work, collaboration should be a mutual understanding between you and the client. I have learned that it’s important to not be afraid if someone approaches you for a project. Remember they chose you and they already know your work. It’s your job to be open, approachable, and confident in how you see the project.

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Kate will represent EyeEm as our ambassador for the coming year, where we’ll work with her to grow her skills and give her a stage to get her work seen. See Kate’s full EyeEm Profile or see her stunning official website

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See the full list of The 2019 EyeEm Award Winners announced at this year’s Berlin Photo Week here.

Looking to know more about partnering with us for The 2020 EyeEm Awards? With 1 million submissions this year, and over 30k guests at Berlin Photo Week we are excited to see what’s next. Get in touch with us!

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