She did it for love. This is what self-taught photographer and creative director Katriena Emmanuel tells me when I ask what inspired her move to Australia. It makes perfect sense. When you love someone, or something, you make it your whole life, wherever that may be. And that is exactly what she has done.
Creating such inimitable imagery as Emmanuel does is not a gift that many possess. Growing up on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, she was exposed to rich culture and folklore. “I remember as a kid, I would scavenge the streets during Carnival parades to pick up pieces of costumes like headpieces and beaded or feathered skirts that the masqueraders would strip away as they danced all day long for two days on the streets. I would reuse the costume pieces for dress-ups and sketch and design costumes for if I one day had my own Carnival band.”
In a young country like Australia, such fantastical cultural spectacles are few and far between. Yet Emmanuel is never short of creativity, finding inspiration in everything from the country’s abundance of natural splendours to the most mundane of daily activities. She is a risk-taker. And when her visions come to life, she creates an image that captures a fleeting moment, a story, forever frozen in time.
Discovering an artistic outlet through photography in her late twenties led Emmanuel on a journey that has seen her work appear in countless publications. She is at the forefront of a creative industry that, in Australia, is still in its early stages. “It's an exciting time to watch the arts grow from strength to strength to match the international stage.” But along with opportunity comes many challenges. Working as a fashion creative in Australia is a tough gig. The industry is still young, so competition is fierce and passion can quickly fade. Emmanuel has faced such obstacles in her own career. “I realized over a year ago, that I am my biggest obstacle by way of my limiting self-beliefs and the negativity I was holding against the industry as a whole. I'm still working on overcoming that aspect of my mind.”
What, then, is the reward of all her hard work? “I think really for me it’s just having my work seen and to connect with an audience. That, for me, is success alone - to have your photography connect with people and they then share and support in what you do.” Celebrating such simple accomplishments holds true to a personal philosophy of Emmanuel’s that a focus on the end game can cause one to lose their motivation and creative spirit along the way. Her advice for others following in her ‘do-it-yourself’ footsteps: “Just be you, and try not to compare yourself to others. Your journey is unique to you. Try not to focus too much on the destination and enjoy the journey, the process, or else the passion can quickly fizzle out.”
In the social media age, many a beauty brand and blogger have posted her imagery online, a further credit to the quality of Emmanuel’s work. However, as most creatives have learned the hard way, credit for original work is often hard to come by. An image may gain tens of thousands of likes on social media when re-posted by a large brand, yet often no tag, link or acknowledgment may accompany the post identifying the photographer, makeup artist or stylist that created the image. Copyright infringement aside, a simple credit can do a lot for the artist’s career. The missed opportunity is one that Emmanuel and many others have faced in recent times.
Yet even now, the thirty-three year-old is still enjoying her journey. Situated on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Emmanuel’s backyard is home to some of the world’s best beaches. “Just being near water infuses you with some sort of magic I think, and it made me feel like I was home again, nostalgia for my Caribbean island home.” In these settings she has worked with some of Australia’s most in-demand models as well as adding to the portfolios of a young, fresh-faced generation of talent. Using her natural environment, Emmanuel finds “complexity in simplicity”: a piece of coral, a grocery bag, an orange.
From concept to execution, her work is one of a kind. Her eye for detail makes her beauty photography instantly inspiring. Some of Emmanuel’s most impactful work includes beaded eyebrows, Lego figurines combing eyelashes, steel-braided hair, gold glitter tear drops and mermaid-esque pearl and confetti face-art. All are captured upon the faces of refreshingly natural beauties with enviable features and impeccable grooming. Her detailed shots manipulate light, shadow and colour, highlighting the creative genius behind the image and telling a story that words cannot.
So what’s in store next for Emmanuel? Her attitude for the coming year, and one for which she should be applauded, is "screw you, I'm doing it my way". “I just want to be more authentic and pursue photographing what I am passionate about and what interests me, not caring to please the "markets" so to speak.” And that’s exactly what she aims to do. There is talk of shooting in a limestone cave, a dream location for Emmanuel. “I've always been interested in geological formations. Geography was my best subject in school. Imagine being surrounded by crystallized stalactites and stalagmites, wet and glistening in the dim light of some gothic romantic fashion tale. It would be so thrilling to show that underworld in a fashion story.”
Not only is Emmanuel aiming to reach higher and push the boundaries even more in her career; she has also taken up film— self-taught of course. “It's something I'd like to explore more this year— to create fashion films.” In this digital age, fashion films have added a whole new element into the mix. There is no doubt that the talented Emmanuel, who can capture the most beautiful, fleeting movement in a still frame, will create films equally as stunning as her photographs.
All images photographed by Katriena Emmanuel. She currently lives with her husband, daughter and Siberian husky on the Gold Coast, Australia. www.katrienaemmanuel.com