Kate Ballis first set out on a path unrelated to photography, studying Arts (Media and Communications) and Law at Melbourne University, which initially lead her to a job at a big law firm. ‘I think there is a general pattern of kids getting good marks at school and being encouraged to study law, medicine, veterinary science etc, when at 18 we really don’t fully comprehend what any career entails,’ she tells.
During uni breaks, Kate went travelling, and returned with thousands of photos, as well as a fascination with light, and capturing the spirit of a setting. Seven years ago she met her partner, photographer Tom Blachford. ‘Through traveling the world with a camera, he taught me the technical aspects of photography, and through photography books and galleries I began to develop my style of landscape photography and portraiture,’ says Kate.
Today a versatile lenswoman, shooting everything from fashion to fine art, Kate has jut unveiled two astounding new series: Glace Noir and Infra Realism, which she will exhibit in Sydney in July.
Catching her for a brief moment back on home soil, we chatted to the Melbournian about exploring the unseen.
How did you make the transition from hobby photographer to professional?
After four years of practicing law, I had built up enough of a photography folio outside (long) work hours to take the leap into a full-time career in photography. Miles Aldridge, a fine art fashion photographer, invited me to assist him in London, and I took the opportunity to escape the corporate world of beige walls and fluorescent lights, and to embrace the world of candy-lit hyper-colour photography with Miles!
Where do you typically capture your imagery, and then process your series?
My fine art work is typically created in all sorts of crazy other-worldly locations: Patagonia, Palm Springs, Iceland, New Zealand, and any alpine regions are my favourite to date. I then work from our home in Yarraville to do my retouching, recharge with our dog Indigo, and gather new inspiration from books, movies, galleries, painting, and meditation.
I love to engage unique techniques either in camera, or in post production to help me express the emotions in my art.
What inspired your series Glace Noir, which will be exhibited at Black Eye Gallery in Sydney next month?
I have been working on Glace Noir since February 2016, and I will be showing a series of 16 photographs. This series is a meditation on the sublime feminine forms of the glaciers of Patagonia – the ice and glacial rivers glisten in the soft light, which gently highlights the majestic beauty of these powerful landscapes.
I played with contrast and exposure to reconsider the concept of daylight/moonlight, and enhance the feminine forms of the glacial peaks and flowing glacial rivers. I actually subdued the blues of the glacial rivers to make them more ethereal and gentle – these are so intense and you have to wear sunglasses by day!
You’ve been busy, with a second series Infra Realism also underway. What inspired this body of work?
The Infra Realism series began in February this year, after a year of taking art classes and various workshops at The Art Room, which made me feel a lot more empowered to utilise colour to distort reality. The series has been captured on my infrared converted camera and filters, to explore a spectrum of light emanating from plants, which sits just beyond the light spectrum visible to humans.
It took a good few days of playing with filters and techniques until I reached an aesthetic that, to me, looked like it was straight out of 80s Malibu Barbie commercial, or MTV set! The series aims to candy coat California – from its wild deserts, to pools, to the more banal scenes. This body of work uses magical realism to re-enchant a place I have visited seven times.
The two series are aesthetically very different. How important is it to change things up in your practice?
While Glace Noir and Infra Realism are aesthetically different, they share similar themes, which feed into all of my work. Both are surreal other-worldly dreamscapes, that explore the concept of light to make the unseen, seen. At its core, my work is always trying to show places in a new way, but in practice it is important for me to develop different techniques for seeing and expressing each place.
Did you have each unique approach planned before discovering the locations?
Glace Noir was taken in Patagonia, which is basically a land of fire and ice across southern Argentina and Chile. I’d been drawn to Patagonia long before I got my first digital camera, but was just blown away (quite literally) hiking and exploring the area in person, with a camera in hand.
I’d planned the trip to El Calafate and Torres del Paine national park to photograph the other-worldly formations of the glaciers via foot, and I had been developing my series Aberrated Lux, which involved spinning the camera around in the area at a long exposure (everyone on that tour asked what I was doing!). Shortly into our hike, crampons on and bouncing across glacial rivers, the tour guide mentioned that the blues in the glaciers were accentuated by moonlight. I decided to shoot the glaciers using the traditional Hollywood Day-for-Night technique and I was mesmerised by the way this highlighted the forms of the glaciers.
Infra Realism was photographed across Palm Springs and Joshua Tree in California. Palm Springs is like time travelling to the 50s and 60s, but I think my colour palette may have brought it forward into the 80s – I love how art can do that.
How do these series compare to your past work and do you feel your output is evolving?
I have been interested in exploring the unseen for the last two to three years, and I hope that the concept has been solidified in the Glace Noir and Infra Realism series. I think my output has begun to evolve since I starting taking painting and drawing classes, exploring the interplay of shape, light and colour as a form of expression.
I’m also trying to concentrate on producing work for me, without an audience in mind, and take it out of a ‘safe space’.
What is some of the feedback you’ve received on these new series and concepts thus far?
I’ve had interesting feedback about Glace Noir because people think I actually hiked nine hours on a glacier during the night – I wish I was that adventurous! My fabulous printer’s (Lantern Printing) eight-year-old daughter told him my works were scary… I’m open to that! I think the vast, sublime nature of a glacier is scary in the sense that it’s ever-moving, pieces crash down all the time, and it contains deep crevasses. However, I also think that the darkness of my photos is womb-like and nurturing.
Infra Realism has really resonated with people who grew up, or were teenagers and young adults in the 80s. People have been drawn to how surreal the oranges and pinks of the swimming pools are – is it because we associate clean, refreshing pools with the blue tiles on the bottom of the pools? Maybe someone should tile their pool in red! I also think it is interesting to see foliage take centre-stage. For instance, a dark green palm tree doesn’t particularly pop against a regular blue sky, however, in my images, the vibrations created between the blue plants and orange sky really accentuates the separation between the two.
What’s next for Kate Ballis?
I have so many ideas, I need to bend time!
Continuing Glace Noir, I would love to explore the glaciers of Alaska. And for Infra Realism, I intend to develop this series later this year. Tom and I will be going to South America (Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia) for two months from July, and I’m really excited to interpret these countries through the eye of the infrared camera – rose-coloured glasses! I’m hoping the weather is ok to take some hot air balloon rides; I love how peaceful it is up there, and it’s a different perspective to a helicopter.
I’m also starting another long series, capturing the landscapes surrounding sacred sites, such as Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu, but I think I will have to arrive and feel the energy of the locations to determine how to best depict them.