While setting up my computer and recording device at the Bluestone Lane Café across fromKaufman Hall, about twenty minutes before the scheduled interview, photographer and videographer Tatiana Katkova walked through the door. She wore a long, dusty pink puffer coat and had a sweet and curious look on her face as she approached our table. She wanted to be on time, she said with a friendly smile.
To some people, fashion photography might seem intense and intimidating. However, Tatiana Katkova radiates the complete opposite energy. She is kind, humble and friendly, the mere definition of likable, a person that makes everyone around her comfortable. I thought, beyond her talent, her personality must be a reason for her success.
Besides answering all my questions, she also shared some tips and tricks on how to become successful in this sought-after genre of photography. So, grab a matcha latte (or some other drink to your liking) and take notes!
You grew up in Russia. When and why did you come to the US?
Yes, I grew up in a small city in the middle of nowhere in the south of Russia. When I was about fourteen years old, I started traveling a lot with my parents. At first, we explored all of Europe and then we went on to explore America. I came to New York for the first time when I was nineteen and I immediately fell in love with the city. I knew I wanted to be here, I just didn’t know what to do. At the time, I was studying economics and languages in Russia, nothing at all related to photography. My parents were wedding photographers, so I practically grew up with a camera in my hand, and eventually they asked if I wanted to help them. I ended up doing that for two or three years before I decided to move to the US to try to pursue a career there. It wasn’t easy, I got off to a slow start and didn’t know how to get money, so I had to move back to Russia again. A while later, a friend of mine offered to move back to New York with me. I decided to give it another try and saved some money, then I moved back a second time.
What made you want to work as a fashion photographer and videographer?
While the wedding industry is stable the fashion business is much more unpredictable. I
photographed weddings for about three to four years, about two hundred weddings. It taught me how to be quick and how to work in unpredictable situations. At this time, I had also begun doing engagement shoots, photos of families, and people out on the street. I walked around New York City for hours, taking pictures and I got to know the city very well. I knew every corner – especially in Manhattan – and suddenly a lot of bloggers began reaching out to me which led me to events where I met people in the fashion industry, one thing led to another. I would say the bloggers really were the bridge between weddings and fashion for me.
What was your first paid photography job?
I received my first paycheck as a photographer after my first season as a wedding
photographer. I saved the money and started to plan trips to Europe on my own. The realization that I had the money to travel was an amazing feeling.
What do you enjoy the most: photography or videography?
I enjoy both, although videography is still kind of new to me, I have many ideas for videos which I hope to carry out together with other creatives. There is more you can do with videography because of the possibility of movement. With videography I have the freedom to create whatever I want.
What do you want your viewer to feel when looking at your photos? Do you have a
People always say I have moody pictures, but I hope they don’t think they are too dark and sad. I just want people to see the world through my eyes, the beautiful side of the world. I love to shoot in industrial areas that most people would consider ugly, but that can be pretty from a certain angle. I can make the ugly look beautiful. I also like to do things that feel natural. I only use natural light, even though it can be limiting sometimes, and I always ask my models to wear natural makeup.
You have been featured in both Vogue Japan and Vogue Brazil and you have worked at
the Met Gala. How do you go about getting these jobs?
It depends. Sometimes, I reach out to people for collaborations. At the beginning of my career, I used to write so much to people on Instagram that they would block me, ha-ha. Instagram is a great resource to meet people and if people like you, they will remember you whenever they need someone to do a job or recommend you to someone they know. I used to work with a blogger who knew a guy that was doing big productions for big companies during fashion week. He saw my work on Instagram and sent me a DM to ask if I wanted to work at the Met Gala the next week, and I was like,” Are you kidding me!?” Of course, I did. I worked with him during the Met Gala and during fashion week. Social media is truly a great platform, for example when I started doing editorial projects, I needed to find collaborators, makeup artists, stylists and so on. I started searching for hashtags, contacted interesting people and began to put teams together.
As your followers are lucky to see on your Instagram, you are also quite a dancer. Is
movement something that you want to convey in your work or think a lot about when
I have danced all my life, many different styles, so I really know how the body works and how it moves. If I see that a model doesn’t know what to do with their hands, where to turn, or where to look, I still know how to create a beautiful shape with the body. When a person comes to a shoot and is stiff and serious, I usually turn on some music so that we can dance for a while, soon the person will feel more relaxed and the body will move naturally. To pose in a quiet room with only the sound of the camera can feel uncomfortable and stressful, so my first question to my models is always what music they want to listen to.
Do you have a favorite song?
The Party & The After Party by the Weeknd; it’s been my favorite for years.
What inspires you?
It’s going to sound cheesy, but inspiration is all around us, and New York is one of my biggest inspirations. When I moved here for the first time, people told me that I was going to get tired of it in two years, but I still feel like I’m getting inspired by the streets here, the rhythm and the people around me. Sometimes on the train I look around at different people and I get ideas in my head that I want to create. Of course, I admire some great photographers on Instagram, but I don’t really have one person that I can say is my role model. I find inspiration everywhere, not the least through music, a great source of inspiration.
You have travelled so much; is there any place you haven’t been to where you
would like to go?
I would love to go to Iceland because of its nature. Lately, I have also looked at a lot
of photos from Marrakech so I would love to go there. I also want to explore more of
Asia – I haven’t travelled there that much, and it is so different from other parts of
Who would you like to work with?
Probably number one on my list is Zoe Kravitz. I don’t know why exactly, but I love her. And Beyoncé of course. Nothing crazy, just Beyoncé, ha-ha.
What do you see for yourself in 2020?
In 2020 I would like to be represented by a big agency. I’ve been a freelancer all my
career and I love having that freedom. At the same time, I understand that big projects come to you when you are represented by an agency because clients usually feel more confident hiring them. I’m working on my portfolio right now, doing more editorial shoots.
Do you have any tips to photographers trying to make it in the industry, or want to work in fashion like you?
For a start, you should learn the basics, that doesn’t have to take more than a day. Then you must go outside and practice because you will never learn the way the lights work unless you practice. You really must try and make mistakes and learn from them. Practice makes perfect. There are also many videos with people sharing what they use and how they do things, and that is a really good resource. You must talk to people! Ask what they did and tell them what you want to do. Even to your Uber driver. One day I took an Uber and as I talked to the driver it turned out he was an actor who needed headshots and I said” Great, I’m here!” Also, save spots in your google maps! I have hundreds of cool spots saved so when I need somewhere to shoot, I know where to go.
Do you have your own studio?
No, I don’t have my own studio. I usually rent studios for a month or two at a time. I can’t stay in the same spot for too long, so I prefer to change workplaces.
Do you let your friends take pictures of you or is it just frustrating because you
have vision they can’t create?
Usually, I take a picture of my friend first, exactly the way I want it. Then, I ask them
to do the same thing but with me, ha-ha.