While setting up my computer and recording device at the Bluestone Lane café across from Kaufman Hall, about 20 minutes before the interview was supposed to begin, photographer and videographer Tatiana Katkova walked through the door. She wanted to be on time. Wearing a long, dusty pink puffer coat and with a sweet and curious look on her face she smiled when she saw our table.
To some, fashion photography might seem intense and intimidating, however Tatiana radiates the complete opposite energy. She is the definition of likable, and you can quickly tell that she is the kind of person to make others feel comfortable. That must be one reason, beyond her talent, that has led her to do jobs for influential fashion magazines and celebrity packed events.
Tatiana Katkova journey from a small town in the south of Russia, to photographing for major fashion magazines and events like the Met Gala. She also gives some tips on how to get where she is in the industry, so grab your matcha latte (or a drink of your liking), and take notes!
You grew up in Russia, right? 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 (so the weather isn’t as bad as people think). When I was around 14 years old I started travelling a lot with my parents. We were exploring all of Europe and then we started exploring America. I came to New York for the first time when I was 19 and I just fell in love with the city. I knew I was going to be here but I didn’t know what I was going to do.
At that moment I was studying economics and languages and nothing was connected with photography at all, but my parents are wedding photographers so I’ve always had a camera in my hand. I knew how to use it so my parents asked if I wanted to try wedding photography. I ended up doing that for 2-3 years and then I decided to try to build my career in the U.S. It went very slow in the beginning and I didn’t know how to get money, so I had to move back to Russia. It was a while after that my friend offered to move back with me. So we saved money and then we moved to New York.
What made you want to work as a fashion photographer and videographer?
The wedding industry is stable while fashion is not as predictable. I did weddings for 3-4 years so more than 200 weddings. It taught me how to be quick and how to work in unpredictable situations because you never know what’s going to happen. I started doing a lot of engagement shoots, photos of families, and people on the street. I walked around New York and got to know the city very well. I know every corner—especially in Manhattan—so a lot of bloggers reached out to me and that led me to events where I met a lot of people in the fashion industry. I guess the bloggers were the bridge between weddings and fashion for me.
What was your first paid photography job?
I felt like I got money for the first time after my first wedding season, which goes on for about two months in the summer. I saved the money and started planning trips to Europe by myself. I realized that I had the money to travel and it was amazing to be able to do that.
What do you enjoy the most: photography or videography?
I have so many ideas in my head for videos and I just want to make them come true together with other creatives. Videography is still kind of new to me but I feel like you can do more with videography because photography is still. With videography I have all the freedom to create whatever I want.
What do you want to say or make the viewer feel when looking at your photos? Do you have some kind of theme?
People always say I have very moody pictures, but I hope they don’t think they’re too dark and sad. I just want people to see the world from my eyes. I want people to see 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 it look beautiful. I also like to do things that feel natural. I only use natural light, which can be limiting, and I always ask the models to wear natural makeup.
You’ve been featured in both Vogue Japan and Brazil and worked the MET Gala. How do you go about getting these jobs?
It depends. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, I had to reach out to many people for collaborations. I used to write so much to people on Instagram that they would block me, haha. It is a great resource to meet a lot of people and if they like you they will remember whenever they need someone to do the job. I was working with a blogger who knew a guy that was doing big productions for big companies during fashion week. He just saw my work on Instagram, sent me a DM asking if I wanted to work 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 a lot during fashion week. Social media is truly a great platform because when I started doing editorial projects I needed to find everything from makeup artists to stylists, so I just opened the app and started searching for hashtags, and put teams together.
It is a stressful thing to be in front of the camera, so my first question is always what music they want to listen to.
As your followers luckily get to see a lot on your Instagram you’re quite the dancer. Is movement something that you want to convey in your work or think a lot about when working?
I think it really helped me because I’ve been dancing all my life, many different styles, so I really know how the body works and how the body moves. If I see that the 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 they’re very serious, we just turn on the music and start dancing, so the person feels relaxed. The body will move naturally. To pose in a quiet room with only the sound of the camera can be uncomfortable and stressful. It is a stressful thing to be in front of the camera, so my first question 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 like 10 years.
Sometimes on the train I look around at different people and I get some ideas in my head that I want to create.
What inspires you?
It’s gonna 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, the rhythm and people around me. Sometimes on the train I look around at different people and I get some ideas in my head that I want to create. Of course, I look up to some great photographers on Instagram, but I don’t really have one particular person that I can say is my role model. I just get inspiration everywhere. I can also just listen to music and come up with ideas right away.
You’ve been traveling so much; is there a place in particular you would love to go?
Yes, I would love to go to Iceland because of the nature. Lately, I’ve looked at a lot of stuff from Marrakech and I would love to go there. I would also like to explore more of Asia—I haven’t travelled that much there and it can be so different from other parts of the world.
Who would you love to work with?
Probably number one on my list is Zoe Kravitz, I don’t know why exactly but I love her so much. I would love to work with her, and Beyoncé of course. Nothing crazy, just Beyoncé.
What do you see for yourself in 2020?
In 2020 I would like to be represented by a big agency. I’ve been doing freelance all my life and I love having that freedom, but at the same time I understand that big projects come to you when you are represented by an agency because they trust 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?
I feel like you should learn the basics and that doesn’t have to take more than a day. Then just go outside and practice because you will never learn the way the lights work unless you practice. You really have to 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 have to talk to people! Ask what they do and tell them what you want to do. Even to your Uber driver. One day I took an Uber and started talking to the driver and it turned out he was an actor who needed head shots and I was just like, “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.