Gazing at Vicki King's photographs feels like a form of escapism. Whether it's dainty flowers, nude bodies or dreamy landscapes, her subjects seem to hover in a space between reality and fantasy. We spoke to the British photographer about how she accidentally fell into photography, what it was like to grow up in a quiet village in the Midlands and why a sense of boredom can be a positive thing.
For Vicki King, photography can be a portal to the subtle beauty and mystery in the mundane. Through her lens, two wilting flowers drooping over the sides of a glass cup are charged with an air of tenderness, a summertime scene with a swimmer’s body refracted under water has a painterly softness, and iridescent scales on a fish resemble a magical landscape. After looking at King’s dreamy photographs, you emerge into daily life with a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity.
Originally from a small village in the Midlands and now based in London, King started taking photos when she was 20. “I was lucky, in the fact that my lack of knowledge when it came to technical skill in photography, at that point, ended up making something that I, at least, deemed interesting,” she tells us in an email interview. Her first subjects were people in her immediate surroundings – her sister, her friends.
Ultimately, what drew King to photography was the medium’s ability to “be used as a method of transforming what you have in front of you into something else from the offset”. After completing a degree in photography at the London College of Communication, she went on to build up an impressive portfolio, shooting for brands like Kenzo, Isabel Marant and Givenchy as well as publications such as Vogue, i-D and Allure.
One advantage of growing up in a quiet and rural town surrounded by greenery and not much going on, King says, is that this allows for plenty of time to daydream. When asked about artworks or films that have inspired her, she responds with a list of names ranging from American artist Dorothea Tanning to English filmmaker Andrea Arnold. “I like art that can be surreal whilst retaining a more raw and human quality to it,” she adds, “Those two things can be difficult to co-exist.”
Nature, in its various forms, also features heavily in King’s photographs. She has a knack for capturing flowers – simultaneously sharp and blurry in the same shot – with an intimate distance. Images with massive billowy clouds hanging in the sky seem to allude to the force of natural elements. Sunlight dappling through trees and the warm glow of a sunset suffuse her scenes with an enchanting atmosphere. Naked bodies are nestled into patches of grass, as if in unity with it.
Drawing from the liminal space between “the real and the imagined”, King’s photography elevates everyday scenes into divine dreamscapes. Intricate details are drawn out through a striking play of light, color, texture and shadow. There’s a serene and melancholic quality that exudes from her photographs. Whether it’s a shot of someone biting into a fig under the sun or vibrant fruits and flowers delicately dotting a black backdrop, each image seems to be unveiling a quiet story in slow motion.
Below, we catch up with Vicki King to discuss where she shot some of her first photographs, how her upbringing on the outskirts of Leicester informs her work, and what her favorite go-to camera is.
When did you first pick up a camera and see a new perspective in it?
Some of the first photos I took were of my long-suffering models, my sister Libbi or my friend Vex. I was lucky in the fact that my lack of knowledge when it came to technical skill in photography at that point ended up making something that I, at least, deemed interesting. I remember we shot some nudes in this Victorian bathroom in my halls in really dim lighting, they came out grainy and kind of blurred and painterly, but I thought they were beautiful. It opened up my eyes that photography could be used as a method of transforming what you have in front of you into something else from the offset. That’s what drew me to it so immediately.
Can you tell us about your upbringing and what may have greatly influenced your work?
I grew up in a small village on the outskirts of Leicester in the Midlands. It was pretty quiet and rural, I was lucky in the fact that I had a lot of green spaces to roam around in. There was a lot of waiting around… waiting to grow up, waiting for very irregular buses to get anywhere. I think that sense of boredom and frustration can be a positive thing as it allows you to daydream.
What has remained a constant driving force for you?
My curiosity and an enduring sense of dissatisfaction propel me through most things.
Do you have any particular inspirations in art, cinema or music that inspire you?
The list is endless really… Some to note; Dorothea Tanning, her colour palette and the complexity and layering of bodies in her later work is a big inspiration to me. I always love Andrea Arnold’s films, she’s able to pull you fully into her character’s world, her work is always shot so viscerally with a full bodily experience at the forefront, she pays attention to all the senses and you can really feel the emotional experience of the scene. James Bidgood’s surreal erotic films. Querelle. I like art that can be surreal whilst retaining a more raw and human quality to it. Those two things can be difficult to co-exist.
What are the tools you might use every day?
The world, the sun. My brain.
What is your favorite camera to use?
My favorite has to be my Mamiya 645. It’s a medium format film camera, but with 16 shots instead of just 10. It is lighter than other medium format cameras, more like a DSLR. It’s semi automatic so can be more spontaneous with shooting, not having to stop and wind the camera in between shots. I think it has allowed me to be more playful in the way that I take photographs.
Text: Charmaine Li
Images: Vicki King