Kristie Muller

The photographer and creative director captures mundane events with digital and phone cameras.

By Rafa Yuste

The photographer and creative director captures mundane events with digital and phone cameras.

‘My tendencies in photography and video feel like an ingrained belief system that sways the portrayal. It’s a bit strange, but a photo will seem right or wrong to me immediately,’ says the Canadian photographer and creative director Kristie Muller. Her instinctive process, fueled by observation and influenced by her surroundings, allows her not only to plan images but also to grab the visual opportunities the world offers. She’s decisive about what fits and doesn’t in her constructed reality with doses of humour and coincidence.

Muller uses photography as a way of notating ideas. Her portrayal seeks to make the subject look timeless and placeless. Avoiding trendy sets and lighting, her images break the wall of the high-end camera. They seem to sneak into our camera roll, making us believe we could have taken them. From a harmonic sunset to a fiery truck on fire, a woman talking on her phone in the car, or a Louis Vuitton bag found between driftwood. Kristie Muller’s imagery is a collection of varied encounters in life.

The naturality of her images is marked by the mundane of a digital and phone camera, as she was stealing bits from reality to keep gathering images.

System talks to Muller about her process of decision-making and the nature of her practice, the switch from film to digital and phone cameras and the importance of intuition and humour for her pictures.

Can you tell us about your background, growing up, and how that shaped you and your practice?

Kristie Muller: I was born in western Canada and grew up in Kitchener, an hour away from Toronto. It was fun and stressful. I was highly sensitive and fueled by observation. Toys never did it for me. I loved art and was always drawing and painting. I started studying ballet when I was really young. The proportions and physicality I like to work with now, and my relationship with sound all stem from dance. I approach direction and video editing like a choreographer.

When looking at your pictures, it’s easy to see a practice full of different ideas. Sometimes they seem to be more elaborate and staged, and others look like encounters and fortunate perspectives and shots. How would you describe that balance in your explorations?

Kristie Muller: I’m interested in how little photography has to do with reality. What is drawn from the subject, regardless of how it came to be there, allows for varying amounts of real life. In the shoots I do, I attempt to conjure that same struggle. When I direct, I use prompts and task-oriented improv to build character and provoke specific movements. Ideally, everyone involved can somehow get lost in what’s happening. I’m always hoping to foster a place for moments of the chance to occur. An element of luck is often of higher importance in a set-up scene; things you can’t predict happening among your plans.

The work that I’m most comforted by comes from happenstance. I’ll see things, quiet things from every day that call out. Sometimes they’re depictions that wouldn’t make sense at any other particular moment or alignment. Those images feel overwhelmingly rich when they occur, pictured or not.

‘I’m interested in how little photography has to do with reality.’

Kristie Muller

What are your influences, and how do they connect with your work?

Kristie Muller: It’s my surroundings that influence me the most, everything I take in. The slightest things will unexpectedly leverage new trains of thought in what I’m working on. I’m also influenced by anything funny – a lot of what I make has a sense of humour.

As well as photography, your work also spans creative direction. How do you navigate both practices?

Kristie Muller: They’ve both always existed tightly together. Sometimes I think the pictures and videos are secondary. They’re the takeaway from what happened; the proof. Creative direction has been my key role in my own work, and now I’m taking it on in outside music and fashion work. I’m an ideas person, so it feels right to build out.

What are some misconceptions about you and what you do?

Kristie Muller: The most common misconception is about where I am or where I work. I’m guessing it’s because of the nature of my pictures, but there’s often confusion surrounding that. I also keep my own image offline for the most part, which can throw people off for some reason.

‘I’ve never been content with frames and screens, so I’ve been playing with some alternate ways to show photo and video.’

Kristie Muller

Is your work fixed or devoted to certain aesthetics? Do you think it’s important to develop a style?

Kristie Muller: I think that happens intuitively. The silent regimes that the work is made with make the images exist in a certain way. My tendencies in photography and video feel like an ingrained belief system that sways the portrayal. It’s a bit strange, but a photo will seem right or wrong to me immediately – I’m my most decisive in those moments. Sometimes it’s about what’s left out. I like to avoid signifiers, signs, background noise, etc. It’s a bit cut-throat, but I’m interested in something being able to seem timeless and placeless. My outlook does shift though, and I want it to.

The phone-picture look of your photographs seems to break the wall between the image and the viewers. To some extent, your snaps could even slip into the viewer’s camera roll and make them feel that they could have captured that. Personally, that familiarity makes me forget about the camera and get closer to the subject you’re capturing. Tell me more about why you shifted from film to lo-fi digital.

Kristie Muller: I love film, but at a certain point, I lost patience with scanning negatives. I’m not meticulous in that way. Digital alleviated some of my film frustration. I was given one camera in particular as a gift that was able to zoom in a way that I had never experienced. I felt like I could see anything, get anything. Photography feels like stealing. It became constant gathering, and then inevitably, I started using an iPhone as well. I liked how covert it could be. The energy changes when someone pulls out a camera. I rely on how much less that happens with a phone. I’m glad you feel that way. I wouldn’t want any of my images to make you think of a camera.

Talking about commissioned work, what makes you say yes to a client or turn down a project?

Kristie Muller: I’ll avoid projects that involve a plan to mimic other images directly. I’ve never worked that way. It’s really nice to feel drawn to what the client is doing and what they’ve already done. I’ve been lucky, most of the people I work with have a sense of trust in what I do and how I work. If that’s there, then I’ll feel more of a pull.

‘Sometimes I think the pictures and videos are secondary. They’re the takeaway from what happened; the proof.’

Krisitie Muller

What are you currently working on? Any future exhibitions?

Kristie Muller: I’m working on a new body of work that I’ll be showing in the new year. I’ve never been content with frames and screens, so I’ve been playing with some alternate ways to show photo and video.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Kristie Muller: I’m always aiming for contentment in the day-to-day and what I’m doing. Allocating time for my own things, while hopefully coming into some interesting outside projects. I’ve been writing and working more with sound. Trying to be less precious with things and make a mess.

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