Photographer of the Month: Vonalina Cake

Vonalina Cake has been photographing gigs, alternative theatre, and LGBTQ events in Bristol for about seven years. She talks with typical self-effacing style about how she has come into the profession later in life, and proves that you need not let age be a barrier to pursuing your passions.

Describe yourself and your photography style

People tell me they like to work with me because I'm friendly and informal and get stuck in to the event. When it's a performance I try to capture the mood, the real colours and lighting. When I edit, I try my best to develop the images as true as possible to how I remember them.

What drew you to photography in the first place?

I've always taken an interest in it but not seriously. A few years ago, an old friend challenged me to do the 365 project so I gave it a go. I started to realise it was the way it made me think that I enjoyed the most. It was purely a hobby at first but then my friend Carmel Coe who runs the Duke of York with her husband asked me to photograph a burlesque night in the pub and that was the beginning of something more serious.

Who or what inspires you?

I'm inspired by so many things, so many other photographers and ultimately the situation I'm in. I love performers, party people, dancers and buildings. Vivian Maier, Jane Bown, Gary Winogrand, Dorothea Lange, Cindy Sherman, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, Christer Strömholm. And closer to home, my friend and photographer Tony Barrett Powell who has been so kind and generous in his guidance - I've learned so much from him.

You're known mainly for work with the LGBTQ and alternative arts scene in Bristol. How did this come about?

I've a great many friends involved in the LGBTQ scene, some of us go back a fair old way. I've friends who do performance and parties and I've been asked to capture them. As I've grown in confidence and ability I've developed a little bit of a name for myself in the community.

What's the best thing and the worst about being a photographer?

The best thing - being there, taking shots, meeting people, being part of things, part of a troupe. The worst thing - sitting at a desk for hours editing, although it has its joys also, and seeing the odd really great pic you managed to capture against the odds of bad lighting or steamy dry ice.

What advice would you give your younger self when you first started out?

Seeing as I've only really been doing this properly for six or seven years I think I might tell myself to learn more before I go out there. But I'm still learning and always will be. I started out with a bridge camera and it did me well...I might tell myself to go to school and buy a decent DSLR. But I'm not one for regrets - I've got here in my own way.


What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

I just invested in a full frame camera, a Nikon D750, I've got two lovely prime lenses, a decent zoom and a macro so I can offer product photography and portraits. I'm really enjoying finding my way around them. I also just got a portable studio/light up box and it's great fun! Lighting is such a technical thing so I enjoy the simplicity of this gadget.

How do you think being a woman has shaped your experience as a photographer?

I think in many ways, given the scene I mostly work in, it offers me some advantage. I've spent time with drag queens, strippers, burlesque performers, dancers and party people. I don't pose any potential threat and so it helps in that respect. But I've spoken with my male colleagues in the same fields and I don't think gender often comes into it really - it's more about attitude.

If there was one thing you could change about your industry, what would it be?

Access, many venues have rather draconian rules about bringing your camera in. I don't have a press pass so sometimes I have to leave my camera at home and always feel the sting of regret when watching the band.

If you could have a fantasy photo shoot with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?

David Bowie. But can I be greedy and have at least one shoot per decade of his life? I guess if I really had to choose only one, crikey this is difficult, and even though it's so photographed, his Aladdin Sane period. The angles of his face, the extraordinary shift in his music and style, the make-up, the drama. As the kids outside The Hammersmith Odeon would say, I think he's just smashing!

What's next for you?

More work with Isadora Vibes and the Dada For Girls troupe, Impermanence Dance Theatre, Tom Marshman, Horseplay, Thorny, Liz Clarke, Dis Charge, Alfie Ordinary, Lydia L'Scabies, Emily Meow, and the bands that come to town. Other than that, to keep learning, practising and improving my craft.

#Issue4 #JoannePriest #Interview

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