Fashioning lyrical photos

Emily's ideas come to her as she passes buildings. Photo James Noonan.
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In an industry ruled by perfect poses, a photographer inspired by music is focussing on a "less obvious" beauty. James Noonan reports.

Filling an empty space in the fashion photography business requires several key characteristics. Dedication, vision, confidence and an insatiable, restless drive are all things Perth-born amateur photographer Emily Jensen has, and her style is unmistakable. Warm hues, honest modelling and rustic sets are her trademark, all tied together with an understated and atypical ‘60s and ‘70s fashion style. Her approach to realising the shots she pictures in her head is progressive and unique, leaving behind a wake of models and associates infatuated with her methods and general aura. People love working with Emily, and it can easily be seen in her work.

Emily grew up in Mandurah, a coastal town an hour’s drive south of Perth where she lived with her mum, a teacher and counsellor. By 18 she grew restless with the West Coast pace and moved to Melbourne to live with her grandma. There she met her now-boyfriend Sean, a pianist for rock band Palace of the King, and her career quietly began. Feeling less out of place at gigs with a camera around her neck, Em[SG1] ily simply started taking pictures of the band, eventually freelancing for The Music Magazine and being sent to three or four gigs a week.

“I really hated being known as ‘Sean’s girlfriend’,” Emily recalls, when asked why she first brought the camera. “I really wanted to get away from that identity, which was hard because the band was already so established.” She worked for The Music for a year, but eventually grew tired of the issues associated with the style. “There are too many elements that are out of your control. I think everyone’s music work pretty much looks the same, also musicians pull really bad faces when they’re playing.”

It was when Emily started an Instagram page in 2016 that the direction of fashion photography began to emerge. Styled Em Jensen Creative, she began tirelessly contacting models to collaborate with, amassing a collection of vintage clothes, and started her mental list of shooting locations, all for no other reason than having a creative outlet.

“In the morning I wake up and I can’t stay in bed, I just think of all the places I’ve been to that I want to shoot, and I can’t stop myself from planning them.”

By the end of 2017 Emily had shot hundreds of models in countless locales, eventually settling into a now easily recognisable style. One aspect of her success is her networking ability, best described by funeral celebrant-turned-model Pia Sims. “We met when I was following Palace of the King around, at Em’s 21st,” Pia recalls. “She would always be at their gigs, so it was a bit like ‘oh you’re here again! Hi!’” Not long after meeting, Emily learned of Pia’s two vintage Holden Toranas, piquing her creative interest and eventually leading to what she described as her favourite ever shoot.

“Em is just phenomenal,” Pia insists. “Working with her is such a beautiful and organic experience, she’s just so gentle. With her you really feel like you’re a part of a creative process, like the shot really is you.”

Pia’s favourite picture is one Emily shot of her sitting on her old washing machine in her Clunes farmhouse. It shows an imperfect silhouette of Pia smoking a cigarette in her underwear, oozing all the candidness and honesty of Emily’s body of work to follow. “Over the years I’ve really struggled with body image, so to be photographed by someone in my underwear, and to feel good about that photo, it’s just incredible. I feel very beautiful when I look at it, and for that I can’t thank Em enough. I only felt so comfortable because of her process; we were just two girls hanging out and taking pictures,” she says.

While planning an album cover for Palace of the King incorporating retro futurist styling, Emily envisioned a science-fiction inspired shoot with four girls – one of whom was Pia – standing in front of her aqua Torana. The would-be cover evolved into a fashion concept shoot with colours both alien and homely, all four girls clearly having immense fun all while looking natural and wholly unique.

“Em’s vision is her most admirable trait,” Pia said. “That and her tenacity. She sees her path and she’s just not deviating from it whatsoever which I admire greatly. She’s such an incredible talent. Her technical ability isn’t that of many photographers out there, but her vision and process is all she needs.”

It’s this process that makes Emily’s work what it is, and why she’s a photographer to be closely watched. Adamant about the importance of her carefree-but-professional nature is model Dominik Shields, one of the many girls Emily connected with on social media. “She’s really relaxed and doesn’t guide me, which is such a welcome change from the photographers I usually work with,” Dominik says. “She gives a very ‘live and model in the moment’ feel. There’s no pressure in her shoots, it honestly just feels like hanging out with a mate, even early on in our friendship.”

Hiding behind her camera. Photo James Noonan.

Dominik and Emily have been working together since late 2017 and now regularly scout locations and take shots. “Last week we walked past some old apartment building in Collingwood, we just pulled clothes out of my car and took some photos. It’s really casual like that sometimes, but they always look beautiful,” says Dominik. “Her work is just so different. It’s unique to the culture we’re in which I think is something important to showcase. She shows you don’t have to photograph people the same way every time, and that’s really, really rare.”

After working on her own photography business, offering professional fashion and wedding shoots for nearly two years, Emily finally secured a job as one of two full-time photographers for multi-label photography agency Factory X a month ago. “I now basically work seven days,” Emily said exhaustedly. “Monday to Friday it’s a professional environment, shooting for Dangerfield and others. Weekends is working on my own business, so it’s really a lot. It’s replying to emails, planning shoots, shooting, retouching, updating my website and more.”

Having never lived during the ‘70s, Emily’s inspiration comes largely from music, reflected by lyrics accompanying each of her hundreds of pictures. “It’s really corny, but I feel like that time was special. I want people to feel nostalgic about it. It gives me this weird youthful feeling, which is bizarre because I never lived it.”

As a self-described control freak, Emily rarely shares her ideas until they’re completely set-up and ready to shoot, despite her style being described as laissez-faire.

Keen to see more diversity in the fashion photography industry she says: “I want the big players to choose less obviously beautiful models, because I think so much of someone’s beauty comes out when they start enjoying themselves. A photographer called Diane Arbus said something I really love: ‘I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.’”