Every time one of her photos shows up in my Instagram feed, I immediately know it’s a Kali photo. Her style is instantly recognizable. If you’re not familiar, Kali takes the most 1960’s-esque, psychedelic photos of southern California. Based out of Santa Barbara, her feed is a sea of experimental, expired, and special effects films featuring iconic California imagery. Mountains, beaches, sunsets, and skateparks as far as the eye can see.
Beyond her photos, Kali also is a strong proponent of diversity and representation in the film photography community. Never afraid to speak her mind, she’s played a pivotal role in making the online photographic community more open and inclusive. She’s a joy to get to speak to and really made me long to say sayonara to the chill of the midwest and go shoot some sunny California vibes. I hope you enjoy our chat, and maybe even get inspired to ditch your standard film stocks for something a little more edgy.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! To start us off, can you give us a brief introduction to yourself?
I identify as a disabled artist, because I always highlight that about myself. But I specialize in film photography and writing. Experimental film is my kind of thing. I like to do psychedelic compositions and play with light. I’m very much connected to the ether.
And what got you into film photography?
I blame my grandfather. Well, blame is harsh. I’m grateful because he facilitated this hobby for me. He gave me his and my grandmother’s old Kodak Signet 35 from 1951. So that was about ten years ago. And I was like “Wow! This is confusing!” He also gave me a whole bunch of expired film along with it. I didn’t start shooting regularly until I started dating my boyfriend as it’s easier to shoot film when you’re going out with someone to do it, especially for me because I can’t drive anymore. So yeah, family got me into it!
So, family got you into it, but what keeps you shooting it?
It’s kind of addicting! It really is. I’m often stuck inside. Being disabled, having constant chronic pain makes it difficult to move about as one ordinarily would. So my opportunities to go out into the world are limited. And so I bring my camera with me every time I leave the house. I go and basically collect portals to places that I really like looking at, because when I’m back here stuck in bed dealing with symptoms, it’s really comforting to say “Oh, I did go out into the mountains and explore, and experience nature, and here’s the evidence!” It’s very much a personal motivation to continue interacting with the external world.
I think that is really beautiful and can see how that would be comforting. As you mentioned you often identify as a disabled artist. How has your disability affected your art and what you choose to create?
That’s a really good question. I’m very much limited by how far away I can get from my house within a day and get back in time to take XYZ medications and fulfill XYZ needs. You will notice that my body of work is in one place. I’m in Santa Barbara. I’m either in the mountains, at the beach, at the skate park, or driving around town. I wish that I could get out more. When I was able-bodied I was able to travel and I’m always kicking myself now thinking like “Man, when I was in Europe why did I not have my camera!” It influences what I have access to as well as when I’m able to get out and do what I do. I often work in short bursts and then reap the benefits for days later as I’m looking at the photos.
Do you develop most of your own photos or do you go to a local lab?
Color Services, my lab in Santa Barbara, does everything! I love them. Glen is the owner. He knows me. I think they carry Lomochrome Purple just because I’m the only one who buys it in Santa Barbara. So they do all my developing and scanning. I know some people do it themselves but I don’t. Plus I’ve heard working with the chemicals for too long can give people neuropathy in their hands and I already have neuropathy so I don’t want more. I have a friend who worked in a photolab for a couple years and he had to stop because his hands were going numb! So yeah, y’all better be wearing gloves! I feel like it’s a bit of a trend now to develop at home. And it’s like, oh my gosh can we not do everything?? Can we just take the pictures and appreciate them? There are specialists for that. Everyone doesn’t have to be everything you know? Unless you really want to then by all means, for sure.
Your style is so distinctive, it’s just an explosion of color and psychedelic energy. How did you develop your style?
Well I started shooting with expired film and I was like “Woah, these colors are unique!” And then I realized, wait a second, there’s new film stocks and there’s new film stocks that aren’t just Kodak Portra? I love Portra, but I mean, you know. There’s other stuff out there and once I realized that I was just obsessed. Dustin Adams who makes Psychedelic Blues Film, he’s a buddy of mine, and working with his film has been really satisfying for me because there’s no way you’re ever going to get an organically circular shaped light leak. It kind of creates this planetary spacey vibe. Though recently I’ve actually been wondering if I am relying too heavily on experimental film stocks. Am I resting on that? If I were to use a standard film would someone still look at the photo and say “oh yeah, she took that ” or would they not know because anyone could have taken it? So I’ve been thinking about that lately, and I’ve been working in more Kodak Ektar and Ektachrome trying to see what’s really there underneath the psychedelic explosion. I do care deeply about composition. So yeah, always learning!
So outside of your photography, you describe yourself as an artist. What other artistic forms are you working in?
Right now, mostly ceramics. I’m doing a lot of pottery. I’m saving up to get a throwing wheel. It’s difficult being unemployed, but I’m working on it! So yeah I’m making vessels, and I paint with watercolors. I like to buy handmade paints from some ladies in San Francisco. I’m also a musician. Prior to losing my fine motor skill dexterity I was a guitarist and singer then I transitioned to electronic music. I have an OP-1 synthesizer and I get into that. But one can only push buttons for so long!
I feel like you are very prolific with your photography; you’re always posting so many photos! How often do you actually get to shoot? What’s your shooting schedule like?
I think about that, people must think I literally do nothing else. I post photos in sets, and you can post ten photos in a set. So if I post two sets a day, that’s literally twenty photos, so that is a lot of photos! I live with my boyfriend half the time. When he’s here, every day is go out and shoot because he is kind of like my physical facilitator to the outside world. He can take me places in our car. And that is great! So we go out every night to shoot sunsets and every day on the weekend. And when he’s not here I try to motivate myself to go out to walk. I live right by a park, a cliff, and a beach. So it’s like right there! I just gotta get my butt out there. I generally shoot every day or every other day. Yeah my lab is very busy!
I’ve noticed that oftentimes when you’re posting photos, you are also posting beautiful writing with them. What’s the relationship between your photos and prose? Do the photos come first or do you have the quotes in your head when you’re shooting?
I generally don’t think of the prose first, unless it’s something I’ve written or am writing. The prose generally comes later. It will be the result of some kind of reflection. I try not to fall into the trap of saying something just to say something on Instagram. Sometimes I feel like I used to talk a lot more about my personal life, but I realized I can kind of express myself and my artistic goal more clearly through other channels that I’ve found inspiration from. I really like Terence McKenna, Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith. I find a lot of the people I grew up listening to or reading in my childhood have influenced what I respect and admire in other artists, so I want to share what they made with the world as well as what I’m making.
So the writing often comes after a moment of reflection. Is there a particular reflective moment that has stuck in your mind?
Every now and then I will have very emotional responses to film and photos I’ve taken. Especially when it comes to self portraits or portraits I’ve instructed my boyfriend to take of me. Any time I’m seeing myself in nature, I get emotional about it because it’s something that used to be so abundant in my life and now it’s not. Those moments really mean a lot to me because it’s like “Wow, I really existed here in that moment.” I value that a lot. Film is pretty magical so I’m perpetually mystified.
I know one of the things we really got connected on recently is when Kodak was called out for their lack of representation of female photographers on their social media channels. You have been really active in fighting for representation. I would love to hear your experience as a woman in the film world. When did you first start noticing this issue, what motivated you to speak out?
I was seeing misalignment, particularly with Kodak. Everyone follows Kodak. I thought, “How are they picking these photos? Who is picking these photos? What job is that specifically?” I used to work in social media, so I knew someone was doing this. So just one day I randomly scrolled back through their page and realized it was all men’s names, just infinite men. I was just so boggled by that, I had to say something publicly. It’s so strange and wrong. How is this even a thing? We’re still having to deal with this in 2021? Apparently we are. I didn’t expect it to be so big and get such a positive response from our initiatives. That was really cool to me. And we saw not only do people in the community care about female representation but also LGBTQIA, people of color, and other minorities. And that was very heartening to me because I can be very cynical, especially about the film community which can often feel like it’s just a bunch of dudes from the Bay area along with some dudes from LA and New York. But that feeling is not just not fulfilling for a lot of the women in this community. I like to poke the bear. And I like that a bunch of other people agree and also feel inclined to speak their minds. I don’t know where it’s going. We’ve been successful in some ways and I hope for big progress. Kodak is now starting to represent women. I didn’t go into this hoping to have a longstanding beef with the leading film company in the universe. Who wants sustained beef with Kodak? So I think it’s an opportunity for the community to continue to grow and become more diverse.
I know in the moment when we were calling on Kodak, you played a very instrumental role. You put a whole petition together for women to fill out and talk about their experiences in the film world. How did that petition come about and what were some of the most impactful answers you received?
When there’s a massive corporation with a bunch of fans and people behind them that believe and agree with everything that corporation does, they’re going to disagree with you no matter what. And we definitely experienced their disagreement. I realized we were all so spread out and it would be better if we were a unified voice. I had never made a petition before. It was definitely by the seat of my pants kind of thing. I saw a need, and I wanted to meet the moment. I put up the petition and didn’t really expect anyone to really fill it out. I shared it with you and some other bigger pages, and thought maybe if those people shared MAYBE we’d get something. But yeah, the people that responded, it was just really great. People actually really did care. It was nice to know there were so many people who were as passionate about it as we were. It’s nice to know you’re not so alone in your feelings sometimes. Especially on the internet! Seeing that people cared made me realize we were on the right track. I think we got over 300 names at some point. It’s actually still up on my linktree at this point.
How do you see what the path is moving forward? What else needs to change for there to be better representation in the film community?
Good question. Honestly I wish that the big curated pages would just go POOF! A lot of those curated pages are run by men, and have the male gaze going on. It has a lot of boudoir photography from the male perspective and I think that can make women feel not only insecure but also that isn’t for them. As is the way photography has been marketed since the dawn of time, as a man’s tool. But it’s everyone’s tool! Also I think the film community would be a lot more authentic if people didn’t feel the pressure to cater to trends. We don’t need people trying to be like everyone else. Not everyone lives in California. Not everyone should try to be taking a shot of that one street in Los Angeles looking downtown. Nah. Diversify! I think the more people embrace what’s different, things get better. I don’t expect any drastic changes. We have a lot of new young people shooting film these days. Who knows what they’ll do. I hope it’ll be good! I hope there’ll be more women.
Which women photographers, either current or past, do you find inspiring?
Excellent question, there are many! My friend McKenzie, who is in Louisiana, is a very interesting artist who unfortunately doesn’t share a lot of work on instagram. I just love her very refined eye. Pia Riverola, her work in Mexico, her architectural work has been very interesting to me. It makes me wish I could travel. Nicolette Passerello down in LA, her work is BEAUTIFUL. Golly! Of course SoftBoiFilms, I mean everyone knows Nat! If you don’t know Nat, what are you doing? Filmbychloeg, she is awesome. Carmel Notley has really been inspiring me lately. Also Nadja Ahamn, she’s amazing! Also Harvey Hale, her work is stunning. I’m constantly like “what is your secret!” Also Monica Figueras in Spain. Honestly there’s so many. The photographers I seem pulled towards right now all seem to be in the Mediterranean right now. I just really like things that are a little different. It’s nice to see what women are doing in other parts of the world, especially down in Mexico City. Also, historically, I’ve really been into Imogen Cunningham’s work. I learned about her in a Women in Art History class in college. I love how she got so close to her subjects. She’s such a huge artistic inspiration to me.
Before I let you go, I know you said you’re working on using more standard films. Is there anything else on the horizon for you?
Yeah! I’ve been doing some dabbling in 8mm cinematography. I have an old Minolta Zoom 8. I made a film earlier this year and I really like that medium. So I’ll probably make another film in the next year or so! More specifically photographically I’ve been dabbling in medium format photography for the first time. I’m being the most economically conscious as possible and bought an old Holga CFN on eBay. And you know those cameras are plastic, just all plastic and don’t even close probably, you have to tape it! I’ve really been enjoying the tactical weirdness of it. Also portraiture, I’d love to do more portraiture which is a bit harder during the pandemic. But really I just hope to continue making art that makes me happy. That means chasing the moon and cool clouds.
My last question, where can people find you?
Geographically, Santa Barbara! Other than that , I’m on Instagram and I have a print shop going. It’d be great to sell some prints, which I do on occasion. Yeah I’m online! I’ll just be in my little corner of Instagram building a bubble of psychedelic ether for people to enjoy.
Print Shop https://evertenderstudios.bigcartel.com/
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One more time : one fantastic review, interview, article here !!!
Pictures are great.