IDYSM: So Michelle, tell us a bit about your work. How did you get into photography?
MICHELLE: My husband gave me a camera for Christmas just over 4 years ago, which was the first time I had every really thought about photography as anything. I really ran with it, started tagging along at shoots and just practising as much as possible.
IDYSM: When and why did you start focusing on Hip Hop as a subject area?
MICHELLE: I worked out quite early on that I needed to find a little niche for myself. Fashion photography is completely oversaturated and there are So many amazing photographers so I turned to an old love of mine, Hip Hop, to see what I could accomplish. Once I started shooting gigs for local hip hop acts it just became a full time passion really.
IDYSM: How tough was it to make a name for yourself in this male dominated world? Has being female made it easier?
MICHELLE: I think in any creative field, you’re judged first and foremost on your work. Perhaps its easier to approach people, but if my work didn’t stack up no one would give me the time of day, especially not big name artists. I pride myself on being incredibly professional, hard working, and I strive to get better each and every shoot. I think that stands out more than anything…..
IDYSM: What is the trademark of your work? Is there a set style that represents your shooting?
MICHELLE: My live gig work has always been something I’ve worked hard at making look different. That means a lot of thinking about angles to shoot, capturing the whole feeling of a gig, not just the MC. Also taking lots of time to grade my photos a particular way. I do spend a lot of time on my live shots to make sure they don’t look like the other 20 photographers that were shooting the same gig.
In terms of my environmental portraiture, I really aim to connect with the person I am shooting. The moment when they drop their guard and relax is the moment I get a timeless photo. That’s what I aim for in every single shoot.
IDYSM: Time to namedrop, who have been some of the biggest names you’ve shot?
MICHELLE: HAHAHA, that’s funny. Well apart from all the obvious ones in Australia Hip Hop (as in everyone) I recently went on a OS trip to the States to work with a few artists. I was lucky enough to shoot with Dizzy Wright, DJ Mo Beatz, Talib Kweli, Raekwon and Pharaohe Monch, as well as American’s Next Top Model superstar Don Benjamin. Needless to say it was a pretty awesome trip! haha
IDYSM: When did you start to think about collating your work in the scene into a book?
MICHELLE: It didn’t occur to me to do a book, until after one of my shoots with Grey Ghost and Mantra. The topic came up and they suggested doing something with the portraits I had been shooting. From that moment forward it became my goal.
IDYSM: How long has the project been in the pipeline and how much work has gone into it?
MICHELLE: 2 years, and more work that I can possibly explain. 118 separate shoots across Australia, so that means travel, shoot time (over an hour with each artists) editing time, plus all of the design and logistics work behind actually producing a book. Its really hard to put into words. A SHITLOAD basically.
IDYSM: People can get their hands on the book from www.risemgh.com as of right now, but they can also check out your tour too. Tell us about it.
MICHELLE: I’m really excited to have some of my closest friends and artists I admire so much come along with me on Tour. Artists that have supported me from the very start and ones I think are up and coming. We have Remi & Sensible J, Briggs, Mantra & Grey Ghost, Dylan Joel, Jaytee, Mistress of Ceremony, Alex Jones in Melbourne and of course DJ Flagrant. It’s a huge line up with an array of different sounding hip hop. PLUS the Rise Cypher with special guests from the book, who we are going to keep secret until the ngiht!!! HUGE!!!
IDYSM: How did Puma get involved?
MICHELLE: I was introduced to PUMA through my food friend Mz Rizk, who suggested they might like to know about the RISE project. Since that day they’ve been incredible, and supporting this tour is the first official thing they’ve got involved in. I’m hugely grateful for their support, they are champions!
IDYSM: How iconic are Puma within Hip Hop culture?
MICHELLE: I guess from the early 80s, PUMA went along hand in hand with urban culture. I love that its getting a rejuvination with the PUMA suede range, its such a throw back and immediately fits with the retro kind of fashion we are seeing with sneaker ranges at the moment. I, for one, love it!
IDYSM: How do you think the current day rates with other eras for the kicks and fashion that is repped by hip hop artists?
MICHELLE: I think right now, as discussed above, particularly rates highly with someone such as myself that has been around hip hop culture for some time, because we are seeing those retro ranges coming through so many brands. It makes me feel like a teenager again! haha
IDYSM: Do you think that Kanye and A$AP’s dabblings with designer fashion is moving hip hop style into a new elitist territory?
MICHELLE: With stuff like that I always think ‘why not’? I always applaud any artists for pushing boundaries and tyring to take their brand into new territories.
IDYSM: From the artist’s you’ve met and shot, who’s style (specifically with sneakers) has impressed you the most?
MICHELLE: I can’t even think of someone specifically that has stood out which is weird! I think I’m so in the moment with connecting with artstis on a personal level to get those winning shots, I haven’t really taken enough notice. Now that you say that I will be doing that in the future! Ask me next interview!
IDYSM: So it’s exiting times for you – what does the future hold?
MICHELLE: I’m just wanting to get through the Tour first. No firm plans but potentially an international project on the cards. Stay tuned!
IDYSM: If you could shoot anyone hip hop star from any era who would you shoot and why?
MICHELLE: haha ive always said I would give back all of my shoots if I could have one shoot with 2Pac! He’s the main reason I got into Hip Hop originally!!
IDYSM: In Their Shoes interviews always end with this signature question, so please tell us …what’s on your feet right now?
MICHELLE: I’ve actually got a pair of PUMA suedes on! A black and pink low cut style! Since discovering the Puma suede range I almost live in them exclusively, they are SO comfortable!!!
A huge thanks to Michelle for her time. Tickets are still available to some RISE shows, check here for tickets so you don’t miss out, and also to buy the book!