Photos by Kate Bellm
If German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton (yes, I said Australian; look it up) dropped acid and lit out with his camera and a troupe of models, the results might’ve looked a lot like the work of Kate Bellm.
With light bleeds, explosive, psychedelic hues; vivid forms drifting through lush, dreamy landscapes and beautiful nude women casting shapes in places where you would otherwise keep your clothes on (arse-puncturing cactus fields, for example), Kate’s work really has the feeling of Helmut Newton tripping balls. At least that’s the impression I get. But would Kate agree with this pithy, unsophisticated assessment? Right now, she’s home at her remote, paradisiacal compound in Mallorca, on the eve of her latest book release and subsequent world tour—let’s give her a buzz.
How are you? I’m great! How are you?
Fantastic! Let’s get into this interview: are you Spanish?
No, I live in Spain but I grew up in England. But I haven’t lived in England since I was, like, eighteen. I moved to Paris, then to Berlin, and then some travelling around, and now I’m in Spain.
So, is this an international accent you have?
Yeah, it’s kind of like a mixture of all the places I’ve lived.
It’s the accent of planet earth.
Yeah. But no one gets it. They’re like, ‘what? Where are you from?’
I can’t tell where you’re from either. Tell me about how you ended up in Mallorca. Are you living off the grid?
Yeah, we live super-off-grid, like, deep in the mountains, in a forest next to the ocean. It’s like this little community of creatives here. We got the chance to build our own house, and we did. In the last five years we’ve built this house, built a skate park, studio, currently trying to build a hot spring here—not that there’s hot water, but we’ll make it happen. So, yeah. We’re just building this little dream world for ourselves, you know?
This is like your haven, right? Because you travel a lot.
Yeah. We’re about to leave for six months because the book is coming out, and we’re travelling the world to release it and do all the shows. My husband and baby are coming with me, because it’s really a long time, you know? So yeah, we’re about to leave for a good while. But we’re here for most of the year if we can be, but we do travel a lot.
Well, let’s talk about the book then. What’s it called?
The book is called Amor. Like a-m-o-r. It’s ‘love’ in Spanish. Basically, I wanted to take my ten favourite girls, no hair and makeup, and just like a couple of pieces of clothing and shoot them however I wanted, and make a book about it. And I did that and it was so much fun. We road -tripped through Portugal. There was a cyclone going on while we were there, but we pulled it together and the girls were just amazing.
How did you get around Portugal, bus?
We actually got Audi to sponsor us and they gave us cars and hooked it up, and we just cruised through Portugal. But we were shooting the girls with Deloreans.
Yeah, we had DeLoreans with us and a bunch of crazy props. And the idea was to get it published and to do all these shows. So, the whole culmination of the book took, like, a year, just to get it shot and published, and now it’s being printed as we speak.
Awesome. And now you’re off to promote the book.
Yeah! It’s getting released first in Berlin, then we’re bringing it to Sydney, then to Bali, then LA and New York. And it’ll be available online and in bookstores, but I’m bringing it, you know, to the shows with me, too.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
Literally from twelve-years-old, I was like, ‘I am a photographer.’ I got this advice from a professional photographer; he was like, ‘Don’t tell people you want to be a photographer—tell them you are a photographer, and you’re going to start working by the time you’re seventeen.’ So, I just started doing that and I was shooting all my friends, like, shooting them at school, you know? And developing rolls of film for everyone at school. Photography was always my vibe, and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. And it’s just been that way ever since.
That’s so cool. And you just said you shoot a lot of your friends. I mean, is that how you get people to be so relaxed in front of the camera? Looking at your photos, it’s obvious that it’s very chill.
Yeah, I mean, my sets are the chillest. I just want to have a good time. I don’t want any stress or ego, nothing like that. It’s about everyone enjoying the experience and wanting to be there, and actually coming out of it like, ‘Fuck, that was so fun.’ I don’t want a stressful vibe on set ever. So, if the girls aren’t my friends, they have become my best friends through shooting them. Everyone on the Portugal shoot was pretty much a friend or someone that I became super-close with because of that trip. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I’m a girl, similar age, we just vibe on the same stuff, you know?
Right. When I first saw your stuff, I thought—and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way—but I felt like I was looking at the work of a female Helmut Newton. On acid.
Oh my god, that is the dream compliment. Thank you. He is my favourite.
Oh, good. I was worried. I don’t want to compare you to someone you don’t like.
No, no. I’m so inspired by him. So yeah, it’s obviously coming out because he’s like my ultimate fave.
And when I say ‘on acid’ i mean like the sort of psychedelic nature of your photos. Is that happening in post, or are you a light-leaker, or do you use weird photo techniques?
No, no, no, it’s all happening in-camera. I use a variety of techniques that I’ve developed over the years. It started with this piece of foil a friend gave me in Berlin; this iridescent kind of foil, and I would put it in front of my lens and make like this double-exposure, colour grade insanity, you know? Later, I found these psychedelic films that kind of produced the same effect with certain cameras that I have, that I know leak light. And then I also have little techniques to make it more psychedelic, but all in-camera. And then I just usually shoot nature and stuff like that. In Mallorca, there are beautiful cactus gardens. We’re obsessed with cactus. We have a giant cactus garden at our house. So, I’m just shooting everything that’s in bloom and it’s just like there and I love it.
Have you always been a nature lover?
When I was a teenager, not so much. I didn’t love nature, but I am a true nature lover now. Everywhere I travel, I end up going into nature. Berlin is my city, but it’s a very natural city: there’s parks everywhere and lakes and stuff like that. So, yeah, I’m definitely into it.
And now you have this haven in Mallorca, which sounds amazing. Can you tell me more about that house and building it? Did you mention you’ve got a skate park?
Where, in the backyard?
My husband is a skater and an artist, but here it’s not so easy to skate. It’s just like, gnarly downhills, and you’re probably going to meet a couple of cars on the way. So, he was just like, ‘Fuck, I want to skate,’ and he built a skate park on top of our water tank. Now we have this beautiful, smooth-ass skate park that goes into our studio. And the studio is really Mexican in style. We made this really heavy, thick straw roof with big glass doors all around. Edgar, my husband, just went to the dump and got loads of old windows and glued them together and made these giant, sliding doors. It’s so good. We’re so happy.
Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. Do you miss your house when you go away?
I think I will now because it’s finally finished and amazing; I’m definitely going to miss it this time. But usually I’m super happy to travel, see the world, show my kid a different way of life everywhere we go. It’s definitely in our nature to travel, my whole family. So, I’m not complaining about coming to Sydney and Bali and all these places. It’s going to be beautiful.
You’ve shot for everyone and every brand and every magazine—is there a dream gig for you left?
Oh my god, there’s all the dreams left for me! I still have all my dreams to achieve! Getting my shows with Monster Children in LA and New York was one of my dreams. Imogene (Barron) hooked that up for me, and I’m so grateful to her for that.
But what dream gig hasn’t happened yet?
I mean the dream gig is like, a Gucci campaign. The way that Glen Luchford gets to shoot for Gucci, which is so free and cool, not using typical models, it just feels like it comes from them and not from an advertising agency or something, you know? So, these kinds of jobs are the dream for me, where the client just lets you be yourself and do your thing. Because that’s ultimately how you get the best images.
I also just want to keep making books because this has been such a fun experience.
I can’t wait to see the new book, Amor.
You’ll get a copy as soon as I get to Sydney.
Excellent! All right, one last question. What advice do you have for young photographers who have maybe just started out, or are at the part of their career where they’re only just paying the rent?
My advice is to literally shoot everything you love. Experiment with cameras. Have a bunch of cameras and get to know them all super-well. That was the most helpful thing for me: getting to know my camera so I could work really fast and with confidence. And then shoot your world! I find it so interesting when people shoot their own worlds because that’s interesting to other people. It’s like, ‘Wow, look at that kid’s crew,’ you know? ‘What are they up to?’ Delving into your world and what you are all about is what’s going to be interesting and cool. Show your true energy and personality through that, and just shoot, shoot, shoot.