At just 22 years old you would be forgiven for thinking Ukrainian photographer (& model, blogger, DJ, mother), Cate Underwood was just starting out in her career; but that’s where you’d be mistaken. Having shot for the likes of Vogue Ukraine, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar Ukraine (winning the latter’s Fashion Forward Award for photography in 2010), plus fronting several ad campaigns, Underwood is already a veteran of the fashion business. To coincide with the gorgeous images of her taken by photographer Yiorgos Mavropoulos, Schön! sat down with one of fashion’s most dedicated multitaskers to talk all things photography.
I believe you began taking photographs whilst pregnant with your daughter Eva – what drew you to photography?
I was interested in photography before getting pregnant but after giving birth to Eva I realised I was responsible for a new life. That made me more decisive and focused on what it is I wanted to do. So I decided to give photography a full go because I felt really passionate about it.
Was it difficult when you were starting out to be taken seriously as you were (and still are) so young and had little formal training?
I don’t think you should be too serious about this job so I never looked at it that way – I’ve never thought about whether I looked convincing or not. I’ve just had faith in what I do and put a lot of effort in it.
When you were first approached to become a model you turned the offer down – what made you later change your mind?
I was 15 at that time and it didn’t occur to me that modelling could be an occupation. But as I got older and got involved in fashion as a photographer, I realised the amazing possibilities modelling can offer and I was lucky to be given this chance.
The style of your self-portraits and Polaroid work differ quite considerably to your fashion editorial work – is that purely down to the differences between digital and film cameras, or are there other reasons?
Polaroid is always about a nostalgic point of view, it always transcends time, taking the viewer to the past, evoking memories and feelings long gone. Polaroid shots tell stories, express feelings, they tell us about life.
Digital camera is a means of creating a perfect picture. I don’t mean it should be technically perfect, but the idea of digital is that you can transform the reality to create a story. For me this experience is a journey, a pursuit for absolute purity, rigor, simplicity.
You have sited photographers David Sims, Willy Vanderperre, Alasdair McLellan and Peter Lindbergh as inspiration, and their influence is clear in your minimalist photographic style – is this an effect you aim to achieve?
In my work I want to explore the notions of simplicity and perfection of shape. It may be quite formulaic but I’m a firm believer in simplicity. The simplest things are the hardest to achieve.
For me, this minimalistic approach has to do with Nineties’ aesthetics. I was born and raised in quite a strange time and place, it was very messy and quite baroque [with] the Perestroika (a political movement), the new money and capitalism happening in Ukraine. I am very influenced by the whole Nineties’ redux aesthetics – something careless, something undone, transgressive. I believe in a strong female character, I believe in androgyny and certain emotional ambivalence.
In the end my pictures are a mixture of strict shapes, strong characters and nonchalance where it doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard. But this doesn’t mean the process behind creating these images isn’t complex.
Is there a model or brand you would especially like to work with who you haven’t managed to yet?
As I said, I love people with a strong personality. I’d love to work with Iselin Steiro, Jamie Bochers, Malgosia Bela – they are amazing women. As for the brands, it’s all about Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Celine, Jil Sander, Raf Simons, Chloe, Maison Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester.
Does the fact that you are a photographer make modelling easier? Or do you find it difficult not being in control?
For me, switching from photography to modelling was a rather natural and liberating experience, but I did have some difficulties accepting the fact that it wasn’t me in charge on set. Modelling is as much a job as any other, and I had to accept and respect the rules; so now I’m totally fine with being just a medium, a tool.
Can you see yourself being both a model and photographer for a long time to come?
I will be doing this as long as it gives me satisfaction. I think there is a limit in modelling that I may come to and maybe this will make me quit one day. Photography is something I’ll keep doing no matter what. This is where I can express myself and tell the things I will never tell otherwise. It is my personal story and there are a lot of secrets in it.
How have you managed to juggle photography, modelling, blogging, DJing and motherhood?
It just all happens and I enjoy living my life the way I do now. Maybe I just love a fast ride.
What is next for Cate Underwood?
Time will tell, but I’m not going to stop, that’s for sure.
For more info on Cate please visit: www.cateunderwood.com
This online exclusive editorial has been produced by:
Photography / Yiorgos Mavropoulos
Grooming / Stella Mavrodi @ D-Tales
Wardrobe / Yogo Lu
Model / Cate Underwood @ D Model Agency
For more incredible editorials check out the latest issue of Schön!
Words / Roxanne Golding
Follow her on Twitter @RoxanneGolding