Brooklyn-based artist and photographer Kimi Selfridge has been holding it down with us at Seagull for a good half decade now, regaling the salon every few weeks with deadpan gossip from Shaun's chair as he paints color onto her legendary blonde waterfall of hair. Chances are, you've seen her photographs before, many times over; her signature portraits—shot exclusively with Polaroid and expired film under her photography/styling umbrella Tan Camera—depict a soft-focus, grunge-pop dreamworld populated almost exclusively by girls, a languid realm of double-exposures, rainbow hues, sunglasses and opulent snacks. Thanks to her unmistakeable aesthetic and a relaxed but effective social-media savvy, what began as a hobby ended up amassing a huge (and growing) body of work that has become nothing less than executive Tumblr bait, instafaved and reblogged by an international fanbase of girls on the internet — ensuring a steady stream of photography and direction work with some very major clientele.
With a global fan base 58,000 Instagram followers strong on deck and an enviable client roster including everyone from Google to Geico to Chloe Sevigny under her belt, she's currently hatching plans to springboard into new artistic arenas. We paid her a studio visit on a recent snowy day in Brooklyn for a glimpse behind the scenes at Tan Camera, and to sneak a peek at what Kimi's cooking up next.
Clad in a vintage Garth Brooks tee as minidress, Kimi welcomes us into her space, apologizes for a touch of sleep dep after a late night celebrating with friends, and informs us she's moving out of the live/work space she's been in for the past several years in just a matter of days to divide her time between the sunnier climes of LA and Miami. It's crossroads time, but you can't tell from the pulsing decor.
A giant white entertainment console covered in thousands of stickers houses a flatscreen playing a DVD of Jem and the Holograms, the surreal and sweeping 80's girl-supergroup fantasia whose coterie of Nagel-esque rock star heroines reign as patron goddesses in Kimi's cosmology. Racks of vintage clothes arranged by color, dolls from Clueless (the TV version) in original packaging, a lava lamp, Troll dolls memorabilia, a Clarissa Explains it All game, a dedicated stockpile of toy food miniatures, holographic pink crinkle foil, and a winsome portrait of a young Liza Minelli are among the retro and girlcore effluvia decorating the space.It's akin to stepping into Pee-Wee's Playhouse via Rookie — and feels very much like being inside a Tan Camera photograph. This makes sense because, as Kimi explains, there's no distinction between her art and the surroundings she creates; the space she arranges is just another extension of her overall vision. Her talent for preserving and cultivating her own unwavering vision, without worrying too much about what other people are up to, may be her greatest success secret. Self taught—no art school no photography classes—and admirably unconcerned with following her peers ("I don’t look at the internet, I don’t know what anyone else is doing, not that I’m against that, I just don’t do that, I don’t make time for that" she explains), she credits living alone from age 16 and getting to develop her own identity as integral to her ability to call the artistic shots. Call it the Tan Camera filter—she's basically been applying it to everything since she was little.
"I used to go to bed at night and just dream about clothes, to put myself to sleep, and I was always really obsessed," she explains when we ask where she picked up the styling/photography bug. "In Clueless, she has this—in the tv show they really took it to the next level, where she picks her wardrobe out. I would go to sleep and instead of counting sheep, when I couldn’t sleep, I would just think about like, physically putting clothes on a person’s body, or think about interior design things or art direction. I would just always think about that stuff, and my room would change every six months, minimum. This is probably the tenth or twelfth layout of this place [sweeps hand around the room]. I’d just always try to work with the space. That’s such a big thing to me, I’m such a feelings-based person."
So, she's been constantly set designing her entire life?
"My life, like this installation, or Tan Camera, whatever it is now, it’s just an extension of me as a person in one or multiple dimensions."
The installation in question here is Kimi's ongoing project, which has a lot to do with the aforementioned entertainment console covered in stickers. In its current incarnation, it's a behemoth of shelving rendered utterly kawaii through thousands of hours of painstaking sticker application, years of Kimi putting every little detail in the perfect spot.
It's not just a retro sticker archive, but an actual throwback to Kimi's own childhood and the framework for a large-scale moveable installation full of what she describes as a "happiness triggers" incorporating film, video and props.
"As a kid, I had this white set of drawers, and I would put stickers all over it. I had these little gems, and the plate for my light switch—one by one, with tweezers, I would sit and put these little crystals on it. Just for myself! It was for nobody else, and it took so much time, and then I’d sit back and look at it and I loved looking at it."
She hopes to channel the memories of that private, undistilled happiness vibe into a full-on realm where others can tap in. Without spoiling too many of the details before the official details are released: it may involve fabric, there might be color coordinated lighting and it may be big as a house.
"This is a prototype.... Ultimately what I’m working on is, this installation is meant to be a nostalgic dreamworld. It depends on the space, I could do a corner in a group show or a whole house, anything in between. The things in the space that you’re looking at will be videos and photos on display with the props that are already styled, so it’ll be this sensory experience where everything you look at triggers this happiness. Or this melancholy longing that’s really sweet with nostalgia involved. It’s meant to be part museum for like, these things—you go up to them and you’re happy, you know? This so far is just a very light version, like one percent of the 'trigger points', if you will."
By the time you read this, Kimi will already be in LA flooding her Polaroid with the kind of natural light we can barely remember here in NYC, and whipping up the next few chapters of Tan Camera. She's planning on touching down wherever work and artistic opportunities arise—and anyplace that gives good palette, like Miami. Wherever she roams, you can be sure she'll be posting goodies for the Tan Camera squad along the way.
But at this moment, we're still in her studio in Brooklyn with snow on the ground outside. She asks if we're familiar with Sophia Grace, the 11-year old tiara-wearing viral rap sensation and girl-friendship anthemist. Incredulous that we haven't yet seen the video for "Best Friends", she breaks into a grin and pauses the Jem dvd to find Sophia Grace on Youtube. As the light outside fades, we bask in the soft Youtube glow of Sophia Grace jumping on the bed with a posse of girlfriends and trying on clothes while rapping with conviction about how boys are unnecessary. Kimi cackles with the delight of someone who's watched the video a million times, pleased to share the trigger. The girls' realm onscreen illuminates the girl's realm IRL, and it's a fitting sunset on the last moments of Tan Camera in Brooklyn.
All photography by Chris Wegman except where noted.