Lunch with Sinden Collier

I can’t remember who suggested I take a look at Sinden Collier’s work. It could’ve been a model or a make up artist. I just remember taking a look at her work, probably about 3 years ago, and I was floored. Dreamy, romantic, sexy yet strong, her work resonated with something deep in me and I bookmarked her website. It’s not something I do often, trust me. I think I was impressed because she is a female fashion photographer and I was deeply moved by her work. I felt the same impact that Sarah Moon’s or Deborah Turbeville’s work had on me years ago, when I first started out. To me, Sinden showed a real talent for capturing a woman’s sexuality without it being exploitative or forced.

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When forming Breed, Marius and I spoke about me interviewing many different photographers to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick as artists. Sinden Collier was on the forefront of my mind. I knew I HAD to interview her. After I emailed her and she responded, we chose a place in West Hollywood to have lunch. We both were early and found each other next door at a clothing store, looking at clothes, of course. But the minute I saw her, I knew it was Sinden. First of all, I have to say, she’s absolutely gorgeous. Her face is model-pretty and she has impeccable style. I mean, of course she does….she’s a fashion photographer!

We sat down and she started to tell me about her life, starting with how she got her start as a fashion photographer. She first visited Los Angeles in search of a music career. After securing a record contract, Sinden and her bandmate/sister moved to LA to pursue a career in music. Prior to playing in a band, she started taking pictures which quickly became popular with her fellow musicians and people in the music industry. One day she showed some of them to a photographer who had shot her band and he urged her to pursue photography full time. In 1989, she embarked on her career as a fashion photographer and in 2001 Sinden became the first Black female photographer to be signed to Getty Images.

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Like myself, Sinden had no real mentors that helped guide her on her path as a fashion photographer although she did have a lot of encouragement from friends and family. In the early days of her career, she was fortunate to have a photo exhibit of her images at Fotek Photo Lab in Hollywood. While attending a polaroid transfer seminar, she was approached by James Ishihara (one of the founders of A & I Color Lab) who told her that she should stick with photography because success could happen overnight or it could happen in 10 years! After she told me this at lunch, I remembered seeing her images in the lab and loving them! She has stuck with it since 1989 and we’re lucky she has.

When I look at Sinden’s work, I am reminded of Deborah Turbeville and Paolo Roversi, two of my all-time favorite photographers. It makes sense that I reached out to Sinden to interview her for our launch of Breed. Looking at her work reminds me of the kind of awe I had as a teenage girl when I was introduced to French cinema. Its dark sexiness and ethereal imagery wasn’t blatantly misogynistic or exploitative. It celebrated the female sensuality and honored the feminine consciousness. These are the kinds of feelings that I get when I view her work.

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I asked Sinden what her advice would be to young, emerging fashion photographers and she quickly said,

The best advice I can give to anyone starting out in this career is to learn the business and understand copyright!

She was really adamant about this and of course, I agree. She and I wouldn’t have been able to survive this long in the business if we hadn’t been halfway decent businesswomen.

I love the mission statement on her website: “For me, art is a re-creation of reality – that is, of course, my reality. Sometimes reality wanders into fantasyland embodying the dreamlike quality of years gone past. Sometimes it lies in the grit of the urban streets, or the quiet pensive moments of thought and emotion.” In my opinion, her work captures this.

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In addition to her fashion photography work, Sinden has also embarked upon a new creative venture showcasing her images beyond the fashion and beauty genre she is established in. This project, Trains of Thought, is a quotographic portfolio of images she created to accompany the original quotations written by her sister, Rhett Collier.

Lunch with Sinden lasted longer than I expected. As it turned out, we both had much to talk about, being women fashion photographers in the freelance world of fashion photography. The road hasn’t been paved with gold. We’ve had similar obstacles and setbacks. But we have kept getting up after being knocked down and kept going, kept learning and striving and pursuing our dreams. When she admitted to me that she hadn’t felt like she had realized her dream yet, that she had yet to reach her goal, that’s when the similarities between us really hit home for me. Often I am asked when I realized I had “made it” and I always answer, “I haven’t yet. I’m still pursuing my dream“. Sinden said she felt the same and that’s maybe what keeps us going. I think she might be right. I’m happy to share the journey with her. She’s truly talented, a true artist and a beautiful spirit.

Melissa Rodwell