Her Story: Mila Austin

Tell us more about yourself.  

My name is Mila Austin, I was born and bred in North London and at 19, I am currently an art student/freelance photographer. Art is something I am broadly interested in and always have been from a young age, so my work is somewhat scattershot at that moment as I’m exploring different methods. However, photography has become a favourite of mine because it’s such an immediate form of creation allowing you to directly take the naturally occurring art of the world into a still image; I’m in love with it! And it’s something I’m pursuing increasingly.  

What do you love about London and are there any secret locations you love shooting at?

I’m currently living in North London but will be moving to central for university. I love the diversity of London, particularly in architecture. The change in just turning a corner can be so drastic. From ancient to modern, posh to vibrant – so many different scenes! So it’s just like the best pix and mix for a photographer, not to mention being spoiled with luscious backdrops.

My favourite secret shooting location is probably the towpath that connects Greenwich to North Greenwich. It’s a very isolated place with lots of construction, great textures and spacious backgrounds. It’s also right by the Thames! I’ve used it so many times now that it isn’t very secret anymore! Apart from that, I often use local allotments and those winding streets around London that I can never remember the location of! 

Name 3 places that you would recommend our readers to go to if they head to London for a vacation.  

If you’re not already arriving this way, I definitely recommend checking out St. Pancras train Station as I think it just has the most stunning interior- plus there’s a piano downstairs available for anyone to play. Just round the corner is The British Library, which, even if you’re not into books, is such a lovely and tranquil place to visit, great architecture also! And lastly, Borough market and the whole surrounding area leading up to the Tate Modern is brilliant.

Have you photograph at other locations besides London? 

I’m half Serbian so I spend most of my summers down there and tend to take an extreme amount of photos. We stay in a small town in the mountains where my mother grew up and it’s culturally very different to London, very rural and old fashioned but scenically stunning - I adore it! Apart from that, I do take occasional visits down to the coasts of England and my camera always follows.

Do you ever do something quirky to express your creativity?

Not really for photo shoots, but if I’m inside painting or animating, lots of food and music is essential! And perhaps some company.

Are you passionate about anything else besides the arts?

To be honest, not really. I love music, performance and literature (sometimes) but that’s all art as well! Apart from art, friends and family are what are most important to me. Having a laugh and making the best of life. I would say I’m passionate about travelling, which I am, but I’ve not yet had much opportunity to do so.

We hear that for your foundation course in college, you specialised in Film and Animation. You're also on your way to study BA Fine Art in September! What is your favourite film/animation and why?

I have so many favourite films, but the most recent one would be ‘Whiplash’. The character development is fantastic, brilliantly shot and acted, and also has one of the best endings I’ve seen. Pulp Fiction, Amelie, Sweeney Todd and The Truman Show also have to be mentioned.

Other than visual arts, have you ventured into performing arts?

Yes! Up until last year I’d been dancing my whole life, taking classes in Ballet and Jazz and I had considered it for a career. I also performed in a professional annual pantomime for 7 years. Pantomime is a traditional English Christmas musical comedy performed in theatre.

Being a young adult, is it hard to juggle between your schoolwork and social life?

I find that art is quite a social subject, as I don’t need to be cramped up inside studying all the time. I’ll normally be in the studio with friends or out on visits to galleries and various sites. Of course there are times when I have essays and a pile of work I’ve left a bit too late so that’s when socializing becomes difficult.

What is your proudest accomplishment you’ve achieved in school?

I feel that I’ve matured greatly as an artist, but my best physical achievement is probably my animation titled ‘London’ that I created for my final major project.

Share an embarrassing situation that happened in school.

I can’t really think of one, probably something like falling over in the corridors or having my skirt tucked into my knickers- it happens to the best of us!

Why did you plan to pursue your education at the University of Arts London and not any other universities? Hence, what are you looking forward to when you start school in September?

I thought it was very important that I stay in London because it’s a great art scene where everything is happening. As for UAL particularly, I think it’s the best out there. The tutors are experienced, open-minded and have produced some great artists.

I cannot wait to use up all the facilities in Chelsea they’re fantastic! I’m also very excited to move into halls and meet new people.

Moving on, what is your role in the Local Wolves Magazine?

I’m currently one of their London photographers.

What is your biggest takeaway from being in the team?

I’ve been lucky to have met a lot of lovely creative and like-minded people that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet.

Is there a particular photo-shoot that was very memorable?

I recently went on a food shoot round the best places to eat in London with food blogger, Liberty Mendez. Lots of yummy free food was involved and I was very happy. 

Is there anyone on the team that you look up to or inspire to be like?

I’ve never actually met any of the team because they are based in California, but I very much admire how Catherine (founder and editor) makes her dreams a reality. It’s not easy to start a magazine and it’s outstanding how well it’s doing.

What are the styles of photography you have ventured into?

Well when I first started I was taking silly photos of flowers, editing them to the highest contrast because I thought it made them look professional. Then I started to get very much into street photography because I was obsessed by the work of Vivian Maier, so a lot of black and white photographs of people around London, portraits of old people and kids – this has definitely stuck a bit. Portraiture is something I think I will always love but I have also ventured into quite a bit of geometric photography, textures, architecture and landscapes. Most recently I’ve taken interest in fashion photography, which I never thought I would, but I really appreciate the art involved.

If you could choose between photographing only flamingos or photographing only otters, which would you choose?

Flamingos, because they’re pink.

We realize that you generally take portraits and places, is there a reason for doing so?

When you take those two things away, there’s not much else I think.

Who are the people that you take portraits of?

It’s largely my brother and best friend whom I both share close relationships with, so it’s a pleasure to take their photographs.

Why do you love it so much?  

I love taking portraits because every face is different so I never get bored, and I like a good landscape, the stranger the better.

Do you prefer taking portraits of children or adults?

It depends; children are great for candid shots because they’re not normally bothered by the camera whilst adults often shy away or alter their posture or expression. However during photo shoots, I’m going to say I prefer adults on a whole because they are generally more obedient, but there’s always the odd exception.  

“I also obsess over those spot on compositions; from awkward lines, to perfect geometric occurrences.” Do you particularly look for those geometric shapes and lines when you capture a shot?

Lines and composition are always important in photographs, even in portraiture, although it’s not so obvious. But I find that in some photos, the composition is what it’s all about, and when I’m shooting from a distance or with a wide angled lens, I can experiment with interesting lines, natural geometry, diagonals and bring in something unexpected. This makes a shot far more interesting as it makes your eyes wander more around the photo instead of just preempting and assuming what’s there.

From your Instagram feed and website, many of the photos that you take are black and white, why so?

I find that in black and white photos, there’s more focus on the subject or the composition, without the distraction of colour. It allows you to see and appreciate the technical beauties of the photos. I also find that sometimes it can bring out a lovely texture in skin, but the lighting must be right- not all photos work in black and white.

Do you have a favourite photograph? Please tell us the story behind it. 

As years go by I tend to grow sick of my old photos to some extent, so the love I have for any of my shots are normally short lived. My favourites are generally the ones most recently taken as they are fresh and exciting and generally better. At the moment my favourite is probably this one of my good friend, Yasmin. I love her expression, positioning of her hand and the light coming from behind her. It was also a lovely and relaxed shoot, and she’s a stunning model – I love capturing the beauty in people.

What obstacles do you have to deal with in your life or photographer career?

Besides the outrageous prices of camera equipment, the fear of my work being just like everyone else’s. It’s hard to find the balance between staying true to yourself and taking from inspiration. Because, as well as wanting to have your own style, you don’t want to feel trapped in limiting yourself and therefore never progressing.  

As for my life, my A-level (high school) years were probably the most difficult for me and gave me a very negative association to art. They made it very subjective, pushing me to be someone I didn’t want to be artistically and making me feel that I wasn’t ever good enough. Since being at UAL, I've been challenged in the right direction and have been given a glimpse of the real art world, I’m very happy.

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Are there any inspirations behind the photos that you take?

If I’m taking taking candid shots of people, it’s the situation that inspires me but I usually take inspiration from photos I’ve seen online, in magazines, galleries, books and posters. I’m not normally one to remember the names of photographers, but the photos stick and subconsciously find their way into my work- I guess that’s how it generally works. For example, I recently shot a wedding and for the whole day, in the back of my mind was this beautiful photo of my mother on her wedding day getting ready in front of the mirror. That pretty much fueled my shots and I think it’s fairly evident in the outcome.

Recently you went on a shoot with Scott Quinn, how was the experience like?

It was really good; it’s great to work with people who are camera savvy and creative as it becomes more of a collaboration with room to experiment. He’s also very easy going so I didn’t feel bad bossing him around, there’s nothing worse than shooting people who don’t want to cooperate. I’m very happy with the shots I got and it was an overall fun day.

What equipment do you use for your photos and videos?

I use a Canon 100D, my 50mm and 18-55mm for both photos and videos.

Do you use any editing tools or apps? What is your post-processing like?

I try to post-process as little as possible and rely predominantly on the photo. At the moment, I mainly just do a bit of tweaking on windows photo gallery then I often use a bit of vsco or sometimes Photoshop as it has some editing tools that aren’t available on windows. Very simple stuff.

We see that you have a YouTube account as well, where do you get your ideas for the short films that you create? 

They’re mostly a result of my foundation projects this year, although many of them are on private. I’d say a large proportion of my ideas root from whatever I’m feeling at the time or subjected around a current obsession or realization, all quite personal. Other than that, I sometimes do little commissioned animations and was recently lucky enough to have one used in some of Ben Brown’s daily vlogs.

Have you faced any challenges while making films?

Definitely trying to work out how to go about producing my vision. As I’m fairly new to film and animation, I have had to spend a lot of time working my way round premier pro and finding the best methods to animate. A lot of trial and error and time spent abusing Google for tutorials. But ultimately, seeing a final outcome that you’re proud of is worth everything.

Will you venture into vlogs or other forms of videography?

I’d love to explore more forms of videography and I’m excited for what my years at Chelsea will bring into that. As for vlogs, I doubt it – but you never know.

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Any tips for aspiring art students or photographers?

Just keep taking pictures, keep painting, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing and you’ll learn and grow into yourself. Also try and not rely on the Internet, Instagram and Tumblr for inspiration; go to galleries and exhibitions because art is a whole other world away from the screen.

Lastly, what do you wish to accomplish with your art form?

I’d love to be able to have my own exhibitions and work constantly as a freelancer.