How One Viral IG Visual Artist Creates Magic From Scraps
In the music business, being able to stretch your money and work with a shoestring budget is a valuable skill. Here we look at how one viral Instagram photographer takes extreme budgeting to the next level, spinning straw into gold by utilizing common scraps to create incredible photographs.
Guest post from AWAL
Obstacles crumble when you know how to stretch a dollar.
Big budgets undoubtedly facilitate grand visions, and global ubiquity has a hefty price tag, but more money ≠ better results. There’s a million ways to burn through budgets (shoutout governments everywhere), and it takes practice to create magic by any means. Folks who make $200 projects feel like $2000 projects will know what to do when they actually get two grand to play with. Kimberly, aka @Kihmberlie, is living proof, and has hordes of adoring fans to show for it.
In July alone, the rising model / photographer / set designer garnered 100s of 1000s of shares by posting not just striking images, but also their humble beginnings. When you realize what you’re looking at started from scraps — a dusty chair in a garage, an inflatable pool in a driveway, a phone taped to the ceiling — your eyes widen a little. Her work fits snugly among ongoing music trends, the visual cousin to unpolished, honest, alluring songs receiving millions of streams on DSPs.
Kimberly might operate in a different medium, but her experiments apply to music all the same. She spends with intent (a relevant skill for every artist team) and trained her audience to expect a specific format week after week. In turn, followers enjoy familiar methods that yield wildly diverse outcomes, which is easier said than done. Surprise is baked in. All of this gives the visual artist a clearly defined plot of mindshare, building worlds while offering procedural backtracks, and all of that begs the question that pulls people in for more: “What will she do next, and how will she pull it off?”
We spoke with Kimberly about the stories behind some of her recent work to provide examples of resourcefulness (and simple, smart social media strategy) in action. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram / reach out at email@example.com if you have serious inquiries.
Girl on Swing | Cost: $8
“I based this one on an old pastel painting. I had been wanting to do this shoot for the longest time. I wanted to do it outside, on a tree, but big oak trees aren’t exactly easy to find in the desert. I found this old wooden chair for the seat of the swing, and I was going to saw off the legs, but it had screws to that was easy. The only thing I bought from that shoot was the rope. We have a bunch of cardboard around the house. So I used that, took a sheet from the closet, tore apart some fake flowers, fake leaves, stuff I had already so it looked fuller. I used tacks to keep the cardboard on the wall. I used this lighting rig to hold the swing. I used the saw to get one thing off. I’m really clumsy, so I get nervous with tools like that, and I know my dad gets nervous, so I do this stuff when he’s at work [Laughs].
“For the swing shoot, the only thing I did in post was duplicate that picture and make the grass look fuller than it actually was, because I had cardboard and I thought it would look cool, but then I was like, "Ah, I don't really like it," so I extended the grass, so I covered the entire bottom of the shoot, but I like taking things as good as possible in real life, so I don't have to worry about saving the image in Photoshop.”
Ball Is Life | Cost: $40
“I saw another photographer that I follow on Twitter do a jumping shoot with a trampoline, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!! What the heck??’ I had been wanting to do a sports-themed photo shoot for the longest time, but I wanted to do it at the park, but I was kind of self-conscious because I was worried there’d be a bunch of kids there and I’d be in their way [Laughs]. Like, ‘Who is this girl! Why is she jumping!’ I had a basketball at home, but I needed a trampoline to give the idea a shot. That was $40. Drove 45 minutes to get it. I put it together the next day, testing it out to see how high I could go.
“At first, it seemed like the trampoline was too small to give me the height I imagined, the photos looked stiff. I originally had the camera set squarely on me. I didn’t have enough money to get a better trampoline, so I just set my camera on the ground against my bag at an angle, only showing the sky, and I set my timer — seven photos at 10 seconds. I backed up, ran, jumped, and threw the ball up in the air. It probably took seven tries.”
Living Painting | $5
“This one was actually one of my favorites because I thought of it out of the blue. There’s this frame in our living room that holds a photo of some location, and just staring at that made me think it’d be cool to do a framed shoot. I got gold leaf from Michaels, that was $5. I covered my upper body with that, removed the picture from the frame, and set the camera on top of a ladder that I use as my tripod. From there, I sat on a stepping stool, grabbed the frame, and did my thing. I took a photo of the wall with the regular frame on it, then used that layer in Photoshop to cover my legs and the rest of my body. That’s why it looks like I was in the wall.”
Some of the best ideas & biggest careers trace back to free.99 spontaneity.
“I started getting into modeling when I was 18. I'm 23 right now. When I graduated college, I was bored one day at home. I wanted to take a good photo of me in this denim jacket I had, and I took it, and it came out really bad and it looked just like a regular selfie, so I told myself, "I'm going to do a photo shoot today, why not?" There are a bunch of books in my room, so I arranged them on my bed to fill space, I used tape to attach my phone — at the time I had an old iPhone — to the ceiling above my bed, I set the timer, and that was my first shoot.”
A little self-reliance goes a loooong way (also f*ck folks who ghost nonstop).
“I stopped taking photos for a bit. When I wanted to start modeling again, I was in a bind because I couldn’t afford a lot of great photographers who were really expensive. Or I’d reach out to collaborate, and the few people who said yes, the day of, I’d message them confirming the shoot and they wouldn’t respond. That’s when I started taking my own photos again, just using my phone and figuring out the set. I didn’t buy a camera until last summer. The first photo that got spread a lot this month, it was just something I took on my iPhone awhile ago. I didn’t know how to tape the camera on my ceiling [Laughs]. An iPhone 7 Plus. It’s usually just me. Sometimes a friend will help, but I like being able to know I can do it even if no one shows up. Big budgets are nice, but I like being able to prove that you don’t need $20,000 to take a cool photo.”
Don’t compare yourself to others — but if you do, only look at the very top.
“I’ve only been kinda viral. I don’t really consider the stuff I’ve done viral, because you go on Twitter and see videos of cats and dogs with 500,000 likes. The most people I’ve reached like that is about 250,000, which is a lot of people, but viral is like those two guys who did that McDonald’s shoot. It got a million likes on Twitter.”
Internalize that the path to success is rarely linear.
“My mom has always told me, and continues to tell me as I get older, to not close doors because anything can be an opening, and she's always said, ‘Sometimes you have to go a different route to get to where you want to be.’ I definitely love set designing. I’d rather do set design or creative direction than photography in all honesty. But even then, I started this because I fell in love with modeling. My dream would be to be on the cover of a magazine and direct the shoot, too.”
If you sense a cultural void, fill it.
“When I was a kid, I used to wish I was lighter than I was because I thought it’d make it so hard to be a model. Even though Tyra Banks was a model I knew of back then, I looked nothing like her either, she was like a beautiful doll to me growing up. I want to show people you don’t have to adhere to some traditional standard or look a certain way to do anything.”