It was through Instagram that I think I first found Kobe’s photographs. Though they may not look like it, his images are current snapshots — pictures overlaid with the weight of the past and soaked in a prism, soft and slightly psychedelic, with his homeland of Utah creating the perfect backdrop. Check out his shoot, exclusively for Free People, and get to know him below!
Tell us about yourself: where are you from/ where are you now/ what do you do / how did you get to where you are?
My name is Kobe Wagstaff. I am originally from Salt Lake City, UT, but just moved to a little town called St. George, located in the Southern area of the state near Zion National Park. It’s an easy-going little place full of red rock and sunshine year-round. It’s the perfect area for creatives and anyone looking to rediscover themselves. I travel back and forth from Utah to California for work as a fashion photographer/stylist and I can easily say that I call this place home. I have been able to get to where I am today thanks to the landscape that surrounds me, the supportive people in my life and the music I listen to.
What does a typical day in the life of Kobe look like?
A typical day for me — waking up in the morning and getting ready to go out in search of a new location for my next photo shoot. Before I leave, I make sure my Polaroid is loaded with film just in case I find an amazing subject to photograph. I spend most of my morning scouting for the perfect spot. When I am done, I will visit all my favorite thrift stores here in town. I am a bit of a vintage hoarder and have a whole bedroom dedicated to my clothing finds. I come home and will spend the rest of the night editing and replying to the emails I received that day.
When did you first pick up a camera?
I first picked up a camera when I was 13 years old. At the time I had opened an Etsy shop selling vintage clothing and I needed photographs to support them. I found my grandpa’s old Kodak Pony and shot the clothes with that. I had no idea how to use the camera so, when I received the photos back from the film processing lab, all I got were blurry images. Even though the pictures were useless I still felt a connection to them and decided to pursue photography.
Get the look: Carolyn’s Limited Edition Dress
Do you shoot digital, or mostly film?
I shoot both digital and film and I always be sure that I don’t cater to one more than the other. I’d say it’s pretty balanced between the two worlds, though I prefer film just because I have more knowledge of it than I do digital.
How would you describe your photography style? Is there a certain emotion or feeling you try to evoke in your photographs?
Within my photography I will think of my my favorite musicians and the energy their music creates. When I take a photograph I will always think about the kind of emotion that they convey in their songs and I will try and apply that same emotion and style to the shot. I reflect on Bob Dylan’s music most of the time because he is just so simple and honest. So in my images I like to give the viewer a sense of effortlessness and authenticity as well.
Do you think living in Utah has helped elevate your photographs?
Most definitely! Living in Utah as a photographer has benefitted me so much and has given me such a range of settings to work with. Within each shoot I am able to incorporate something different and unique — I couldn’t get that anywhere else.
What gear could we expect to find in your camera bag?
What don’t I have in my camera bag?! Haha! In my bag I will usually have my 440 Polaroid land camera, my Polaroid Spectra SE, a 35mm film camera, a pack of Kodak Portra 400, my Fujifilm XT1 camera body, a wide range of lenses/lens adapters and, of course, a couple packs of Impossible Project Film. I cannot live without Impossible’s Instant Film. It has such a dreamlike quality, an effect I am always looking to obtain in my images.
Are there any special programs or apps you like to use for post processing?
I usually stick to the basics like Photoshop and Lightroom for all my editing needs. I like to paint over my photographs as well, so I will get a physical copy of the images and paint on them if that’s the direction I want to go.
How do you go about setting up a shoot? From the model, to the location, to the vision, can you explain a bit of your process?
It all depends on the clothing. Once I’ve picked out the clothes and assembled outfits then slowly everything starts to come together. I will consider the model, and where I want to shoot, and then it just falls into place.
Is there one thing you wish you would have known when you first started taking photographs?
That learning the technical side of photography requires a lot of dedication and patience.
Whose work do you admire the most?
There are so many people I admire and who have inspired me but, by far, David Bowie has been my biggest inspiration. He was such a visionary and curated the most amazing music and imagery. He played the biggest role in my creative process as a photographer and stylist.
Out of all of your work, do you have a favorite photograph you’ve taken?
My favorite photograph would have to be this one (below), a polaroid I took of my sister. She’s such a strong individual and I feel this really represents her strength, and that’s why it’s my favorite. Even though it’s super simple I connect with it the most.
Any words of advice to aspiring photographers?
Take criticism and be willing to improve.
What’s one piece of equipment (lens or camera) that’s on your wishlist?
Right now I’ve been eyeing the SX70 Polaroid Land Camera.
What does being “free” mean to you?
“Being Free” means to never let the stars in your eyes fade away, hold the world in your hands and, in time, you will be where you belong.