Kayla Varley left the small town of Bakersfield, California and headed to L.A. at age 17, armed with her self-taught photography skills and a whole lot of angsty ambition. Inspired by the works of Lauren Greenfield and Sally Mann, Kayla‘s photographic style commands attention. It has a bold, fierceness we like.
Gifted a point-and-shoot camera when she was 13, shooting it became her exclusive outlet. And in a small town without a hell-of-a-lot to do, she found lighting and reflection as a muse. Since moving to LA, she’s enlisted a healthy portfoilio and some big-name clients.
As one of the driving forces behind the Amuse Society, Varley has positioned herself alongside some of the industries most influential women, including Live FAST magazine’s Vivianne LaPointe and Ascot Friday from Ascot & Heart. As the creative vision of Summer Rapp and Mandy Fry, the society is intended to create a movement and a culture that empowers and supports creative women and their crafts. We think that’s pretty cool.
So in light of empowering creative women, we want to share with you this gallery of Kayla, by Kayla. Composed entirely of self-portraits that define her unique style, this collection of Kayla’s work speaks volumes. Scroll down for the full interview and check out amusesociety.com for more of the duos work. But, for now, enjoy these beautiful depictions of the female body.
What Youth: When did you discover photography?
Kayla: I grew up in a really small town and it was my escape. I think I was 13 years old and my dad gave me a really small point-and-shoot camera and it just became my life. Since I was living in such a secluded place, that didn’t have a lot of options or things to do, it was everything to me and I lived and breathed photography. I taught myself how to shoot, aperture — all the manual settings – and I started shooting some film. I started shooting a lot of self portraits at the time because I was a really angsty teen and it was therapeutic in a way. It was really this mental thing for me when I was younger.
Where was this?
I grew up in Bakersfield, California. It’s two hours north of LA.
When did it become professional for you?
I was 17 when I moved to LA to attend Art Center College of Design. I was a photo major for about a year at the Art Center, they have fourteen terms and I did one and a half. I didn’t finish the full two terms there because I got to a certain point where I thought that studying photography can only take you so far. I felt like I had what it takes to actually go out into the world and try to do it myself. That was 2010 so it’s been five years since I moved away and I’ve never looked back; I’m so glad I moved to LA. I have the opportunities that I have now because Art Center really showed me how to work as a creative and showed me how to just work constantly and consistently, to keep creating good work all the time even when I don’t feel like it. It was really rigorous but it taught me a lot. I loved it.
When you were growing up did you have certain inspirations in photography or were you just drawn to photography itself?
My inspiration was my everyday life and the little things that I thought people were missing. The little details that I always saw but I felt that everybody else was just pushing over. I liked the way the curve of my spine looked in the mirror. I like the way that my collar bones looked in the mirror. I liked the way in the mornings, how I’d look and how the light looked at certain times of day. I liked how certain people looked at me and I liked how people smiled. It was really this beautiful thing that I just felt so much joy and peace from when I thought about it and it was really inspiring to just have that passion.
I was also inspired by a lot of female photographers when I was a child to when I was a teenager. I started off really enjoying Lauren Greenfield’s documentary work. Sally Mann’s work of her children was really inspiring too – It’s really raw portraits of her kids and there’s this one photo of a girl, a little girl, smoking a cigarette and I thought it was just so beautiful that this mother was shooting her children in such a way that most people didn’t like. It was this shock value and I thought it was interesting. Nan Goldin was a huge inspiration, I loved all of the stuff she did, like the people she was hanging out with, and the way that she was documenting her personal life. It was just so cool to see that and I tried to – I don’t know if I was emulating it – but I think I was trying to find something similar that suited my life.
So how did you get involved with Amuse?
Actually, my first major client was Volcom a couple years ago. Mandy from Amuse was working at Volcom as creative-director of the clothing department and I met up with her and showed her my work but she left shortly after to start her own thing. That’s when I was invited to a meeting with her and Summer and they talked to me about shooting and being apart of their brand. I didn’t hear from them for a while but I kept seeing all their stuff blowing up on Instagram and online and just seeing how well it was doing. Then we had another meeting and they just asked me to be their photographer and it was awesome. It was cool to know that Mandy had that faith in me and saw the potential in me.
And as far as being in their society, what does that mean for you as a female photographer and someone who looks up to other female photographers? Do you think what they’re doing is significant?
I think it’s so important, especially right now. It’s really important that we all support each other as women right now because I think the world’s a little bit confused. To me, being a part of Society is a way to tell other women that we are important and that we can do things and we can create these wonderful things and we’re a group of girls that are making cool shit. I love being a part of a creative group of women. It means a lot to me.
I love it too. I can’t wait to see who else they bring on in that aspect.
Yeah it’s awesome. I just shot a girl that we added and it was awesome to link up with someone and shoot her for the Society. I’m also shooting another girl next week that we added as well. It’s like when we have a solid group of different girls, like a really large group, it’s just going to be even greater than it is now.
So what’s next for you? You’re going to continue on as Amuse’s photographer, I assume, and do you have any other big projects going on?
I would love to just keep working and keep creating. I don’t have any set goals. I’m so controlling so I feel that this year I really want to create personal work. I love creating commercial work but I want to focus more on what means the most to me and what means the most to my heart. I think maybe that’s focusing more on getting self portraits or just focusing more on my own personal life, shooting things that just have more emotions and thoughts connected to them because that’s what drives me the most. That’s what makes me shoot the commercial work, just knowing I have this other side that’s completely my own thing and my own personal experience. That’s where I started – I just shot myself and my friends and I’d really love to get back to that place where it’s just more raw and real.
You and Dane [Kayla’s fiance] work together a lot, is that right?
K: We don’t actually work together as a team but we’re like sources for each other, a constant inspiration for each other. It’s so nice to be able to bounce ideas off of him and vice versa and just know that there’s never any judgement or any weirdness. It’s just this open, loving relationship that we have that’s so inspiring and the fact that he makes images is even more attractive to me, I think it’s so hot.