The people who push culture forward are the ones who challenge convention, and Stef Mitchell is one of those people. She captures a raw, youthful spirit in her work, presenting a new, more honest approach to commercial photography. For her latest collaboration with Barneys, Mitchell shot a cast of 10 people at Warwick Drive-In, one of the oldest drive-ins in New York. The American Graffiti–inspired shoot tapped a mix of young, NY-born and -bred men and women who embody the energy of some of the season’s buzziest designers, including Marine Serre, Willy Chavarria, Katharine Hamnett London, Undercover, Napa by Martine Rose, Needles, and more.
Below, Mitchell talks about her approach to photography and connecting with her subjects.
The Window: Why and when did you first connect with photography?
Stef Mitchell: I used to think that a picture was somehow part of the person in it, so I was always looking at family photo albums. My first camera was a disposable when I was 6 or 7.
How did you decide to pursue it professionally?
I grew up in Australia but ended up coming to New York and interning for Annie Leibovitz’s studio. That was my first exposure to the industry, and I was able to see what was possible for the first time. That experience made me realize I was going to push forward and try to make it my career.
Was there a moment, event, or person who changed or influenced the course of your career?
There are too many people to name who I’m incredibly grateful to and have gone out of their way to help me at every stage in the past few years. But I can definitely say I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now without the support of my wife, George Koren; Jimmy Moffat; and my agent, Nicole LePage.
What were your reference points and inspirations growing up? Do you still channel them in your work today?
I wasn’t really exposed to photography growing up, but I remember coming across Bill Henson’s work at some point and feeling pretty blown away by that. I would say music had the biggest influence on me, and I definitely use that still to put myself in different frames of mind.
How do you achieve honesty and vulnerability in your work?
A huge part of any picture for me is the exchange with whoever I’m shooting. I never want the person to feel objectified or cut off from the process, so it’s always been important for me to connect on a human level with them, even if we don’t know each other at all, which is often the case.
Tell us about your latest shoot with Barneys shot at the drive-in.
The drive-in shoot was particularly memorable for a few reasons. The team was made up of some of my closest friends, everyone from Barneys were open and excited about what we had planned, and the kids we worked with were completely at ease in front of the camera, despite some of them having never been on set before. It really seemed as though everyone was in the same frame of mind, so it was a lot of fun and ended up being the perfect storm.