Despite her young age, photographer and marketing student Welin has already created her own successful photo brand. She says she hasn’t got the complete control over her work, but right for spontaneity and authenticity, people and brands constantly hire her. We met her at the Pizza Talk event in Kino Úsmev shortly after she had checked- in The Invisible Hotel’s Urban Flashbacks, Košice. Learn about how she got from shooting festival reports to New York’s fashion week.
Most people your age are about to complete their education soon. How about you?
I’m a marketing student at the Comenius University in Bratislava. Now that my classes are over, I’m working on my thesis and studying for the finals. On top of that, I’ve been working as a waitress for a week now, both as an experiment and a way to unwind.
What has inspired you to trade your camera for a tray?
Moving back from Prague. I’d spent half a year there as an Erasmus exchange student and working as a photographer for the VICE magazine. I really liked it there but in order to finish school, I had to return to Bratislava and needed to regain my enthusiasm for the city.
Once the classes were over, I realised I had enough free time on my hands to do something useful and help someone. That’s when a friend who is a coffee shop manager called me, looking for someone to help him out that very day. I thought it would be fun to try it and I’ve been working there ever since. I really enjoy this job and I’m thinking about a way to give it some artistic purpose, too. Another plus is that while working, I don’t have any time to check my phone and Instagram, which is something that I’ve really needed lately. People are not used to me not responding. They thought I was dead but I was just running around with a tray smiling and being nice to people.
An “artistic purpose”? Do you see yourself as an artist?
Not really. I don’t even see myself as a photographer because I’ve never studied that. But I believe that Instagram is a contemporary gallery which, in a way, makes us all artists.
You are about to graduate with a degree in marketing. Was it marketing that inspired you to take up photography or did the inspiration come from an entirely different direction?
It all started while I was in high school, taking pictures of my classmates. Gradually, I photographed nearly everyone in my hometown of Levice. They would come to my bedroom to have their graduation portraits taken against my magenta wall. It was very different from a professional studio but it was fun. I took their pictures, did their make up and all the styling. And that’s how my business started.
How did you become the Welin we know today?
My camera has taught me to be more assertive, it’s become my partner, a friend that I go out with. I no longer take pictures of club events, but that’s where it all started, in ‘Klub Dole’. This work led to new opportunities, like photographing the Grape festival. It seems like everything in my life happens ‘by chance’. I’m still not sure what it is that I want to photograph but people keep calling me and asking me to come. And so I keep going, trying and searching.
Judging by your social network activity, you seem to be busy all the time.
That’s right. I take photos nearly every day. Unfortunately, I haven’t learned to say no yet. The projects I enjoy working on the most, primarily the fashion events, are usually unpaid. Still, they’ve always paid off. For instance, for three years, I would do to the Prague Fashion Week, covering all my expenses myself but this year, I was able to work for Mercedes-Benz. They’d chosen me to be their local photographer and work with Adam Katz, who’s probably the most famous street style photographer in the world.
What does a photoshoot look like? Do you work on the concept in advance or is it more spontaneous?
As a photographer, I never know beforehand what I’m going to do, so I improvise. It’s the challenge of not knowing what to expect, what the light is going to be and what people I’m going to work with, that I really love. That’s why I enjoy photographing events.
Has your study of marketing influenced your photography work in any way?
That’s what Welinna is all about!
Has it been your intention to create a brand all along?
Subconsciously, it has. People tell me I’m doing a good job but honestly, I’m not sure what it is that I’m doing, other than taking care of my Instagram account. Recently, I went a week without posting anything new and started to feel really guilty about it. But then I realised that I don’t have an obligation to do anything. In the past, I didn’t care about other people’s expectations and posted new pictures whenever I felt like it. My current dilemma is which path to take — portfolio or personal.
Do you feel responsible for the content you communicate to such a large number of people?
I do, even though I don’t consider myself an influencer or even a photographer. I’m not really sure what I am, all I know is that I like sharing, connecting and inspiring people.
Offers keep coming but I need to consider each one carefully so that my profile doesn’t become another sell-out. So far, I’ve only agreed to cooperation with Mercedes-Benz, which meant I had to tag my posts “sponsored by Mercedes-Benz” and that really stressed me out. But I got over it and so did my fans.
At 24, how do you see your generation’s collective identity in terms of influencers, bloggers, YouTubers and all the other trends?
On one hand, we are the last generation to have experienced childhood without the Internet but on the other, we’ve become addicted to it. In a way, I admire people who are able to earn money online at such a young age. In 50 years time, they will have been written about in Slovak internet and Youtube textbooks as pioneers.
Our mag is connected to travelling and to our designer hotel. You travel frequently, where did you get to stay in New York for example?
We were staying in one of the POD hotels in Times Square. It was a new building without any reviews and at a very good price, which seemed quite risky. But in the end, it was a good choice, the hotel was very neat and clean. The Invisible Hotel reminds me of this New York experience because the reception there was as colourful as my hotel room here in Košice.