A successful career as a makeup artist gave Carolyn Haslett the confidence and the contacts to pursue her other great love, photography.
Growing up in Sumner in Christchurch she was 13 when she first picked up her mother’s Box Brownie camera. Carolyn says she immediately fell in love with photography and carried her camera with her everywhere. "I used to get so excited to get my photos printed," she recalls. "I spent all my money on it!"
Although she didn't consider becoming a professional photographer at the time, Carolyn did take some photography courses where she learnt about composition, black and white photography and developing images in a darkroom.
After she left school, Carolyn opened a vintage clothing store on Colombo Street in Christchurch and when she was 23 she left to travel overseas. While in Europe she enrolled to study at the celebrated Christian Chauveau Academy for Make Up in Paris. Having completed her qualification she found work as a hair and makeup artist, living and working in Milan, Paris and London.
Carolyn returned to New Zealand in the early 1990s and easily found work as a makeup artist. She was also starting to pick up some work as a fashion photographer. "As I was working a lot for magazines at the time doing hair and makeup, I talked them into giving me a shoot. I had already been doing single page images; some beauty and some portraits, which went into Fashion Quarterly and Style, so I think people trusted that I would be able to do a fashion shoot."
It was about this time that she met designer Teri Johnson, who had also grown up in Christchurch. Teri was the owner of the Ponsonby Road fashion boutique, Glory. Carolyn began doing the hair, makeup and photography for Glory fashion shoots, including taking the photographs for the postcards that Teri gave out to her customers.
Her growing experience and knowledge gave her the confidence to commit to her long-held passion for photography and in 2000 she set about establishing herself as a photographer.
Carolyn’s first editorial was for the Australian magazine, Cleo. She has since photographed editorials for a number of Australasian publications including Black magazine and Fashion Quarterly, as well as creating advertising campaigns for local label such as Starfish. She has also established a solid reputation for her wedding fashion photography, with her photos making regular appearances in New Zealand Weddings and Fashion Quarterly’s 'Occasions' editions.
Sally Anderson, in her 2011 thesis on fashion photography in New Zealand, notes that when it comes to photographing her subject matter, Carolyn largely relies on her creative eye, rather than on pre-planned thought or an accumulated body of knowledge. "Instead it is Carolyn’s visual instinct that shines through in her photographs."
Carolyn has recently focused on portrait photography and on creating website and social media content. "This usually involves me doing the hair and makeup and shooting the subject, whether it be a model or a person looking at placing images of themselves onto their website. I have found there are a lot of women in different roles that are needing these kind of images - I have photographed nutritionists, lawyers and stylists."
Teri Johnson says that Carolyn’s ability to manage makeup, hair and photography, means that she brings out a strength in the people she photographs. "By the time she had styled the models and done their hair and makeup, they were very comfortable with her and I think it shows. They look strong and relaxed - not at all objectified. She was naturally very good at this as she had spent so much of her career as a makeup artist watching a huge variety of photographers all over the world."
Carolyn admires the work of the Swedish photographer Camilla Akrans. She describes Camilla’s photography as feminine but also playful, edgy and a little bit naughty. In her thesis, Sally Anderson notes that like Camilla, Carolyn has a feminine but slightly off-centre, aesthetic. Despite her work as a wedding photographer, Carolyn does shy away from the notion of romantic in her images. Instead she prefers the description of feminine and natural. "I like that undone girl. Because even though I do hair and makeup, I kind of like people to look quite natural but you can’t have that in every situation and fashion photography is quite commercial."
This feminine and natural look can be seen in Carolyn’s favourite photo, which was taken in the streets of India for Fashion Quarterly magazine.
"I did the hair and makeup on this shoot, and I shot it working without an assistant. In our industry this is unheard of. I am quite proud of this shot as its more than a fashion image - it’s not staged - so I was very lucky." Perhaps it is her 'visual instinct' shining through.
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image © Carolyn Haslett.
Last published December 2018.