• Record Collector: Natalie Neal

    There’s a certain dreaminess to the imagery Los Angeles-based director and photographer Natalie Neal creates. Her images exist in their own realm, somewhere between modern fairytale and reality. Brought to life with color, stylized lens flare, kaleidoscopic arrays and sometimes even fog machines, there’s a magical quality and storytelling element present in the pictures she makes. “I like it to be a little weird. I care more about it being interesting than beautiful,” she says of her style, though that’s not to say the images aren’t pretty and polished; they are.

    Natalie’s work often fuses the world of fashion with music, lending her talent to emerging local artists. Growing up in a small rural Oregon town known for its annual rodeo meant there was a dearth of available models, so she began staging her own shoots with her best friend and the help of a self-timer. Together they would craft their own outfits, build sets and even take over local laundromats to create just the right setting. There’s an air of curiosity and inherent femininity that she continues to explore in her work even now. 

    Today, she translates the aesthetics she honed in on in her fashion photography to create portraits of artists like Kate Nash and Bleached. She channels that vision into videos starring the likes of Soko, rising French chanteuse Petite Meller and a forthcoming video for west coast-by-way-of-Atlanta rapper, Donnis.

    We spent an afternoon at Natalie's Echo Park home discussing her art and equally whimsical record collection, where a multitude of Disney soundtracks — including a handful vinyl copies of It’s A Small World — occupy shelf space alongside classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Beatles and a variety of global artists from decades of yore.
    Photos and words by Nilina Mason-Campbell

    You recently did a music video for Fool's Gold rapper, Donnis. How did that come together?
    We started chatting on Tinder [about] a year ago. He was like, “I know you, your rep is this person and you’re with this production company.” He knew everything about me and I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s really into my work, that’s so weird.' So he just sent me his songs and I got to pick which one I did the video for. 

    How did you decide on the track, "Liar?"
    I was reading this bell hooks book that’s all about love. She talks about honesty in relationships, and how dishonesty prevents love and what love really is. She was talking about how a part of what gets in the way of people finding love is having to adhere to a false identity that’s whatever your gender role is and how that’s lying. I was interested in that and because of my focus on feminism. 

    You mentioned that you prefer working with women more than men. Why is that?
    Well, I just work so hard. I want my hard work to benefit people who have less representation. I care about that. I don’t want to benefit people who can’t appreciate it or don’t need it as much. I think of my work as activism... that’s why I’ve only had female interns. I think if I can make some mentor relationship with someone and invest in that, I [will]. There isn’t enough messaging in our society that makes women focused on being competitive or setting really high goals within their career. It’s getting more common than it used to be, but for instance, a lot of people our age, their parents are whatever age, the circumstances they grew up in, they weren’t encouraging their daughters to have a career. I feel like I’m helping people, I want to be careful about where I put my limited time, basically.

    Speaking of, how do you choose which projects to work on?
    It mostly comes down to relationships or sharing like some kind of creative vision. For instance, Ruby the RabbitFoot, I did her album art for a single that’s forthcoming. I just shot her for a cover option for a magazine. We got along just as people. We both really liked rainbow stuff, and my pitch for her shoot was supposed to be based on Champ Bear the CareBear who loves sports and athleticism, but it’s like all rainbows and hearts, you know? She’s kind of got that vibe and I like to play with power and femininity and what it means [in relation]. 

    What bands or artists are you most excited about right now?
    Puro Instinct. They’re a sister duo, they live in L.A. So I’ll just like, stalk them online, cause I’m excited about what they’re doing. I’ll figure out how to be in touch with them somehow. And then I’m like, “I wanna meet for coffee, I wanna do something for you. What type of video could we make? I could pitch you to magazines, like, I’ll shoot you for someone.” I did that with this other girl Molly Marlette, she lives in LA too. I like finding new musicians.

    Was it a conscious transition from fashion to music projects? 
    It just started happening and at the same time, I just started losing interest in shooting fashion editorial. The thing that I love about fashion editorial is using the clothing as art in a more elevated way. And that’s a hard thing about shooting musicians, too is that they have an image to protect, which is tricky. So that’s the other way I pick people, if they like the same kind of things as me [so that] I’m not limited.  Like Ruby, [when] I shot her PR images for her new album that’s coming out in June, she had poison oak. She had like bandages on her legs and so we were like, “let’s put more bandages on.” So we put a lot of bandages on her, just for the shock. But some people, they’re not down for it. 

    What are you listening to right now?
    Well, I’m listening to the new Drake album cause it just came out. It’s Drake around the clock this week for sure. I do that with everything. I did that with Tame Impala last summer. If there’s a new album I just listen to it 'till I get sick of it and then I get a new one. I kind of have that personality. I do that with food too [where] I’ll buy a lot of the same kind of food and eat it for a week. I don’t know why I like to do that. 

    I would say I listen to a lot of old music or any new music that comes out. In my car, I’m listening to Caetano Veloso. I don’t have an auxiliary cable or anything, so I listen to CDs. I get them at thrift stores and Amoeba. And I like world music, like Portuguese stuff. I’m listening to bossa nova right now in my car. But then I think new music, like on my Sonos, I’m listening to Drake - it's all I have in my queue. 

    And for your record collection, what is in that?
    A lot of old stuff. I collect them mostly from thrift stores, so I have these Sergio Mendez albums. I like to get female vocalists from the '70s. I have some Barbara Streisand that I really like, and Melanie - she’s lesser known, and Karen Carpenter. I listen to just the classics cause I like to buy them all used. I have some Beatles albums and I really like the Beatles, of course.

    When do you listen to records most? 
    When I’m working and when I just finished a big deadline [so that] I know that I’m gonna still be working but it’s not as stressful. I listen to [records] when I’m just hanging out [and] relaxing. I started that habit in high school. I would do it when I was doing homework for the classes I was good at. Our record player growing up was in my dad’s den, so it was a workspace. I only listen to records when I’m being productive, but it’s a low-pressure productivity, generally. 

    I used to go thrifting like on my lunch breaks, and I would just get [records] that had good album art. That’s how I got into Herb Alpert and whatever the whipped cream album is. It’s like a really crazy picture, it’s really cool. That’s how I got into Melanie because she has some album art that has a cut out of a cityscape. Also, I have some Disney records that I basically got for nostalgic purposes too. And that’s why I think the packaging.

    In what ways do you feel inspired by music? 
    In real life, you try to tell someone your experience and they don’t really want to hear it. People think, ‘You’re trying to convince me, I don’t agree with you and I have stigmas attached to your experiences [that] you’re sharing with me.’ I’ve been really inspired by music for that [reason]; getting to hear other people’s experiences in a more profound way. And like I said, I’ve been on a rap phase for the last couple years, so I’m still focused mostly on that and focused on empathy and understanding, which is why I’m really into Kendrick. I like learning from musicians. 

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