It was early April when I stumbled upon the fresh and spirited images of Brooklyn-based photographer Meg Stacker King on Instagram. Her feed offered up a much-needed infusion of fun and hope for a brighter, better future amidst the COVID crisis. A series of black and white photos that highlight the love and connection between parents and their children are part of Stacker King's quarantine inspired project titled We the Mamas.
Stacker King is a woman whose passion for both her craft and humanity presents a positive take on our current world situation. Her unique eye and ability to evoke emotion with every project she works on is evident in the breathtakingly beautiful realness and warmth of the images she produces.
In our interview, Meg shares about the many ways in which photography and humanity intertwine in her editorial work, commercial work, and Piga Picha Project with One Vibe Africa, whose aim is to inspire and empower youth. Truth is at the core of this artist’s vision.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
What is your first memory of photography?
I was introduced to photography in grade school where I was on yearbook staff. My first actual memories of photography are in the dark room, developing and printing. This has always been my favorite place.
You were gifted your first camera at age 13. Can you remember the first photo you took?
My father gave me his old 35mm Nikon film camera with multiple lenses and a grey canvas camera bag. I felt like a pro! One of the first photos I took was of my neighbor, an elderly lady, and she was holding my cat in her living room. It was the photo that many years later my dad would reference and suggest that I do this for a living. It was at his urging that I went to Maine Photographic Workshop for a two-week intensive to see if I really loved photography enough to make it my profession.
Are you a self-taught photographer or did you do any formal training?
I had formal training, but my style was not accepted by the professors, so I fought for my portfolio review and acceptance. The day I was told by my portfolio review instructor that I wouldn’t make it, I went straight downtown to Barnes & Noble and sat for hours going through magazines and came back to class the next day with multiple examples of publications that reflected my style. It’s a shame to have teachers that only see in a box of their comfort versus using imagination or trusting an artist’s vision.
I definitely do not think that artists need formal training, [and] some of the most brilliant photographers that I know are self-taught.
How would you describe your shooting style?
I strive to document the real, the in-between moments, the strength, the spark, the peace, finding that authenticity. I definitely direct throughout my shoots, but it is an attempt to keep a subject moving if they are reserved or slow them down to tap into their core. I want to allow their truth to emanate. I’d say my overall work definitely leans more towards editorial. The kid fashion could be considered commercial, but it definitely still has more of an editorial vibe to it.
You have a young son, Tau. Has being a mom changed the way and what you shoot?
He’s almost 2, I cannot believe it, he’s currently about to hit 21 months in a couple of weeks! Being a mom has changed me for sure! What I shoot is still generally the same: Commercial and Fashion Editorial with a focus on kids. However, I have never photographed so many mother/child portraits prior to the launch of We the Mamas. This series is entirely inspired by my journey as a mother and the gratitude that I feel for everyone that has been a part of my journey personally or shares the experience of motherhood. Prior to COVID-19, Tau would be on set for about half of my shoots, depending on the client. At such a young age, he already has a knack for directing! I shot all the way up to 2 weeks before he was born and got back in the studio when he was just shy of 2 months old. It’s incredibly important to me that he sees me working, creating and is exposed to the experience.
What inspires you and your work?
My work is fueled by storytelling, passion, and emotion. I’m incredibly inspired by our younger generation, which is why I gravitate towards photographing them. Especially in this crazy year we’ve been having, their ability to adapt, articulate their experience, continue to learn, educate peers on voting, organize and lead protests, the list goes on. This next generation is pure power!
Now that I have a son, he inspires me on the daily. I want him to know that he should never stop striving, that he should always work hard, push himself, and trust his vision. The list of people that inspire me could go on and on, creatives and thinkers of all disciplines, because there’s an incredible arsenal of artists out there and through these times it has been the creatives that keep the energy flowing!
What inspired your first trip to Kenya in 2012? Was this your first time in Africa? How did this experience move you?
MSK: Yes, 2012 was my first trip to Kenya. It was with a dear friend who is from Naivasha, Kenya, whose parents ran an orphanage. I was initially going for fun, just as a tourist, with no plan other than to visit her family and adventure around with her. About a week prior to leaving I felt like I was missing something, a lot of thoughts and notes on bar napkins and I realized I wanted to do a camera project and take disposable cameras with me to teach photography to the kids. We spent 2 weeks exploring, teaching, experiencing the students’ vision and seeing them improve and expand each day that they picked up the camera. With disposable cameras you can’t control too much on the camera itself, so it was all about exploring the subject, the perspective, the proximity, the composition, the light, the pose. I can’t tell you how magical it was to see them improve with each frame they shot. Each day we would only allow them a set number of frames, so that they didn’t shoot through the film in 5 minutes, to encourage them to think before they shot. I fell in love with the country and the people and was lucky enough to return a few years later with a youth arts education organization, One Vibe Africa, and launch my program, Piga Picha Project. This time I raised funds and arrived with digital cameras, memory cards, and all the necessary equipment for the students to continue shooting after I had gone. While there we also hosted a music festival and filmed a documentary. It was a whirlwind month!
I had the chance to work with a handful of students over the course of these weeks. A few were so natural it gave me chills, then there were kids that were incredible students and writers. It reminds you that we all work together to tell these stories, whatever the story may be. I love teaching and am excited for where Piga Picha Project is headed next!
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, what kind of work did you do? How has the pandemic affected you professionally?
As a freelance photographer and producer, my son Tau and I were on the road constantly for work. We were a week away from a couple of months on the road for jobs, then within one week everything on the books evaporated and life came to a screeching halt. I spent that first month adjusting, grieving what was, disinfecting, listening to conversations with creatives, looking for inspiration, squeezing in workouts (often consisting of downward dog with a toddler under me), just trying desperately to maintain some semblance of sanity in this unknown world full of unrealistic expectations.
We thought we were going to leave New York for a bit when everything started ramping up, but we decided to hunker down here in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. As this pause seemed to be carrying on in a never-ending groundhog fashion, I lived for the 7pm cheer for the essential workers, sunny Fort Greene Park mornings with the little man and then, of course, these virtual shoots. I am definitely looking forward to getting back out to travel and work with people in real life!
You’re currently at work on a photo project titled, We the Mamas. What was the inspiration behind this? How do you connect with potential subjects? What has the response been like? And what are your plans post-pandemic with the stunning and moving captures of families?
This project is one filled with gratitude for the role we play in keeping each other sane in this journey of motherhood and to recognize the power that we possess as we experience and adapt to all that is happening in the world. As if being a mom isn’t challenging enough without all of the current events to take things up a thousand notches! About a month into the alternate reality of quarantine, inspiration struck and We the Mamas was born. It has since then evolved from being solely focused on the experience of COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing to encompass all that is front and center in this world right now, from a pandemic to a revolution. Our community is what reminds us that we are not alone. We the Mamas is a way for mamas to share their voice and perspective with each other and the world.
Mamas are absolutely incredible, and we are doing a great job, hour by hour, day by day. Hopefully this serves as a reminder that we are not alone. I have been able to shoot over 30 mothers and kids via FaceTime, pacing my house holding my laptop or sitting down with my mini assistant in my lap. It has been a fun challenge, a much-needed creative outlet, a reason to connect and a nice change of quarantine pace.
I will definitely keep shooting this series. There is always a story to tell, a connection to be made, it’s just the landscape of the challenges that may change. I have currently expanded the project into We the Kids with virtual shoots of our youth, accompanied by a voice recording of them sharing their message and thoughts of the current state of affairs.
I imagine it’s a totally different approach and vibe shooting in person compared to shooting via Facetime. How does the experience differ? What are the pros/cons? Have you learned anything new through this experience?
Totally different! But it’s a fun challenge. We figure out when and where the best light is in their house, often moving and rearranging furniture, and then I direct them to inspire movement. It’s a whole different scenario directing as a talking head than as a body showing them the movements in person, but it offers an element of organic, authentic movement and energy since they are in their own space. There is not as much control over shutter speed, blur, exposure… so I have embraced these elements to help set the mood and the story. It is a true collaboration with the subject, which is a really cool dynamic.
What do you think will be the new normal in your industry post-pandemic?
Wow! I honestly have no idea! The pandemic and the fight for equality has and will continue to dramatically change the landscape. I know drones have become a new fixture in fashion shoots, then there are virtual shoots over FaceTime (as I have been doing), but honestly nothing can replace that in-person, team collaboration. I know that there will be some anxiety that comes with getting back in the studio with full teams, that budgets will have new line items for COVID prevention.
2020 is a year of pivoting and realignment for many companies and industries. The growth is not without pain, this is a marathon and not a sprint on all fronts, but I am hopeful the people will stand strong until change is realized, that this momentum will bring lasting change, that the truth and strength will persevere and the long overdue diversity in this this industry, in front and behind the camera will be realized. The time is now.
All photos by Meg Stacker King, We the Mamas
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Beka Shane Denter is a Canadian features and content writer currently based in the beach town of White Rock on Canada’s west coast. She has used her knowledge, passion, and nomadic lifestyle to fuel her career as a writer. This has led to several inspiring collaborations with publications including FASHION, ELLE Canada, BUST.com, Women’s Surf Style Magazine, Mind Body Green, Today’s Parent, The Inertia, Ottawa Wedding, and LUXE. Beka is at work on an inspiring women-focused project highlighting the creative talent of British Columbia. Visit her website at https://www.bekashanedenter.com.