Kissing is one of the purest and most universal forms of expressing love and affection. A subtle exchange of breath to a fiercely passionate kiss. If you thought voyeurism was something forbidden these photos will make you change your mind. Known for using tinted lighting, Maggie West talks about her debut book “KISS” and how she captured twenty beautiful couples sharing the sweetness and intensity that comes with a kiss. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lola Who: Hi Maggie, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in photography?
Maggie: Hello! I grew up in Asheville, NC and I’m currently based in Los Angeles. I never formally studied photography. Initially, I was much more interested in painting and illustration. When I was 18, I got a job at a mall portrait studio. That is technically the only photo training Ive ever had. After that, I worked for a few local newspapers and eventually developed and interest in fashion photography. In 2008, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue my photography goals and have been here ever since.
Lola Who: Kissing feels wonderful. Is that why you decided to do a whole book about couples kissing?
Maggie: Kissing is such a beautiful way of expressing intimacy. To me, the most powerful thing about the book is how genuine the emotions are in the photographs. I was really moved by the beauty of these emotions and I hope the readers are as well.
Lola Who: KISS is your first photo book. How would you describe the aesthetic of KISS and what are you hoping viewers will take away from it?
Maggie: Both the visual style and subject matter of KISS relate strongly to my work as a whole. I love using deeply saturated colors and intricate lighting to create sensual imagery. This project really spoke to me because it combined elaborate, contrived lighting with spontaneous, genuine human emotions.
Lola Who: What inspired your choice of strong saturated colors and contrast?
Maggie: I used the colors to remove the act of kissing from normal setting to allow the viewer to look at it in a more abstract way. By using a range of colors to highlight different areas of the subjects, I tried to bring out details in the interactions that the viewer might not notice otherwise. The intense range of colors also serve to symbolize electricity between the subjects. I believe with each embrace, however subtle, there is an exchange of energy between the subjects.
Lola Who: Some of the models in your book include model Alexa Demie, singer Lauren Bennett and artist Niko the Ikon. How did you convince them to be a part of your project and how did you find all the other couples?
Maggie: I am lucky enough to have a lot of good looking friends who were willing to make out for me! A few of the subjects were models that I knew from my fashion and beauty work, but the majority of the people in the book are just friends of mine. It’s a really eclectic mix of people within the arts community; models, musicians, artists, porn stars, etc.
Lola Who: How was the energy during the photo shoot and did you have to give directions to your models?
Maggie: Interesting! It was a really diverse mix of relationships. One of the objectives of the book was to examine the dynamic between a variety of relationships, not just established couples. Some couples had been dating for years, some were old friends, some barely knew each other and so on. Initially everyone, no matter their relationship, was a little nervous. I didn’t really give direction. Kissing is such a physical act that within a few minutes, the models were so engrossed in each other that they kind of forgot they were being photographed. By the end of the shoot, no one seemed to realize I was still there. Lola Who: Do you remember your first kiss and can you tell us what it was like?
Maggie: I was playing spin-the-bottle in the basement of a Baptist church in North Carolina. Me and another girl made out with a boy who was super cute and, I found out years later, also gay.
Lola Who: According to you, what is the most iconic kiss, whether it’s in a movie, in a photo or even in literature.
Maggie: I really like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrecs painting, In Bed: The Kiss. Theres something about the about the intimacy in the painting that feels really genuine.
Lola Who: After photographing 20 couples, what’s in a kiss?
Maggie: Scientifically, our bodies do it to exchange biological information about whether or not the person we are making will make genetically strong offspring with us. Emotionally, I think kissing is an instance of vulnerability between two people. All of the distractions of the outside world fade away and we get to focus on the physical sensation of our lips moving against each others.
Lola Who: How would you describe the perfect kiss?
Maggie: Passionate, sensual and with just the right amount of tongue.
Lola Who: Will your next project also involve kissing and intimacy?
Maggie: My next book is and examination of the spectrum of gender and sexuality. I shot 23 nude portraits of artists, musicians, and performers in Los Angeles. It’s a really beautiful mix of people. No one is kissing, however I do believe there is a certain level of intimacy to the portraits.
Lola Who: Who would you like to kiss on Valentine’s Day?
Maggie: Tom Hardy, preferably in costume.
KISS is now available on Amazon