Chantal Dominique is a Chicago and Indianapolis-based fashion photographer and model trainer. She also happens to be a former PATTERN intern! Despite only being out of school for two years, Chantal has already made a name for herself. Her work has been published locally, nationally, and internationally, and she has clients all over the country. In addition to her work training models in posing and catwalks, she also advocates for models’ mental and physical health. We invited Chantal into the office to chat about her dreams, goals, and what sets her apart in the fashion industry.
Callie Zimmerman: What does your creative process look like?
Chantal Dominique: I look at magazines with European fashion and models from all over Europe. I’m super into Scandinavian styling, which is coming in for the spring this year. When I think about what I want to shoot next, I’m like, okay, what’s happening there? Because that’s eventually going to be here. Then I’m also looking at all the other photographers in the area and staying away from anything they’re doing. You don’t want to steal their work. You want to be completely different. I try to stay away from Pinterest as much as possible. Everything on Pinterest is very trendy and Pinterest-y, so it ruins the creative process, I think. It’s not unique.
CZ: What do you like about Scandinavian fashion?
CD: It’s very minimal but so dramatic at the same time, whether it’s monochromatic, nude shades to these drastic coats and boots. I love their makeup too. I went to Iceland in May of last year and their fashion magazines and everything are the coolest. Anything that makes me feel alive, that’s what I tend to go after.
CZ: You talk a lot about having a love and respect for models, and giving them a voice. How is the way you approach working with models different from that of others in the industry?
CD: Well, I’ve assisted a lot of fashion photographers in Chicago and New York. Some of them do really well, but then there are others where you can definitely feel the hierarchy. The creative director is always on top, but after that… sure, the photographer is next up, but the model is the one that’s going to be in the image. They should be treated as an equal. Even just the language being spoken… much of the time, when the photographer is directing, the model gets treated like an item. I’m just like, they’re still human! I like to make sure the set is even-toned. It’s not my job to make everyone happy and it’s pretty much impossible the majority of the time, but if someone is treating someone unkind I feel like it’s my job as the photographer to step and up say, “Hey, what’s going on?” It’s my studio. If we need to, we can find another makeup artist. If we need to, we can find another fill-in-the-blank. I feel like you see that in my images. If the makeup artist is treating the model poorly, then the images will be off. It ruins it for the creatives. I know what was happening behind the scenes, and it makes it difficult for me to want to publish the images.
The world will tell you you need to be the next best thing now, but you have your whole life to be that.
CZ: How would you describe your photography style?
CD: High fashion is my love language in photography. I love all the other outlets too, but for some reason that just really gets to me. Creatively, it’s using light to every advantage, whether it’s the sun or a soft box. Also, the shape of the clothes. Oftentimes, being in Indiana, there’s not going to be a fashion director on set, and so the photographer tends to take on that role. I always like there to be a sense of beauty or drama. If it’s gonna be pretty, make it pretty. If it’s gonna be dramatic, make it dramatic. There’s no in-between for me.
CZ: What is your favorite project to date?
CD: My absolute favorite one, that really opened my eyes to the fact that fashion is something I want to do, is this shoot that I did in the canal in Indy with Rachel Madison. She’s a makeup artist and also a model. That was my first shoot. Now, the images could have been better and all that, but for some reason that one is my favorite, just because it was the start. That’s the worst my photography has ever been.
CZ: How did you first get into photography?
CD: So, fun fact. I started in athletic training in college, and that was… awful. I hated it so much. I have huge respect for anyone in the medical field, but it just killed my soul. So I switched majors randomly to photography, just as a filler until I figured out what I was supposed to do. I had never had a camera before, so I have no idea why I decided to pick up photography. I started taking those classes and I was like, “Oh yeah, this is it. This is so much fun. I can get paid for talking to people?” So that’s how I got started. After that, I was immediately like, “Okay, I hate weddings. I hate family portraits. I like product, but I love people.” I decided to intern for somebody as a last resort, to see what fashion is like. My mind was blown. I thought it was the coolest thing on Earth. So then it was a year of building my portfolio and learning. I also interned here (at PATTERN) for a semester and that was really cool too. I realized there was a greater importance to fashion than just pretty images and clothes. It shows people in a different light.
CZ: Is there a brand or person you are dying to collaborate with?
CD: There’s so many! (Laughs.) I just have this feeling that someday I’m going to get to work with — I feel like Chanel is such a far reach — Ralph Lauren. His sense of fashion is timeless. He has such an elegant factor that he brings to every line that he does. He does it for men, women, and children, but it’s always so cohesive. And Balenciaga. It’s almost like this London vibe, just so cool. I feel like the limitations just aren’t there.
CZ: What is one thing you love about the fashion industry and one thing you would change?
CD: I feel like there’s a lot you could change. One thing I love is the sense of history. With every season that comes out, there’s almost always a historical tie. Like, something this year coming back from the Roaring 20’s, or inspired by a president’s wife’s wardrobe. The elegant gloves up to the elbow are coming back and that makes me so excited! Something I would change is… well, the obvious answer would be money. You do these amazing shoots and should be paid for them. It’s slowly changing and it’s going to get better. There’s a huge movement for models to get paid for doing runway and things like that. Still, nobody’s getting paid what they should be. That’s the art world, sadly.
CZ: What’s one thing you want people to know about you?
CD: I love depth. That’s the thing the industry lacks. We’re so quick for a job; we’re so quick to get everything done in a timely manner. That’s what New York’s about. L.A. is like that too, to an extent. I long to know why people do what they do. Why does this fashion designer decide to always use this shade of black? There’s got to be some internal reason.
CZ: What are you excited about this year?
CD: There’s so much, it’s crazy. I’ve started working with Rachel Madison and we’ve created a model posing class. That was something I was drawn to after attending the Coca Rocha model camp in New York. I fell in love with teaching and helping younger, newer models do the simplest poses that are best for them. So that’s starting, and then I started working as a freelance scout for Coca Rocha. There are so many shoots coming up. 2020 is going to be a good year. I’m so excited.
CZ: What’s one goal you’re working towards?
CD: For every photographer, the answer should be creating the next best shoot. For me, it’s the next best for me personally. I’m always looking for a new designer to work with, or makeup artist. I have my own pool of people I always pull from, but it’s good to meet new people. I’m always making sure that my work is moving forward, not backwards. And if it is moving backwards, figuring out why. The next best thing might not be the same for me as it is for the rest of the world — that’s okay. I’m too young to say that I’m going to be the next best anything, or at least that’s what the world wants to tell me. Continued growth. Being better than I was next year, in all areas of my life.
CZ: Were there any AHA! moments along the way?
CD: Yeah, that’s just a part of growth. It’s just realizing there are magazines you do and don’t want to be published in, depending on your goals. There are certain people you do want to work with, or don’t want to work with. For the people you do want to work with, you just have to keep pushing and keep striving until you can do that. One of those moments this year was getting asked to be a scout for Coca Rocha. That was AHA! in the sense that I love this, and that I can continue to advance my career when I live in Indiana. That cracks me up. Nobody says you can be a fashion photographer in Indiana.
CZ: Do you have any advice for new photographers or models?
CD: For photographers, don’t be afraid to ask to assist. That’s the greatest way to learn if you don’t go to school for photography or fashion. Always be looking at what’s coming up in fashion, not what’s current. Immediately as soon as you shoot something, it’s no longer “in”. Always be moving fashion forward. For models, find your market, whether that’s high fashion or commerce, and really go after that 100%. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do it all. We’re human, there’s no way. Even for photographers, do the one thing you’re good at and strive for that. Sometimes I’ll do family portraits, and that revives me in the sense that I hate that, and I love what I’m doing, so I’m going to continue what I’m doing. It helps me remember. Also, they say it takes five years before you’re able to be a true artist in your career field, before you can say you’ve “made it.” Something like 75% of people drop out of their artform in the first year after college, and every year until you reach the five-year mark, it keeps going down. Being one year out and still going, you’ve already beat the odds. For me, being two years out, that’s so rare. Five years out is the norm, and that’s not what we’re told in college. Giving yourself grace on your growth is so important. The world will tell you you need to be the next best thing now, but you have your whole life to be that. So enjoy the ride.