Born and raised in Sante Fe, Williejane Dent is a young photographer living in Los Angeles. Growing up, the artist recalls restlessly looking for mediums to express her creative thirst—art camps, dance classes, photography—before finding a deep endearment in being behind the lens. Focusing on the visual portrayal of women, her work emphasizes community and youth culture as it relates to fashion, music, and lifestyle. “I’d like for people to feel the way I felt looking at Victoria’s Secret models as a child,” she says.
Thus far, Williejane’s creative endeavors have been met with glamorous brand collaborations, including well-established labels such as Jeffery Campbell, Levi’s, Joah Brown, as well as Gen Z favorites like Bailey Prado and UNLESS Collective. “As a child, I was always drawn to the female gaze and photography. I would sit for hours looking at my mom’s magazines analyzing the models and what they were wearing,” Williejane shares. She adds, “I was and still am very inspired by all women.”
As Williejane documents the visual exploration of youth through film and VHS, we catch up with the photographer to discuss her upbringing, choosing her subjects, and more. Read on for our conversation.
Walk me through your childhood, what was your experience growing up in Santa Fe and where did your affinity for photography begin?
Growing up in Santa Fe at the time was very boring, but looking back I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else. It’s a small town in the high mountains of the desert which has become a mecca for art and culture. The place attracts a lot of artists because of how beautiful and inspiring the area is… not to sound cliche.
I had a lot of access to creative activities. I’d spend my summers going to art camps, dance classes, photography mentorships… If I wasn’t doing that I was probably partying and getting into trouble.
My true love for photography started when I took my first darkroom class in seventh grade. My cousin Mason Dent gifted me my first 35mm camera, and once I processed my first roll of film I was hooked! Throughout middle school and high school, I continued to take photography classes and work under mentors, learning more and more about 35mm. Once I graduated high school, I attended the Oregon College of Art and Craft and studied photography for another six years.
For those people encountering your images for the first time, please could you introduce yourself and your work?
I’m so bad at introducing myself… I’d like to introduce my work as romantic storytelling.
How did you find and choose your subjects? What qualities about a person make you want to take their portrait?
I started by taking photos of my friends. I really loved documenting them in a moment while hanging out. I felt like it created a great story and gave the viewer an idea of how I experience their personalities. Now that we have Instagram I usually find new people to work with on there. I like to continue to work with the same people though. There really aren’t any specific qualities about a person but I am very drawn to actors because of that storytelling aspect. I love images that look like I caught someone in a moment.
Your works with Bailey Prado, OMIGHTY, and Levi’s are some of our many favorites in your portfolio—are there any particular shoots that you treasure the most?
Thank you! My all-time favorite shoot was at the beginning of 2021 titled “away.” I worked on it with my friend Fenn Paider, an incredible videographer and creative director. It was a story of two girls that ran away, and was documented in an old Mustang and run-down Motel 6. I worked on doing BTS while Fenn videoed everything and it just reminded me so much of growing up and getting to know yourself. This shoot completely shifted how I wanted to photograph people and brought me back to my documentary high school aesthetic.
A lot of your work explores culture and the human body from the female gaze. Where has this interest stemmed from?
As a child, I was always drawn to the female gaze and photography. I would sit for hours looking at my mom’s magazines analyzing the models and what they were wearing. I especially remember grabbing the Victoria’s Secret catalogs and looking at models like Karen Mulder and Daniela Peštová, and thinking how powerful, beautiful and cool they were. Cool enough I would cut them out and have them sit and watch tv with me. I was and still am very inspired by all women.
Do you ever see your photographs as looking to convey a message or do they lean towards the purely aesthetic?
It’s usually purely aesthetic. Sometimes I have a shoot with a specific storyline that I try to convey like movie stills which is something I want to be doing more of.
In general, what compels you to keep picking up your camera despite how tiresome photography can be at times?
I get to work with incredible humans that continue to inspire me. My mind is usually always excited to shoot. The more and more I shoot the more I know what inspires me and who I want to spend my energy working with. It is rarely tiresome, but if there’s ever a period I feel uninspired I honor that because I know it’s not a forever feeling.
What do you hope people take away from your photos?
I’d like for people to feel the way I felt looking at Victoria’s Secret models as a child.
Elsewhere in photography, Rhiannon Rostami exhibits a remarkable ability to innovate, harmonize, and communicate a new visual language.