Girls on film: Paris Mumpower
The multimedia artist offers an intimate reflection on being a female director
Tuesday 8 March 2022 By Abigail Hirsch Photography by Paris Mumpower
If you’ve been on Instagram in the past week, you most likely saw Chloe Cherry, Euphoria’s latest breakout star puffy-lipped, with glitter tears streaming down her face, hysterical in a bathroom. The woman behind the shoot? Paris Mumpower. Here, we chat to the fashion photographer, director and multimedia artist about the power of an all-women team.
Tell us about your background, how did you get into photography and directing?
‘I’m originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Roanoke, Virginia (hey y’all) and studied in the south at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I intended to pursue fine art after school until a friend of mine, Angel Emmanuel, told me that IMG’s division MA.DE was looking for a collage artist to join them for New York Fashion Week. After one show season, my entire focus shifted to being a fashion-based creative. Soon after that I began working and living in New York.’
You started out in-house at brands, but now you’re freelance, right? How was that transition?
‘Correct. I got my start at companies like IMG, PAPER, Estée Lauder, GAP, and Wilhelmina Models. The pandemic hit as I transitioned to freelancing – I was terrified. In a weird way it worked in my favour, as brands were reaching out to artists working from home. One of my favourite at-home shoots was on FaceTime with Phoebe Bridgers for Interview magazine for the release of her album, Punisher. I printed and scanned the iPhone photos from my bedroom floor in Brooklyn.’
Did Instagram or social media help?
‘Absolutely. I cast a lot of the talent and crew I work with through my Instagram Stories, which in turn has opened more doors for projects. Almost every week I ask people to drop relevant recs.’
What’s your greatest challenge working as a female director?
‘I think anyone who has the power to handpick their team should do so with care and make sure that not only their talent is diverse, but also their crew. A huge goal of mine as a female director is to hire and uplift women in any role that I can, especially positions that feel male dominated.
‘Ironically, on a recent music video I directed, we hired a female “best boy” – that was incredible to see on the call sheet. I try my hardest to protect the energy on set as much as I can to make it a safe space for everyone.’
Have you ever worked on a project with an all-women team?
What was one of those projects?
‘I just did a photoshoot with Euphoria actor Chloe Cherry, makeup artist Alexandra French, stylist Tabitha Sanchez, DP Ivy Tellin, graphic designer Dominique Falcone, hairstylist Kayla Casey, and writer Georgia Nicholas.’
What was that experience like and how does it compare to working under men?
‘There’s a synergy among a female crew that’s very comforting. Some of my favourite shoots have been with small groups of likeminded women similar to this one – when we all have the same vision, it doesn’t feel like work. We’re all excited to see our parts come together and come to life. Ultimately, I think open communication is the most important thing, no matter how you identify.’
Any thoughts on being a female freelance creative?
‘It’s been beautiful to see the industry change around me over the past few years and become more self-aware of who is being hired for projects and why. It’s important that we help each other learn the ropes; I want all women to succeed. I’ve worked closely with Sun-ny Side Up cofounders Rory Roth and Jill Ferree for about five years now, and they’ve helped me grow tremendously. Together, they champion inclusivity so effortlessly and know how to command every set they walk on, whether it’s all women or men. I hope that’s people’s take-away when I’m their director.’
Have you had any negative or sexist experiences in your career?
‘Not until I began directing. On one of my first shoots in Los Angeles, I was explaining to someone how to light our set when he suggested a different set-up in front of the client. His suggestion wasn’t asked for and didn’t match their brief, yet I found myself having to tell him more than once to follow my direction. He did, however, respect the client, a man, once he told him he needed to listen to what I was saying.’
Tell us about this small community of female creatives in Los Angeles you’ve built and fostered.
‘My favourite topic. Most of my friends are in a similar realm and we often want to build with each other. There’s a central focus of being strong in representation – women, LGBTQIA+, gender non-conforming people, people of colour, and other marginalised groups who are underrepresented in the creative field. Together, we’ve made a space where everyone is seen and heard, constantly evolving, adding new friends from each set to our little web.
‘My three roommates and I joke about our home feeling like a production company since we always have a project going on at our house in some capacity with people coming in and out of our studio. It consists of myself (director/ photographer), Dominique Falcone (art director), Ivy Tellin (DP and editor), and TJ Hoover (producer and lighting wizard). I love how we’re able to come together as a team where needed; I wouldn’t be able to pull off any of my projects without them.’
How do you speak to different genders with your work?
‘Personally, I love bringing fluidity wherever possible. I like to approach my work in a gender non-conforming way. I styled my boyfriend, Danny Dwyer, in a dress of mine for a shoot once, and truth be told he looked better than me in it.’
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