Photographer Ira Chernova In Conversation With Model And Muse Salem Mitchell

Heaven on Earth.

Ira Chernova, a Los Angeles based photographer, shoots people who exude a rare kind of beauty. You know, the one that is at first staunchly confident but eventually quite fragile? It’s in the eyes.

Her subjects push and pull between the extraordinary Amber Wagner or Syd (Tha Kyd), and a dormant fog on a quiet road or someone else’s grandparent. This time, her muse is one fantastic Salem Mitchell. Together, they created the below short film — a celebration of not just Salem’s magic beauty, but her fervour and agile spirit.

To coincide, Ira documented a recent conversation with Salem in which they talk about life stuff: creativity, inspiration, the internet and criticism.

IC: What did you dream of today, Salem?
SM: I think today I just dreamed of being healthy and happy. I’ve had a rough couple months with my personal feelings toward myself and I’m a little under the weather, which makes me feel even more down. But, I’m dreaming and thinking toward the days when I feel 100% inside and out. What did you dream of today?

I feel you on that. Holiday season always brings a self doubt in me and makes me wonder if I’m going the right way, with decisions I make for my life and my career, which caused some unsettling feelings that transferred into dreams. Do you think being in a creative field affects it in any way?
Yeah! Sometimes I feel like being in a creative fields, specifically modelling, where so much of it involves the way you look and the way your social media is handled, it makes you overthink existing and simple things maybe everyone else isn’t even noticing. Also it’s hard to be confident working when you’re not feeling confident in general, so it’s a challenge sometimes. But I’m learning how to balance pretty well.

How do you cope when it comes to separating social media life, presence from real life, friends, impressions and expectations that people might have of you based on the internet?
In terms of coping with separating my presence in real life with my social media life, it’s actually a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I think, luckily, I have a really strong support system and real people around me that can pull me away if I get too wrapped up in social media and trying to control others’ perceptions of me. I will say, even though I’m able to separate myself a good 80% of the time and my family and friends can help me with the other 20%, the involvement of social media and modelling has become so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to remove yourself from social media.

I was trying to take a break from social media recently because I was just feeling down about my appearance and other things, and during that break I was asked by a few members on my agency team for my instagram statistics — how many story views I’m getting, how my audience is growing — to allow brands to access that information when booking me. It is amazing, because I do take pride in my following and having various people that support me from all over, but also it makes it impossible for me to exist without it. When clients want to know what your story views for the last two weeks are looking like it adds this pressure to share what you’re doing, or take photos on your off days when you’re not feeling the most beautiful or photogenic.

I understand it well. I started doing photography way before modelling, but during the period of modelling when I started sharing images of myself quite often (I was proud of jobs I was getting and wanted to share), many began assuming that all I do is modelling — that photography is hobby or something. It took me time to step back (now I don’t keep many photos of myself on my feed). As soon as I went towards sharing my photography more, I started loosing followers who were there just for my appearance, I guess. Its a crazy circle. With all the stuff that you see on social media — the exaggerated amount of photographers and creatives — how do you choose new people to work with and fresh inspiration?
Yeah I feel like a lot of people that I work with — make up artists, photographers — face the same issues where they don’t feel as valued for their skill/art because they are posting more personal things which is weird to me, because everyone is a person with cool things happening and I’d love for the people who work really hard creatively behind the scenes to be able to showcase themselves as well.

In terms of choosing new people to work with and finding fresh inspiration, I’m honestly always open to work with anyone with a strong vision or something to accomplish. I’m not a huge fan of just getting together and shooting around with no direction or concept because then we just have photos. I have a lot of cameras and polaroids I keep with me for fun, I’m always taking pictures already. So, when it comes to working with new people, I just want to confirm we’re both going to get something fresh out of it. I just read my DMs and my emails and see what looks like a good fit for me. I tend to lean more, in my personal time, toward shooting with women because I feel safer inviting them into my place or going to their space — not to say I don’t ever work with men, but my preference is if someone’s reaching out via instagram and we’re not familiar with each other already, I definitely am more comfortable if they’re female.

In terms of inspiration for myself, I get inspiration from everywhere — I love tumblr, I love my instagram explore page, everyone I follow inspires me in some way. I also have been heavily into Lauren Greenfield, so I’ve been looking at her photo book Girl Culture, and watching her documentaries. What about you? as a photographer and a model where are you pulling inspiration from?

The question of inspiration always been fascinating to me. You know how very often you show up to shoot, they have crazy moodboards and just want you to copy whatever it is on photos they got “inspired” from? I think that approach for the longest time turned me off searching for inspiration, most of the time I wanted to come up with visual in my head that would just appear out of nowhere. 

Since my work is very raw and personal in a way — I love working with people who have something to say, a story behind them and strong beliefs. The eyes need to tell something, to make a viewer connected to image. Recently I started scrolling random blogs searching for inspo, that however would be not in terms of copying but triggering my imagination. Before we shot our video, I saw glitter and was just, “Hmmm it would look cute in water.” 

Going to our video — whats behind the dream/reality concept for you?
Well to me, I feel like my everyday is dreams meeting reality. I’m a strong believer in achieving happiness and Heaven on Earth, and that means I’m concentrating a lot of my energy on turning my wildest dreams into realities. Whether it’s a goal of mine professionally, or a personal goal pertaining to friends and family, I’m always envisioning and seeing what I want out of my life and putting all the bits and pieces together to bring the dream to life.

What are the collaborations you dream of, the projects you aspire to put together this year?
Some current collaborations I’d love to put together are probably some video projects that include more of my voice and who I am. I really enjoy public speaking, so I’d love to get more into that. I’d also really love to create some really dramatic photo shoots and videos, like really taking on a character and being someone different for the shoot. What about yourself?

Im on the same page. I’ve always been drown to portraits, but recently I’m thinking about bigger picture starting from props and what message I can send through my work. I just came back from directing a music video with an actual narrative — it was challenging, but so exciting to get into a new medium. I’m def looking forward to learning and exploring more.

Any advice you want to share with readers on how to make world the better place and look after people surrounding us?
I think the world would be a better place if everyone was nicer. Compliment people more — if you’re offering criticism be constructive and not destructive. I think love and kindness can go such a long way.

I hope more and more people start thinking the way you do.

Video: Ira Chernova
Model: Salem Mitchell
Poem: Ohkemo