Local Artist of the Week: Seeing the world through Simone Chnarakis’ eyes

Simone Chnarakis started her photography account on Instagram in 2021 and has since shot for brands including ALX Brand, Icy Customs, Swim by Celine, and Article Zero. Her signature faded yet oversaturated aesthetic is reminiscent of editorial shoots from the early 2000’s (y2k) with an added twist of surrealism on her subjects. She experiments with editing by enlarging or shrinking her subjects in collage-style images to create a juxtaposition with themselves. 

Known for her bold and captivating photography, Simone Chnarakis (@wurld2000k on Instagram) sat down with Micro Macro Magazine as our Local Artist of the Week to talk about her creative process and unique perspective on photography.

Simone shooting an editorial in the studio featuring Atheing Biar

Jaymee: What inspires you and motivates your photography?

Simone: I think the world around me — no pun intended — inspires me a lot. I think visually, I mean, if you see my room, I have photos everywhere. Visuals inspire me. Colour inspires me. Uniqueness inspires me. I like seeing things and recreating the world with my kind of twist on it and how I interpret it. 

J: Who are your biggest inspirations in photography?

S: I think right now, someone I look up to personally, who’s one of my mentors, is probably Jacob Green. He’s another photographer here in Vancouver and he’s very established and very professional. He is kind of taking me under his wing and teaching me all about what to do and what not to do in photography. We’re also great friends now which is great, so I would say I probably look up to him the most. 

In terms of other photographers around the world, there’s a lot of cool photographers in Mexico, actually, that I follow that are super dope. Very, very creative people. Finding out about more people out there really opens up your mind to a whole other world, so shout out to those people because they’re super dope as well.

J: Your work is very much inspired by y2k aesthetics and editorials. What would you say intrigues you about that era so much?

S: I think it’s just how I was raised — my mom was really young when she had me and I actually have one of her old planners from when she was in high school and she had it all decorated with all these magazines with Foxy Brown, Paris Hilton, and all the icons from the 90s. I remember opening it when she showed me and I was just so enthralled and captivated by it. I just thought it was so cool and I feel like it was just the place to be and the time to be. It was so eclectic so it felt like it was the prime time of creativity for everyone. 

Growing up, I loved watching America’s Next Top Model and now I love watching Drag Race, which is definitely super inspiring to my style. It’s just such a good thing to open up your mind to, in so many different aspects. I just think the sky’s the limit on editorial, and y2k. Bringing that together has been really sick. I just feel like you could never really do wrong with it and there’s always an angle you can take that someone else hasn’t. It’s classy, but it’s so cool. 

J: Could you explain the meaning behind your Instagram username?

S: It’s not just a cool username (although I think it is kind of cool). The “wurld” part basically encapsulates the idea of shooting for everyone and shooting for the world, in terms of diversity, race, gender, all all things above. When I first started my account, I was looking for a photographer that could shoot for everyone. All the photographer pages I looked at had no diversity on their feeds — no colour, no Black people, no brown people, just nothing. And not only that, there’s also a whole other bunch of subcategories like gender that were not represented. 

In Vancouver, there’s already such a small demographic of Black people, so I tried really hard to find a photographer who knows how to shoot a Black person on camera, and just someone who is open to working with people of color. When I realized there was a lack of that here, I set a goal in my head to be that photographer for not only people of color, but also for people to access if they’ve never taken a photo before. That’s what I wanted to be when I first started. I wanted it to be a safe space for everyone in the world. 

“2000k” doesn’t mean anything — I just did that because I thought it looked cool and I don’t think I could have just been “wurld” because I think it was taken, but it worked out. I think over time, as I’ve grown, the meaning of words have gained more strength. 

As I continue to grow as a photographer, I’ve had to realize I’m not always going to be able to be that safe space for someone who’s never taken a professional image, but I’ve always made sure to feature people on my page who are different and not always established models, because you shouldn’t have to be a high end model to take or look good in a photo.

J: How do you come up with stories or ideas for photoshoots?

S: People will message me, we’ll plan a day, we’ll plan a shoot, and usually we’ll go through a mood board. When I first started, I didn’t really have people coming to me asking for shoots, so it was very low key. I would ask friends or friends of friends if they wanted to model and I would build a concept specifically for them, style them the best I could, and build a story around it. 

Now a lot of people have taken inspiration from the work already on my page and tell me what kind of twist they want added on it. I guess I’ve been lucky with the people that have come to me wanting to do shoots because they usually have a set idea for where they want to go with the shoot. A lot of the time they come with the concepts, honestly, I can’t even really take credit for that. 

But the times I do get to be creative, direct, and build a concept, I usually base it off everything around me. Lately I’ve been playing it by ear and going off of the vibe of the shoot. So many things change and sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, it changes into a completely different shoot, but it works out.

There’s definitely no right or wrong way — and I think that’s also what sets my work apart from other people. I couldn’t pass this knowledge on because I never know how things are gonna go. Whatever happens, happens.

J: Your style has grown so much from the lower production work seen in the beginning of your Instagram page compared to now with more complex editing and stylists involved in your projects. Tell me about how you’ve been able to evolve overtime to this point.

S: It’s crazy to think about. Especially because my first shoot of the year was January 2nd and in that shoot I didn’t have any stylist, I didn’t have anything. I was able to rent a studio — which I remember being so nerve racking — but now I’m shooting in a studio every week. I think truly the way I’ve evolved is kind of by letting my work speak for itself, and I take pride in this a little bit. I haven’t ever really forced my name or my work onto people or into spaces — no shame to anyone that does, I think everyone comes up however they need to and I respect it all the way! However, I think what’s so cool about my evolution is that I’ve been able to connect and meet so many new people by just having my work on this platform and letting the Internet do what it needs to do. 

A lot of the time, people see my work and message me, or sometimes I’ll message them and see their work, but I guess I’ve just been kind of lucky. I do shoots, people like them, they want to work with me, and then boom there’s a connection. And that’s kind of I guess that’s a very simple answer. But it’s definitely like the Internet and also being in the right spaces at the right times and knowing the right people. Life happens and you just have to hope that it works. Let your work speak for itself and good things will come to you.

J: You’ve shot for brands like Icy Customs, Swim by Celine, and Article Zero. What does your creative process look like when you’re shooting for these brands? How do you bring a brand to life with your photography?

S: My style is very editorial, it’s different, and it’s definitely not for everyone. I’ve been lucky enough that the brands have been open to my style and what I bring. I kind of just take their style with mine and mix it up together. I think one of the first brands that I worked with was a jewelry brand called Livin Lavish Jewelry. The owner, Julia — shout out to her — is just amazing. I asked myself, “How do you advertise for a jewelry brand?” I didn’t even really know. But I kind of just treated it like a normal photoshoot and then it worked out. I honestly try not to overthink it. If I overthink it, it’s just going to be too commercial, and I don’t want it to be basic. I want people to see it and think, “Oh, what’s this about?” I want people to be intrigued. So I try not to take the professional route all the time. I try to add my twist on it, and make it come to life, whether it be those cool collage edits that I do, or just having a really powerful image with lots of colour. 

J: How did you learn your skills in photography? 

S: In grade nine, I took a photography class with my friends, then I took grade 11 photography and grade 12 photography, which was pretty easy. I don’t want to discredit my teacher, but I definitely didn’t learn as much as I could have, and that’s not even her fault. It was more so that I didn’t think I would use it like how I am now. I definitely think I learned a lot of it on my own because of the style that I was going. But I owe the fundamentals to my photography teacher — she taught me all the basic important things that you build on. A lot of it is very much self taught, especially the edits I do on Photoshop. I had to learn that all on my own. So it’s more or less self taught but I don’t want to discredit my photography classes.

J: What has surprised you most about your craft?

S: I guess I can say this now because people have told me this — I guess what’s surprised me most about my craft is how many people I’ve been able to inspire. It feels even weird to say honestly, because it sounds like it’s hard to believe. I just didn’t ever think that my work would inspire people. I never considered myself to be a creative person. 

When I was younger, I loved sports so much, because there was only a right or wrong way to do it — and I like being right. I like being good at something, whereas with art, it’s very much about perspective, like one person could think it’s really good but another could think it’s really bad, which can be discouraging. 

To hear that my work ethic and my work is inspiring to people is super surprising. I’m also super grateful that I’m able to inspire people to hopefully get them to maybe pursue their creativity, or whatever the case may be.

J: What’s the best advice you’ve received about your work?

S: It’s a quote from my friend and mentor, Jacob Green: “You’re going to think you’re a better photographer, when you don’t consider yourself a photographer.” You know? He’s saying you’re a better photographer when you don’t tell yourself you are. I think when you establish yourself as a “professional photographer,” your mindset shifts. 

He’s also told me, “You’re not a content creator, you’re a photographer.” And that’s also another thing that I’ve really been like telling myself a lot lately. For a minute, I was super duper caught up in Instagram content and I feel like I kind of lost my art and myself in Instagram likes, reshares, all that stuff. Of course that stuff is great because ultimately your name is getting shared and your work is being shared and that is important. But I found myself just shooting for the trends and shooting for “content.” It made me realize the point of photography and that I am not a content creator, I am a photographer first. I would tell another photographer that because I think it’s really easy to get lost in the politics of Instagram trends, but powerful, impactful photography is timeless. That’s what I would rather shoot for rather than a cute Instagram moment.

J: What projects are you currently working on and what are your goals for the next couple of years?

S: I’m working on the ALX Brand, who I’ve worked with before. It’s gonna be super cool — I can’t spoil it but I know everyone’s gonna love it. It’s gonna be cute, kawaii, that’s all the hints I can really give. I’m working with an artist tomorrow. I just have a lot of stuff coming up that I’m excited for people to see. 

I just hope to focus on the meaning of my photos and what I want them to be. That’s something I’ve been trying to get better at lately, but I definitely want to take that into the next year and have fun. I just want to shoot with intention and power. That’s the vibe for next year. 

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