Capturing WorldsKihmberlie Breaks down Photography’s Exclusive Boundaries

Photo credit: Kihmberlie

Kimberly Douglas, who uses the moniker Kihmberlie, is an Instagram icon. The model, photographer, and creative director has built a brand around beautiful art: Her feed showcases a series of high-fashion photoshoots, some of which take inspiration from films like Midsommar, in which Douglas dons a costume made of flowers and leaves. Other photos are close-up portraits that make use of mirrors and curtains, and some show her sitting among the clouds, appearing to glow. She acts as a stunning model at the center of each shoot, but her work doesn’t end there: She also builds the sets from scratch, risking (and suffering from) hot glue gun burns, and continuously becoming more and more creative as she attempts to get the shot. Each of her shoots has a purpose, whether it’s to building her portfolio in order to land her dream job as a creative director at somewhere like Vogue or to raising money for places like The Transgender District.

Most notably, she’s committed to being as transparent as possible, which has elevated her above other photographers and creatives, as she makes use of the carousel tool on Instagram to give every single photo a story. In the first slide, viewers might just see that perfect final image, but one swipe to the left shows the scene Douglas built from scratch, followed by a video of her setting the scene. It’s incredible to see how Douglas turns a few fake flowers, a mirror leaning against a dresser, or a DIY foam machine into a work of art. Bitch spoke to Douglas about why she values transparency in art, where she hopes to take her skills next, and a recent cottagecore shoot that sought to combat the whitewashed aesthetics of the social media trend.

It’s been a big year for you. You now have a verified Instagram account and surpassed 260,000 followers. What has been your trajectory? Where did you get your start?

At around 18, I decided I wanted to go into modeling. I went to a fashion college in downtown Los Angeles and I wanted to be a celebrity fashion stylist. As the year went on, though, I got more interested in modeling. I continued with my schooling, and I also looked into getting signed to an agency, [wanting] to be on magazines one day. I graduated, and I realized I actually didn’t want to be a fashion stylist anymore. I was looking for a job; one day, I was really bored, and I decided to do a photoshoot. The goal was to do a denim-inspired photoshoot and I took some photos and it came out awful [laughs]. I taped my iPhone 5S to the ceiling, put on my old high school homecoming dress, and jumped up and down to take photos in 10second intervals. I was surprised—the photos came out really good. I started doing both portrait shoots and editorial shoots more often, and eventually, I only did elaborate photoshoots at home because I didn’t have money for photographers. The photographers I wanted to collaborate with wouldn’t respond or [our plans] fell through. I thought I could do it myself until I could find a [more permanent] photographer.

I imagined a modeling career, but now I want a career [that encompasses] modeling and creative directing. I knew social media was becoming a bigger thing in the fashion industry, and I figured if my modeling was good, my visuals were good, and I had a big platform, it would be easier to get signed. My goal, for three or four years, was to make this happen. Now, I’m more into creative directing. The goal now is a little different since I found this new passion.

I know you keep your props in the closet or a shed. What else would followers be surprised to know about your process?

I share almost everything! [Laughs.] Some people don’t notice that I reuse a lot of stuff. I’m often asked where I keep my props, if I keep them,and what I do with all of the props. But I’ve reused the same flowers in so many different shoots. It’s a good thing that people don’t notice, as I try to make them look different in every shoot. I have so many props from when I first started because I never like to throw anything away.

You do it all, acting as both photographer and model. How does it feel to be on both sides of the camera?

I really like it. It’s cool to do both sides because you really learn a lot. Unless modeling comes naturally to you (which for me, it didn’t, it took a lot of practice), you have to be aware of everything, like where the light hits. If you’re behind it, you have to make sure props aren’t falling and that everything you want in frame is in frame. Sometimes my camera has to be moved since my lens isn’t a zoom lens. It’s just about being aware of everything. It’s been a huge learning process. [Also, it helps me] appreciate everyone else’s job [at a shoot]. If I was just modeling, I would have more patience because I understand what everyone else is doing because I’ve done it.

Photo credit: Kihmberlie

Using Instagram’s carousel feature, you include a few photos that offer a behind-the-scenes look at your photoshoots. You’re also really honest about when your plans don’t work out, talking about burning your fingers with hot glue guns and realizing props are the wrong size. Why do you decide to be so transparent with your audience?

When I was in college, my friend and I were always looking for locations to do photoshoots, and it was so difficult. People wouldn’t tag a location—which, I understand—and I would go in the comments to see if someone had asked about the location, and the photographer would make it a huge secret. You’re gatekeeping in a sense. From my perspective, it felt like, Oh, I don’t want anyone else to know how I do this because I don’t want them to do it better. But in reality, there’s room for everyone in the industry and I want people to know you can do whatever you want wherever you’re at with whatever resources are available to you to make something dope. I tape the camera to the ceiling; that’s pretty cool. The goal has always been to inspire people.

On a July 29 Instagram post, you explained that you never see dark-skinned Black girls in “soft dainty aesthetics.” Tell me more about this.

I didn’t know there was a name for it, but I’d had some cottagecore inspo photos on my Pinterest board. I was on Twitter, and I saw this thread about aesthetics that are usually whitewashed. One of them was cottagecore, another was dark academia, and [there was also] goth and punk. I was like, that is so true. Usually, I would think about it from the perspective of film (for example, Little Women or Emma). You never see Black women, or dark-skinned women in those [movies]. I think it’s wack. When you look up aesthetics on Pinterest, they’re always white girls. White girls are always showcased, and no other race is showcased [in the same way]. I wanted to [explore that] in a photoshoot. Everyone needs to see themselves everywhere, and when I did that, I was like, this will be fun because you don’t see Black women in soft and dainty aesthetics. They aren’t showcased like that.

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As you were planning the cottagecore shoot, how did you decide on what props to incorporate to create that dainty aesthetic?

I knew I had to have lace and teacups. Any type of flower and foliage. Usually when I see cottagecore, it’s outside in the grass and there are trees everywhere. Since I was shooting inside, I knew flowers had to be a part of it. I wanted to find soft props. I got everything I needed from around my house and I had a lot of fake flowers, so that part was easy. It was difficult to put together at first because I couldn’t figure out how to make a room out of it. I experimented with it and…I had to figure out how to put it all together. It’s one of my favorite sets that I’ve done.

Why is it important to show that Black women, especially dark-skinned Black women, can be soft?

Black women are so much more than trauma and struggle. We’re dainty and soft and beautiful and sometimes magical (in the sense of fantasy). I’m not dark-skinned, so I can only say it, not portray it, but when I was a kid and I watched shows and movies about princesses, Disney animated movies, or fantasies, I never saw anyone who looked like me. It’s important for young Black girls to see themselves in these spaces so they know they can do that to. Representation in any form is very important; you don’t want to see people who look like you struggling all the time or getting killed by police all the time. It’s important for us to be able to see ourselves.

This story has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

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by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis is the Senior Editor at Bitch. She has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Greatist, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.