She moves with the long-limbed grace of a modern dancer, which it turns out she studied at one time. A tall, willowy blond, she is as striking as the models she selects for her colorful paeans to the fashions of past decades with striped and skirted swimsuits, bathing caps with petals and red lips. Photographer Mimi Haddon turned 40 this past August at a music camp in Mendocino, California, with family, friends and music—the perfect elements for a self-portrait.
“I remember really wanting an SLR camera for my sixteenth birthday,” Haddon relates. While she was disappointed with the snap and shoot camera she received, she made the best of its capabilities, and never stopped taking photographs, even while pursuing other art forms. She studied visual communication design at Cal State Long Beach—in a specialized program that was limited to twenty students a year upon portfolio review, and she minored in dance—and has continued her photographic education through Santa Fe Workshops courses with photographers such as Maria Robledo, Joyce Tennyson and Albert Watson.
Haddon lives in Venice, California, with her French husband Reynald, their nine-year-old daughter Lilly and six-year-old son Finley, a few minutes drive from her studio. She works with a handful of Los Angeles area makeup artists who have become good friends and has two “amazing” assistants she hires for larger jobs. She spends most working hours in her sunny, compact, roughly 18' x 18' Santa Monica studio, located in an industrial part of town that opens onto green space and an area of shops and a café. One wall sports a big red heart popping out from a bright yellow wall, the backdrop for a series of portraits she has planned. A framed crewel-work canvas stitched by Haddon’s mom adorns one wall, and cubbyhole spaces neatly organize mailers and props. Rolls of fabric lean against the shelves. It’s a computer-free zone, a space for photographing and crafting. The focus and attention that she exhibits in her workspace, switches at 3 p.m. when she puts down the camera and picks up her children who she ferries to an assortment of lessons and activities.
She was born in Northridge, California. Her father was a Methodist minister and her mom was a Shaklee salesperson. “She was an excellent teacher in showing us how one can really love their work and still have room for a family,” says Haddon, who has an older brother. The family moved to Ojai when she was six. “[It was] an amazing place to grow up. It was just a kid’s dream,” Haddon remembers. “We didn’t have keys to our home. Even when we left on vacation we just left our doors open.” They moved again four years later, to Palm Springs where she attended high school. Perhaps it was the flat, bright light of the desert that helped inform her love of color, and of light.
“When I think about color, I think of Liquitex paints straight out of the tube,” Haddon says. “I’m not naturally inclined to tone down the colors that I work with. I often envy those who have a strong sense of a more subdued palette, but that’s just not in me for better or for worse. There’s nothing that pleases me more than having an entire image filled with color.
“My natural tendency is toward a more citrus palette. My best years of childhood were spent roaming the orange and lemon groves in Ojai. Perhaps that has something to do with my love of oranges, yellows and greens. Those colors also are so representative of joy, sunshine, Southern California”
She balances work for clients such as Taryn Rose, Disney, The New Yorker, Ph.D, Palm Press and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, with self-directed stock shoots. “I tend to play around a lot at my studio. I come up with ideas that I want to explore on my own,” Haddon says. “I like to craft and sometimes the things that I craft end up being the subject of my work. I might spend a couple of hours in the studio just photographing origami that I’ve done or fun Valentines that I’m creating for my friends. Getty provides an outlet for the images that result from this type of exploration."
After graduation from Cal State, Haddon moved to France for a year where she studied French and took photography courses from Parsons Paris. When she returned she worked as a designer. “I was shooting with Mattel today,” Haddon says. “I’m not sure if I talked about the fact that I worked as a designer for three years after graduating from college. One of those years was spent at Disney Consumer Products creating advertising templates for licensees. I was really empathizing with the designer today, knowing how hard she must have worked to create the inspiration for this shoot. It’s nice to have that background in design as it gives me an understanding of the many ways in which photography can be implemented after the shoot has been completed. I have an understanding that my role in the creative process is a fraction of what needs to happen before and after a shoot.”
When she transitioned into photography, she rented a 12' x 12' studio in Topanga Canyon on several acres of land, the main attraction for Haddon. Then she rented her current practical studio, a place where she could set up the lights and would only have to worry about what to shoot, not the set up or mechanics.
Haddon’s photographs place classic silhouettes against colorful backdrops, or colorful retro costumes against landscapes full of texture and blurred horizons. They are at once timeless and modern, signifiers of time and place.
Music is integral to her life and work. She fondly describes the French folk group that played at her wedding in Elk, California, complete with a hurdy gurdy and French folk dancing. When she cites events or times in her life, the stories are accompanied by music references. Music leads to movement, which equates an approach to capturing the real moments that Haddon is after, minus the artifice of so much fashion photography. Radiant complexions, scarlet lips, artfully balanced hats, all add to the eye candy appeal of her color-drenched portraits.
When asked how the challenges of balancing work and parenthood affect her, Haddon replies: “I found the balance of work and motherhood extremely challenging when my daughter was first born. I felt like my role as mother completely overshadowed any semblance of my role as artist/photographer. I had a wonderful experience getting back on track with a small group of artists at the Creativity Center, led by Sharon Kagan, in Santa Monica. I attended a three-hour art group every Wednesday for six years. Sharon set the stage for us to do writing exercises, guided visualizations and our own free explorations. It was a great experience that emphasized repeatedly the importance of trusting one's own intuition. It was a way to explore my art and photography at a deeper level, which I think carries over in the work I produce today."
“I feel very fortunate to have a found a balance of devoting time to my family and my work. At this point, they are so intertwined that my children are very familiar with grip equipment and shooting my 5D. At times I envy their vision and the purity in their approach to photography,” she says. “A couple of years ago I found myself in a photo-etching class with one of my all-time favorite photographers, Ann Cutting. She has two boys who are a couple of years older than my children. We were sharing stories of balancing motherhood and photography and she stopped and said to me, ‘Be with your kids now. Your time with them is so precious, and you can never get that back.’ I can’t tell you how much I appreciated hearing this from her, from someone for whom I hold so much respect. So, I have been more selective about the jobs that I take, and I have managed to build a great stock library with Getty that allows me to make my own schedule and stay artistically satisfied at the end of the day, while still making softball practices and dance recitals.
“I feel like I was so serious for a good spell of my early work,” Haddon says, with a big smile. “A model came in the other day and she started to give me her model face. I said, ‘I don't want that. I can't have that anymore. I need life in there.’”
“One quote that I’ve got posted to my computer keeps on popping out to me,” Haddon explains. “When my husband and I were in Joshua Tree [National Park] last February, we took a private rock climbing class with a great instructor who is more spider than man. He took us out to some beginning climbs and had this simple mantra: ‘Live in your six foot world.’ We were secured by ropes, but the experience was still new for both me and my husband, so every time he noticed us looking back to see how far up we were, or looking at how high the rock was, he brought us back to the present with his mantra—‘live in your six foot world.’ It’s a great lesson in rock climbing about trusting the rocks and the crevasses and your footing and hand holds. I also find it a great mantra as an artist/photographer: a simple reminder to stay focused on the project at hand; a metaphor about trusting the process.” Haddon has both trust in her process and a lifetime of creative inspiration and sense of play that she brings to joyful life in her photographs. ca