Kate Bellm’s sun-soaked photos are an ode to island life
Shot over the pandemic year, the British photographer's new book 'LA ISLA' celebrates the natural beauty and free-spirited locals of Mallorca.
Photography Kate Bellm
Kate Bellm published AMOR — a compilation of sexy, rock ‘n’ roll photographs she’d taken during 10 years of travelling between Paris, London, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles — at the start of the pandemic. Little did she know, like billions of people around the world, that she’d be confined to her home — Deia, Mallorca — from that day on. As such, her latest photo book LA ISLA is an “ode to island life”, she says. “The island girls underwater, fishing, catching sea urchins and starfish. It's about exploring this island, all the flora and fauna. I've been blown away by how amazing it is this year, how it changes and shifts through the seasons and the community that lives here.”
Kate’s currently in the process of buying a hotel with a collective of Mallorcan creatives — painters, carpenters, sculptors and her husband, who she calls a “master of cactuses”. It’s one of the oldest buildings on the island, “the Chateau Marmont of the area,” and their plan is to transform it from a tired hotel into an agritourism business with a huge farm, lots of fruit trees and roaming chickens that eat all the leftover food. “We’re really excited about changing the face of tourism a little bit here.”
Although it’s been a slower-paced life than she’s used to (Kate truly believed she’d go “stir crazy”), the island has provided the British photographer with ample inspiration. She’s been lucky to continue collaborating with Vogue Spain, and brands like Mango and Zara, who are bringing work to her. “It's nice to see them using their own islands and the people of these islands to make stuff happen,” she says. “It's been a much more local approach.”
But it’s the book that has given Kate a sense of purpose in a period of island confinement, as Spain still grapples with the pandemic. “Every day there's a meaning to go and shoot that cactus or that flower or find the sunset spot,” she says. “It's been so inspiring to see this island from so many different sides and viewpoints and take different girls around and get into what they're doing, whether they be a painter or sculptor.”
Each of Kate’s photos is its own summer adventure: her friends make paella on the waterfront of a remote fisherman's village, setting up a little table and paddling in gas canisters, the giant dish, ingredients and wine. Her Spanish muse Marina rides a white horse for the first time ever, bareback. “She's riding around on this horse [naked] with only her pink crocs on and I'm like, ‘Get the crocs off’. She's just cracking everybody up. We had such a laugh.”
Naturally, almost everyone that’s featured in LA ISLA is someone that lives in Kate’s community. They're neighbours, friends, the daughters of friends, the teenage crews that hang out and smoke weed on the benches in the village, who she captures at the top of the mountains or hanging out in a battered island car, chatting and gossiping.
Kate includes photographs from one of her most famous ongoing series ‘Underwaterworld’, which captures Nina, Estela and Osk exploring the depths of the ocean in otherworldly scenes. The girls, who are now in their early 20s and making music, becoming photographers and producing shoots, are “the bravest little village girls”, she says. For five years, she’s captured them swimming into caves and to the bottom of the deep ocean. “We push ourselves super hardcore to do these underwater photos… The adrenaline rush and the energy that it takes to get to that point is pretty special.”
She met sisters Nina and Estela when she first arrived on the island. Their mother had rented Kate their house in the village and a 13-year-old Estela turned up asking for horror movie props for a DIY film she was directing. From a recent trip to Mexico, Kate had a bunch of floral-painted skulls that she offered the girls and quickly formed a bond with Estela and her sister. “Now she is making music and her album is amazing,” says Kate. “I listen to her songs on repeat, and I shot her album cover. We've been collaborating since the day we met and probably will forever.”
The adventurous pair are immortalised in the book in a spontaneous black and white photograph: following a goat up a rocky bay that’s only accessible by boat or by swimming. “No humans go there,” she says.
Sadly, in recent weeks, life on The Balearics has taken a turn for the worse, as forest fires blaze across the Mediterranean caused by a combination of strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity. “The whole of last week, we have had this ultimate grey because of the forest fires,” Kate says. “We haven't even seen a dot of colour from the sunset. It's been a really overwhelming feeling just having this thick grey, smoky sky. It's been scary.” It shows you, she says, that we are all “affected by what's going on in the world right now; we're all one and we need to think about what's going on”.
More than 1,500 blazes have been recorded by The European Forest Fire Information System so far this year, which is more than 700 higher than the recent annual average. It comes after two years of grappling with Covid-19, tumultuous politics, riots and natural disasters. But Kate hopes that, even with the world in its catastrophic state, her images will make people “feel happy and inspired, like life is okay and nature is still beautiful. To know that life is not all burning,” she says “There are so many beautiful moments still in the world — we have community and nature.”