Interview with Kristin Cofer, Founder of The Rose Project
All photos by Kristin Cofer
You've described the beginning of The Rose Project as an extension of your photoshoots with Cash Askew, who passed away in the Oakland Fire. Can you tell us about the photos you took together?
I was living in Los Angeles when I heard about the band Them Are Us Too. I saw them play a show and was immediately enamored with their sounds. We set up a photo shoot at my apartment, and I felt an instant connection with both Kennedy and Cash. As we were shooting, I realized that I actually have known Cash’s mom (and her business partner) for years, as she owns a business in San Francisco that I do photography for sometimes. It also turns out that Kennedy is from Davis, which is where I went to college. I like to think that we all walked by each other before we ever actually knew each other.
In December 2015, I moved back to the Bay Area. I'm never able to stop creating, and I knew Cash was there, so we immediately set up a photo shoot. The first one was in a cemetery with one roll of black and white film. One of my favorite shots from that day is her sitting next to an angel statue. She looks just like that angel. The second shoot was right when I moved into my apartment. I was trying to do a portrait a week and asked Cash to come over. This was the first time she ever had professional hair and make-up. I think we took many beautiful images that day.
How do these experiences live on in The Rose Project?
After the Oakland warehouse fire tragedy, I became even more determined to keep creating. The project first started with taking portraits of Cash's close friends, girlfriend, and family. Everyone would come to my small apartment, where I'd have hair and make-up help, a table full of snacks, and flowers. We would listen to music and make images. Each shoot has always felt therapeutic for everyone. As the project has progressed, more people that I didn’t know came to me, mostly from word of mouth and from when I created the Rose Project Instagram. Now I describe the photos shoots like an “open house”. Usually, ten to twelve people come, and the last few in San Francisco have been held at my friend Trevor’s beautiful gallery space called The Grael Gallery. I still have hair and make-up people and now the project has grown into not only trans people, but anyone in the gay/queer/non-binary community who wants a portrait. I love it when I’m taking photos and look over and see these people who may not have known each other when they walked in, all sitting together, having snacks, listening to music and talking to each other.
Can you tell me about some of the people you've worked with since? What kinds of surprising and impactful experiences have you had on set and beyond?
I’ve worked with all ages and types of people in the community. Since creating the Rose Project Instagram, I’ve even had people write me from all over the world! Each shoot always has that community feeling, and I love every person who steps in front of my lens. It makes me feel so good that the people who participate have such trust in me. I love seeing the outfits, make-up looks, and props that people bring to their shoots too--some are really creative!
Your photos are gorgeous! Can you describe your process and share a few of your influences?
Thank you so much. I’ve always loved color and in the last years have gotten really into using a technique called slow shutter, which is when you see all the light trails and magic. I like to call them “spirit photos” because each person’s portrait always looks different and sometimes some real magic happens. I generally ask my subject what their favorite colors are and for their portraits stick with that. Sometimes I shoot through crystals, and sometimes I also use film, depending on the person and how we are both feeling.
When working with you, models are able to get their hair and make-up "dream look." What kind of inspiration and ideas have models brought to their styling?
I’ve now worked with mostly the same make-up and hair people and we have a few “looks” that we’ve noticed people like. We like to say there is the “baby angel”, which is basically a variation of the make-up Cash had in the last shoot I did with her, and then there is the “wet look”, which is glossy eyelids and wet hair. Just recently, I’ve also noticed that people are coming in with temporary tattoos on their face, which looks really cool.
Tell us about the overall response The Rose Project has received?
The response feels positive and everyone who participates always seems excited to see what I’ll do with it next.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Unfortunately the only challenge has been financial, as I’ve been doing this with my own money and people generously donating their time and talent. If I want to expand the project and visit these places people are writing to me from, I know that I need to get some more funds.
Is there any way people can get involved?
I have a document if anyone wants to write me about being a subject. I also would love anyone who would want to help with hair, make-up, and a space where I can shoot.
If someone wants to model, how should they get in touch?
Instagram, or they can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your goals for the future? What's next?
The last Rose Project of 2017 is this weekend in San Francisco. For 2018, I want to figure out how to fundraise and go on a tour with Petheaven, which is comprised of two wonderful women, Anya and Zoe. I’d do a shoot during the day and they'll play a show in the evening. I think it would be a really beautiful experience and Petheaven is into the idea.
BONUS: About the Models
in order of appearance
Fifi Rosewater, non-binary age 24, “Humble court jester / stretchy bird, eatin' it raw for the infinite scroll.”
Inger S, trans girl age 24 "She-devil, shy whiptail, & good fun"
Gelliot Pendragon, non-binary femme "I let my true self feel unimportant but I am returning to me at the perfect moment."
Davi, “Bay Area born Iranian, femme, parent, partner, pisces, songwriter for Wendy.”
Anna, "teary eyed queer with a candied heart."
Luc, “Pisces Ascendent, Venus in Pisces in the First House”
Calvin, 21, transwoman, "Found my voice in San Francisco please reach out if you need a friend."
Leon, "I‘m a non binary design student still trying to navigate and figure out my path in life."
Jessica, "Just a film photographer/vocalist bruja (re)learning how to live & love without limits"