Claire Cottrell, Filmaker + Photographer


16 - 12 - 19

Award-winning filmmaker and photographer, Claire Cottrell has held our attention for many years. Dividing her work into design, women and food, Claire's work spans a narrative that references archetypes in architecture, literature and film. Now splitting her time between Los Angeles and France, Claire has created for herself a way to allow for dense working periods that are then balanced with ample space, time, and long solo walks...

We meet Claire at the Huntington Gardens in LA to speak about her approaches to freelancing, the importance of reflection, and how she self nourishes.


How do you like to get into a really great space creatively?

The short answer to this question is that I go on a walk. The longer answer to this question is that I travel to walk. There is nothing that I love more than being autonomous in a city. When I’m working, my life is dictated by deadlines. For my mind to be free, I need time and space — no deadlines, nowhere to be, no one to see, nothing to do. What does this look like? In a nutshell, me walking around aimlessly, taking photos. Then, after a long day of doing that,I cook dinner and I sit and think. Sometimes I write. This is the ultimate creative space.

If you’re feeling stuck, or uninspired, how do go about transforming your thoughts?

Andre Breton said: Life’s greatest gift is the freedom it leaves you to step out of it whenever you choose. I step out of it all thetime, and in doing so, I’d say that I transform my thoughts. I love tolive in a different way, in different places, and it’s given me perspective on this life. Two years ago I decided to leave Los Angeles, but work — and some beautiful friendships — have kept me rooted here. I’m very aware of maintaining a different perspective, and this is where travel comes into play. I make a concerted effort to spend half of every year away from California. This is my greatest inspiration. For the same reason, I also watch a lot of films. Current favorites: Best of Youth, Mon Roi, The Edge of Heaven, Heat and Dust, The Square. Each one transformative, in their own way.

"I face the feelings of anxiousness or nervousness head on; I have a lot of fear and sensitive nerves, and I’ve adopted a ‘bring it on’ attitude, and it really helps me. I also do the aromatherapy thing; Rose Otto calms my mind, and I keep it with me."

What practices do you have around analyzing or being critical of your own work?

Great question. For me, analysis and critique are two different things, and I do both all the time. When I’m analyzing I’m asking, am I doing the right thing in the right place, at the right time? For a long time I struggled with the idea that your work defines you; last year, on a late night walk in Paris, I decided to let that all go; for good. For me, it’s important to remember that, in fact, my work does not define me. The way I live my life defines me; my values define me; my friendships define me; my mind defines me, the way I work defines me. In my line of work, what I create often doesn’t reflect who I am, and that’s ok, because it’s not for me; it’s for someone else, and it mustmeet their needs, which often aren’t my definition of self, and they shouldn’t be. I actually believe that if one is creating work that only fits within one paradigm, it’s short­sighted. I work in a service industry and it’s my job to meet the needs of many different people, and many different projects, and I enjoy that challenge. But then, I do get to thinking: what if I made somethingthat did represent me, and then I ask myself, what would that be? It would probably be a pretty heavy, devastating feature film, or a book of photography. I write down steps to get me to both.If I’m being critical, I’m asking is this good? How could it be better? I take time to answer these questions after every thing I make. I learn from it; it makes my work better the next time. And thenI can ask that in a broader sense, and... I’m off down the rabbit hole, but I do think that developing a practice around both analysis and critique is an incredibly important aspect of the creative process.

How do you clear your head after a big project?

If I’m in California, I go out to the desert. Somewhere in Arizona, or West Texas. Wide open spaces do wonders.

What are some systems you have in place to successfully get out the door on time?

Still working really hard on this one; this is not my strength, but to answer in a very practical way: I decide what I’m wearing and eating in the morning the night before. I also pack my bag for theday and put it by the front door.

Do you practice any of your family’s traditions from when you were growing up?

Tea and toast, checking the weather and reading before bed.

"If I’m not working, I turn off cellular data and only access “stuff” when I’m connected to wifi. This lets me have the phonefor photos, but I can’t check, text or look at anything else. After a day or two, I don’t even miss the “stuff.” I also try really hard to keep the phone out of the bedroom."

If you were home alone, what would you cook yourself?

For dinner, greens and herbs with olive oil and lemon juice. I’vebeen really in to nigella seed lately so I’d add some of that. Then, a fresh pasta with ghee, good olive oil, lots of lemon zest, olives, arugula and sheep’s milk pecorino from Italy. Melon for desert and rooibos chai with coconut milk and cinnamon before bed.

How do you like to relax?

See a lot of the above — walking, wide open spaces, cooking, reading. But also, gardening, thai or acupressure massage, a saunaexperience. I also love doing nothing.

What rituals do you practice in taking care of yourself?

Sleep, good food, baths. I start and end every day with a walk, even if it’s a short one. Most nights I try to take a bath before bed, by candlelight. It sounds fancy, but it’s easy. I’m a big believer in water therapy. From spending so much time in France and Germany, I am adamant about eating whole, pure foods, morning, noon and night. I’m also a fan of a regular face mask routine and, when my schedule allows, I start and end a day with a Fields of Study meditation.

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