You may recognize her name from Toronto Life; perhaps she photographed your best friend’s wedding; maybe you saw her photos of a restaurant opening, concert, music video or ad agency.
Kayla Rocca is one of the city’s most in-demand photographers, and it’s no wonder: she’s incredibly talented and personable, which makes her a joy to work with. But to get to the top takes a lot more than talent and likability; it takes a tremendous amount of passion and drive. Kayla’s journey has been one of determination but also of heartache; her advancement as a skilled photographer wasn’t rooted in career goals but began as a form of self-directed creative therapy to manage grief.
Read her story and find out about her journey. Anyone who knows Kayla knows she’s a soul that shines bright in this city.
JM: What was it that initiated your passion for photography?
KR: Photography was in my bones since I can remember, but it wasn’t an all-encompassing thing until 2006 when it became a form of art therapy. My dad passed away, and taking photos for me was truly the best escape from grief. As corny as it sounds, photography helped me process the deep grief I was feeling.
I continued on with schooling after my dad passed, and in between figuring my shit out, I travelled a lot. I volunteered in Uganda and after photographing for five weeks straight, I knew photography was something I needed to fully pursue.
How did you break into the biz? Was there a moment or chapter in your professional life that you think helped you elevate your career?
Shortly after an internship at The Grid, I was literally handed a life-changing job. An angel sent my name out to photograph the Toronto International Film Festival for Toronto Life (that was in 2013). I was so nervous about it. But for ten days I was immersed in the festival and ended up having the best time and producing some really great work that I am still proud of to this day.
I went from never photographing a celebrity to adding portraits of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Mila Kunis, Taylor Swift and Matthew McConaughey to my portfolio. It was truly a game changer.
When you’re not working with clients, what do you most enjoy shooting?
I enjoy shooting environmental portraiture. This pretty much means photographing people in their natural environments (e.g., a really interesting artist in their studio painting, or a cook prepping in the kitchen). I also love photographing design. I am obsessed with interior design and literally get giddy when I am photographing it.
What recent discovery in your professional life are you exploring?
I am getting more and more into filmmaking and directing. I have been on set shadowing both directors and DOPs (directors of photograph) and am actually going away for a month in late March to take an intensive filmmaking course. I recently shot a behind-the-scenes video with Maye Musk and absolutely fell in love with filming fashion.
There aren’t a lot of female DOPs or female directors. I feel like now is the time, and my goal is to break into the industry this year and create some beautiful work.
How do you relax?
This is a really good question. I never used to be able to relax. I was always go-go-go, but in the past several years I really made it a priority to slow down, get really organized and be as present as possible. I love listening to podcasts, going for long drives, running, spending time with friends and family and doing creative work with other artists. I think making room to do creative work is so important. For instance, I do a lot of creatives with my friend Lauren Wilson. She is a florist and a visual artist, and when we work together my creative energy is on fire. We are so in sync and I get so energized from working with her.
What life lesson, professionally or otherwise, has been helping to guide your journey lately?
Both professionally and personally, I have encountered some situations that have taught me the importance of being able to communicate openly, honestly and from the heart.
What’s your advice to young photogs trying to break into an industry where so many think they’re an authority?
Just photograph as much as possible. Intern, assist, share your work, produce and post good content. There is a lot of work out there for photographers right now, both for newbies and veterans. At the end of the day, if you’re easy to work with, and if you’ve got the skills and discipline, then you’ll be just fine.
What’s one thing you wish you knew five years ago?
Five years ago I didn’t have a lot of confidence and 100% would let clients take advantage of me. I wish I knew how to stand up for myself! Now I have a very open dialogue with my clients about expectations. I find the more I assert myself, the more my clients respect and trust my work and process.
Can you share with us something in your future that you’re excited about?
For the past two years I have been photographing for Chef Anthony Rose’s + Appetite Random House for their newest cookbook. We recently saw the first draft and it looks so damn good. I am super excited for late 2018 when the book will be out on shelves!