Photographer Kate Bellm on Her Dreamy New Book, La Isla—and the ‘Lawless’ Hotel in Mallorca She’s Opening This Summer
Ever felt the need to, you know, check out for a while? Nothing dire, mind you—just some vague, free-floating yearning to immerse yourself deeply in something far-away and joyous as an antidote—conscious or not—to These Times We Live In?
I found my salvation recently paging through Kate Bellm’s sumptuous new book La Isla (Mirage), which chronicles a dreamy, carefree and oddly languorous existence of swimming, diving, skateboarding, and nude knitting on the coasts and in the underwater caves and amidst the cactus groves of Mallorca.
Bellm’s photographs—alternately black-and-white, psychedelically colored, pinpoint-focused, and romantically grainy—summon up an Edenic playground that’s so far away from any kind of workaday concern that it comes as almost a shock, or a provocation. (Which perhaps explains why Saint Laurent has taken a huge interest, scooping up a large parcel of books.) That’s why I wanted to chat with her to find out—well, so very many things, but starting with the central question: Is this world she purports to be documenting real? And could such a paradisiacal existence really be translated into something so earthbound as the hotel she’s planning on opening this summer?
Vogue: How did this project come about—and, if I may be so tedious as to ask: How much of what we’re seeing is life as it’s lived, and how much of it is your own gorgeous and imaginative staging? Don’t burst my bubble though, please…
Kate Bellm: This project came about simply by living here! These images are literally my neighbors’ everyday lives. Obviously I beautify it with my lens—that’s what I know how to do. But nothing here is set up—they’re all moments I captured, not created. I knew where to go and where to be, but it’s this place that’s so special—being nude and being free are so normal here.
Did COVID or the largely restricted world of the pandemic of the last couple of years have anything to do with this?
One hundred percent: I was just here, literally just watching flowers bloom in my garden, and rather than get down about it, I got inspired by it, and I fell so hard in love with this island—I explored the island so much—this field and that plant when it blooms with those flowers near that riverbed and those palm trees. I’ve been living in Mallorca for seven years now, but it still surprises me a lot.
The underwater images—the light, and the floating, the weightlessness—are particularly dreamy. How did you come to shoot underwater?
This is just us in our natural wonderland—literally a group of us hanging out at the beach, and someone’s like, “Hey girls, let’s go for a swim,” and we’re all together and they’re all local girls who are used to diving down in the Mediterranean here, where it’s free of currents or dangerous animals. They’re natural nymphs who know where all the good underwater caves are and everything else. It can get quite hardcore when some of us go super deep and super long, but most of the time we’re just swimming around on this beautiful adventure.
Do you have specific influences on your work?
In my earlier career I was super inspired by Helmut Newton and Mario Testino and all these big dogs who did big, glamorous, beautiful work—but now, honestly, I’m 100% inspired by my garden: It’s all yellow and purple right now, and it’s my greatest inspiration.
What’s in your garden?
It’s a wonderland of succulents and cactus—my husband is Mexican and is a wonderful landscaper of cactus and such, but my English side comes out with a lot of mimosa blooms and beautiful tiny flowers.
[Amidst the shifting bright sunlight of Kate’s studio as seen through our Zoom, I suddenly spot what seems to be a drum kit behind her.] Wait—is that a drum kit I see behind you?
[Laughs.] That’s for my husband’s band: The chef from our hotel, Magnus—he’s also an artist—plays drums, and the vocals are done by Dora, a local ceramicist. The rest of the band is a local farmer, Antoine, and then Paul Simonon from The Clash. It’s just a casual mixture of farmers and chefs and…
…and world-renowned punk bassists, yes. Tell me about Hotel Corazon, though, if you would.
I think we’re creating the thing we’re missing, basically: Super healthy food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, very laid back, but the rooms very luxurious, with good beauty brands; oh—and a great bikini shop. Just the things we need, really: Smoothies, bikinis, barefoot, smoke some weed at the table. Lawless—we’re going to be a lawless hotel. I can’t believe something like this doesn’t already exist. I just want to bring something for the creative generation that’s residing here—they need a brunch spot, you know? We’re in renovations now, we’re planting the farm to support the restaurant. We’ll open in July.
Do you have any of that strange double-sided worry, like: What if nobody comes—but what if everybody comes?
Not really. It’s a UNESCO site, and the roads are tiny. And for sure it’s not for everybody—you’ve got to be an adventurer to really uncover the beauty of Mallorca. You’ve got to hike down some rocky little roads to get to the secret beaches; we meet out in the middle of the sea and have picnics on a rock. You become kind of hard mountain people here—soft hearts, but quite gnarly outer shells.