Young Guns 18: Michelle Watt

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie Posted on Nov 18, 2020

Highlighting the creative superstars that make up the class of Young Guns 18

2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year, but fortunately, the spirit of creativity can't be dampened. Want proof? Check out the winners of Young Guns 18!

Beginning with our largest and most diverse jury in history, acclaimed creatives from across the globe spent three months reviewing hundreds of submissions from insanely talented young professionals seeking validation for all of their hard work. After narrowing down the field to 83 top-notch finalists, the jury engaged in virtual discussion and debate, deciding who will win one of the most career-impacting honors in our industry.

In the end, we are honored to present the 31 incredible winners of Young Guns 18, a diverse collection of artists, filmmakers, animators, designers, illustrators, and others, all of them representing some of the very best that their fields have to offer.

We invite you to learn about all 31 Young Guns 18 winners in this series of interviews.







When did Young Guns first pop up on your radar?

I discovered Young Guns while researching other artists to work with. When perusing their websites, I noticed that a few of the ones I admired had listed “Young Guns winner” on their bio pages. That inspired me to enter Young Guns in hopes of becoming a part of this select group of recognized talent one day.

You're a  second-timer— congrats on winning! What did you do differently this year?

Between my first and second attempts, I developed a few more projects that carried a deeper voice behind the work. These projects were richer in texture and more complex in story. They were truer to what I wanted to say and less about what I thought the world wanted to see. If the first year was about developing my eye, the second was about applying it to my voice.

Young Guns is as much an exercise in self-curation as it is in sheer creative talent. After all, you are only allowed to submit six projects. How did you go about deciding which pieces to submit and which to leave out?

This was hard! All my projects (personal and professional) feel like my puppies, and not including them felt like killing puppies. I asked many colleagues and friends their opinion on favorites. In the end, I aimed for a body of work that displayed a solid voice over a skilled variety.

What went through your mind when you discovered that you won, knowing how difficult it is to make it into Young Guns?

I was at a red light checking my email, and when the light turned green, I had to pull over to process it and make sure it wasn’t a typo. Utter disbelief and relief at the same time. Overwhelming amounts of gratitude, not just for the judges, but especially for those who toiled with me to make these pictures come to life. I feel like they all won too.

If you had to pick one of the six projects that you entered as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

This is tough, but I think my favorite is “The Wait” because it comes from a very personal place. Between the set design, story concept and personal history embedded in these pictures, this series is a satisfying depiction of the insides of my brain.

If you had to describe your creative style, the part of your work that’s most distinctively “you”, what would it be?

I aim for a whimsical approach to serious subjects. Between color, gesture and light, it is a constant attempt to seek balance between lightness and weight. It aims to highlight and embrace flawed complexities of the human condition, without giving in too much to judgment. I think this is my way of coping with real life too.

Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career, people who may have had a hand in mentoring and supporting you?

Assisting legendary portrait photographer Chris Buck for seven years has hugely shaped who I am as a person and an artist.

Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

So many! I absolutely revere my friend and confidante Sasha Arutyunova (YG16), who has always given me invaluable feedback and life support. I’ve had the pleasure of assisting Cait Oppermann (YG15), delectable dinners with the Daniels (YG14), many nights of pulling mood boards from Andrés Reisinger (YG17) and drooling over Leta Sobierajski’s (YG15) wonderlands.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a pretty crazy year, with a global pandemic and social upheaval shaping so many facets of our lives. Aside from the positive news of winning Young Guns, how has this year been for you?

This year has been ridden with numerous personal sacrifices, teaching me greater strength and sense of self. I feel the ground below me with greater clarity, even in face of the uncertainty that lies ahead. The loudest lessons have been about patience and kindness. Slow down, be gentle with yourself and others, with difficult things to come. Soften your gaze in order to sharpen your focus.

Name a creative/professional dream that you have yet to fulfill — hey, maybe Young Guns can help propel you in that direction!

I’d love to work with renowned music artists to create cinematic, surreal, narrative-based, album art. FKA Twigs, Dua Lipa, and Janelle Monae come to mind.

Any last words about winning Young Guns 18 that you'd like to share?

Thank you to everyone who supported me through all those late nights, pools of blood, ample tears, pit stains– all the pushing through and persevering even when it seemed like it wasn't going to work out. This makes all of that worth it!


"I think what makes Michelle's work stand out is her beautifully detailed art direction and her unique point of view while capturing the perfect moment in time. Each frame tells a story, laced with myriad emotions that are deeply rooted in her experiences. I loved getting mesmerised by her picturesque yet thought provoking imagery. A truly deserving winner!"

Kimya Gandhi
Type Designer and Partner
Mota Italic

"The level of thought that Michelle puts into her photography is highly unusual in this day and age. The structure of her work reminds me of how a painter executes their subjects on canvas. Her use of color gives a sense of contemporary realism whilst the omission of Black and white “to me” reveals more layers within her stories."

"Michelle's group series is whimsical and playful yet her static use of building layers still comes across as a cinematic event. The attention to detail is highly evident from the beginning of her process to the final resulting image."

"Michelle’s sense of diversity and inclusion in her photography feels effortless evoking feelings that we should all be able to live our lives together."

"I look forward to seeing what Michelle does in the future. She’s very talented!"

"A well deserved Young Guns winner!"

Lynda Churilla
Photographer & Director
Young Guns 1 Winner

"It's rare when conceptual ideas, technical prowess, and brilliant execution can all come together under one person's power. Michelle Watt has these abilities and more. Her experience in self-producing her shoots will be so valuable to future clients and I foresee her expanding her force further into the conceptual fashion and advertising space."

Elizabeth Weinberg
Photographer, Director + Illustrator
Young Guns 9 Winner



Make sure to check out all the Young Guns 18 Winners in the archive!

Young Guns 18 Archive



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