Recently my day job took me to the home of the Oregon Shakespeare festival, the hamlet (pun intended) of Ashland. It was a bit of short notice as I had been juggling my work travel dates around with constantly changing project deadlines and also needing to reschedule my own vacation more than once. Shit happens. Having to stay overnight and not having any obligations in the evening, I decided to pack a small bag of gear and see about meeting up with someone in the area.
Enter Alexandra White. Alexandra and I had been admiring each other’s work over the past month or so on Instagram. I took a chance and contacted her the night before my trip to see if she had some time to get together. I was really excited to meet Alexandra as she is both a model and a skilled photographer and I honestly didn’t’ care if I photographed her or if we just got together to talk about photography. Fortunately she was free for the evening and we did both.
With me not knowing the area well and her traveling in from just outside of town we decided it would be best to meet up at a unique local artisan coffee shop named Starbucks. It had been threatening to rain most of the day which is rare for this time of year in Southern Oregon, but it had cleared up and was shaping up to be a beautiful evening so after getting a couple of caffeinated beverages we took a seat outside.
NJ: So – you are both a photographer and a model. Which came first which is the chicken and which is the Egg?
AW: Oh photography for sure, I got my first digital camera when I was six and I’ve been shooting ever since. About a year ago I decided to give modeling a try.
NJ: And how did that come about, did you just get interested having been photographing people or...
AW: Yeah I had several people tell me I should give it a try.
NJ: Other photographers or models or?
AW: Both but mostly models I was working with and people I would meet through Portrait Slam, a local photography event that my friend runs.
NJ: Nice – and what would you say are some of the things you have learned from crossing back and forth over that fence?
AW: That some photographers are assholes hahahaha.
NJ: Hahaha yeah that’s true. I can’t believe some of the things I have heard offered as “direction” to models that just come off as demeaning and belittling. “suck it in your looking fat… your face looks awful like that… I don’t know how these people to expect models to invest themselves in a shoot if their being ridiculed.
AW: The same goes with models though it just seems like there are too many difficult people on both sides. Photographers who are impatient or rude with their direction and communication. One guy recently wanted to shoot, and I just wasn’t into his style. It was so over-photoshopped – he made butts and boobs 10 times bigger than real life and just warped peoples bodies…so I politely said no and he just pouted and blocked me. Then you have models who want you to shoot only their ideas and produce the whole thing for free. I mean if it’s not a true collaboration you should be paying me. If it’s not something I personally want to shoot, why would I do all the work for free?
NJ: Yeah that is really a problem these days everyone half expects you to pay them to do them a favor.
AW: Yeah and the market is just so saturated everyone is a photographer.
NJ: Yeah, it’s really important to be good but I think it’s more important to be different.
AW: Oh totally, you have to stand out. it’s so hard though because everything’s so out there and there’s so few original ideas. If you do something unique people copy you left and right, especially in a small community where everyone works together it’s hard to keep your stuff looking your own.
NJ: Oh definitely – I remember a situation a few years back I was working on a series for a gallery show, and I was doing something that wasn’t absolutely unique but no one in my community was doing it. One of the shots had gotten shared a bit too early and someone who I thought was a buddy saw what I was doing started doing the same thing and posting it before I could finish the project.
AW: Wow that sucks, what did you do?
NJ: Yeah I kinda lit him up for it on facebook and oddly everyone in the community came to his rescue and didn’t give a shit that it was my concept that he had stepped on. I went on to finish the project, had the gallery show, had a great opening night… the lesson learned don’t worry about the copycats just keep shooting. Whether it’s something you did last week last month last year… you’ve still already done that and they’re trying to catch up.
AW: Yeah you just have to keep trying new things and not worrying about the rules. That’s the fun part for me is there are no rules. Just do you.
We talked for another 15 minutes or so about her goals, and what it was like to shoot in a small town. Ally has a level of confidence in her vision that I didn’t have until much later into my photographic career. I, like her started taking pictures very early and got my professional start in my late teens/early twenties. However, at just 21 her images consistently show an ability to connect with her models in whatever time-space continuum she is trying to convey, and I think she is knocking at the door of a great future on both sides of the camera.
Having told me about a cool local record shop just up the street we finish our coffee and headed up to check it out, only to find that unfortunately it had just closed. I peeked in the window and made a mental note to come back and check it out on a future trip. I draw a lot of my own inspiration from musical sources and great album covers by 60’s and 70’s classic rock bands and singer songwriters. Ally revealed to me that she loves movies, particularly of a darker nature and that she strives to acheive a cinematic feel to her work. She really digs the visual style of Tarantino, and photographer Cvatik is a favorite of hers for his surreal beauty work.
Deciding it was time to take a few pictures we walk back to retrieve my gear from the car. It’s about 7:30pm and the light is looking great in downtown Ashland. I grab my DSLR with a 50mm 1.4 which pretty much lives on it and my Bronica 645 and set out to snap a few simple portraits. Ashland is so full of character and such a contrast to the downtown area in Eugene. Maybe it’s just different wallpaper, but it was easy to find inspiring places to shoot around every corner and the pervasive drug and crime problems that have been plaguing the downtown Eugene area just don’t seem to be present there.
Once Alexandra got in front of the lens, I could immediately feel the value that being well versed on both sides of the lens brings. Having spent plenty of time looking through a camera, it was apparent that she was incredibly familiar with the use of the space in front of the lens. For my part, composition is made so much easier when your subject understands instinctively where they fit in the frame. We wrapped up after about 20 minutes having shot a handful of digitals and a roll of 120 and vowed to set up a future, more involved shoot and share more stories of photographic mayhem. Here’s a few highlights from our impromptu session to hold you over til then.
Check out Alexandra's Modeling instagram - https://www.instagram.com/xandrawhitepnw/
As well as her photography instagram - https://www.instagram.com/arwphotos/