Today we share the work and words of Alanna Airitam.
Please tell us alittle about yourself.
I never know how to answer this question so I’ll give you a few random facts. I am a native New Yorker but have lived in lots of places including Dallas, Santa Fe, Bali, Thailand, and various parts of Northern and Southern California. I currently live in San Diego and love living between the desert and the ocean. But I’ve always liked a good juxtaposition.
Maybe being between two extremes means I can find some form of balance in the middle. I’m always on the hunt for it. I don’t have any pets or children because I can barely keep my succulents alive. I believe life is a DIY project and you need to learn how to use the tools to create the result you want. And we gather the tools through the experiences we have. But if you’re not clear on what you’re building, it’s difficult to know which tools to gather. So I spend a lot of time making sure I’m clear about what I want and then setting out to build the best version of it that I can.
How did you get started in photography?
Photography snuck up on me gradually. My mom used to work for Time/Life magazine back in the 60’s in the photo department with some amazing people. As a result, we always had nice cameras and photo books around the house. I didn’t have a significant pull toward photography though. My dad painted a lot. And I studied how he drew things. He taught me about shading, composition, and the basics of drawing. I became fixated on drawing faces, especially eyes. But everything else i.e. hands, arms, legs, etc., I didn’t have any real interest in drawing. Art has always been a part of my life. But it was seen as a hobby. It wasn’t a real career option. So when it was time for me to decide on a career path, I chose to work in ad firms as a graphic designer. I thought it would give me some place to put that energy. But I was disappointed because executing someone else’s ideas was killing my own creativity.
I had a decent camera so would go out on the weekends and shoot. I noticed every single time I stepped behind the camera, everything else in the world disappeared. I absolutely fell in love. It brought so much life back into me. I became obsessed with light. Compositions in my mind revolved heavily around how light and shadow fell off a person’s face or shoulders. There was something about that soft gradient when light turns to dark or the shadowed imprint of a whisper of hair on a cheek that felt like something much bigger to me. I went to museums and borrowed books from the library so I could study 17th century paintings to learn about light and shadows. I figured if I was going to learn, might as well start with what I knew and find the best teachers I could.
Please tell us about Crossroads
The subjects look away from the lens to protest the lies, injustice, and lack of humanity we face on a daily basis in a country designed to benefit a few while oppressing many. Their postures are strong and confident as they look in a new direction. The colors are dark and muted but the people are beautifully lit to highlight the light we all have in dark times.
Why do you create?
I create because I don’t know what else there is to do. Aren’t we all here to create something? I mean we have this life. What do we choose to do with it? What does a person do if they aren’t creating? Destroying? Staying stagnant? Retreating? Even destruction is just the beginnings of a rebirth which is inherently creative. We can’t get away from it. Also at some point, I realized we only get one shot at this life thing so might as well make the most of it. I could die unhappy in rush hour traffic while working a 60 hour work week just so I can say I paid my bills on time or I could do the things that bring me the most joy. I can create for someone else or I can create for myself. I have to create because I’m human.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I’ve had so many influences in my creative process. Being self-taught, it was necessary for me to find the lessons whenever I could. During that time, I tried to stay away from looking at too much photography though. I was concerned that I would just be mimicking someone else’s style and that would be a hinderance to finding my own. Instead, I found inspiration in the things that had the most impact on me like my travels or my childhood.
My grandmother on my mother’s side was a devout Catholic. My Father came from a Muslim family. My brothers and I were baptized Catholic and I wasn’t having any of it. But I loved the candles, the imagery, the relics. I would feel simultaneously scared and fascinated with a picture of Jesus she had above her alter. His eyes followed me everywhere!
As I got older, I became interested in symbolism, alchemy, magic and powers from unknown places. And all of this makes its way into my work. There are also many artists of varied disciplines who have had influence on my creative process. But I would gravitate heavily to photographers who used light in an interesting way. I’m a big fan of Erwin Olaf. He uses light in a way that is so beautiful and unique. It’s just as much a part of the story as his subjects. I wanted to do that in my work too.
My mom has a couple of trunks filled with photos. I discovered my grandfather to be an incredible photographer. I wish I could show you these things. They are surreal and I can’t stop looking at them. They are images he took on his travels with the military. He has photos of headhunters posing with shrunken heads, weird animals, men throwing dice on the sidewalks of Brooklyn. There are so many incredible shots. But there is one of a woman. I don’t know her nationality but she’s barefoot, wearing a head wrap, nose ring, beads and wrapped in sarongs. She’s holdingmn ma little blonde haired boy in her arms as she walks across train tracks surrounded by a group of three white men. She looks so uncomfortable to me. Almost like she’s hurrying to get away. I can’t stop asking questions about this image. I can’t stop thinking about her. This image haunts me. And by the time I discovered my grandfather’s photos, he was gone and no one has answers. So these things are a mystery to me. I like it that way. But I also can’t get them out of my mind.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I learn something every time I shoot. My biggest lessons are the failures and the ones that never happened. I usually have a camera on me. I went out and purchased a Fuji X100T to keep in my bag. I decided to take it out of my bag one day. Of course that’s the day at a stop sign and I see an elderly woman wearing a Supergirl costume complete with bright red and blue cape and belted around her waist.She’s watering her very green lawn with her very bright yellow house in the background. It was such an interesting scene and I would never be able to describe how weird it looked. This really needed to be photographed. I was so angry I left my camera at home. I became obsessed with running into her again so I walked or drove passed her house every day for months hoping for another chance. Never happened. Lesson number one: Always be prepared.
Here is an image I learned a very valuable lesson from. I took this during a time when I wasn’t photographing much. I had such a block about even picking up the camera for almost a year at that point. Late one night, I decided I would get in the car and drive to Salton Sea to watch the sun rise. That morning sun in that weird place was the perfect reminder. Here’s what I learned:
• Play more. Things don’t always need to be so serious.
• Change up the routine. Don’t get stagnant. Just the act of getting out of my routine cracks open possibilities
• Shoot. shoot. shoot. shoot. shoot. And then keep shooting.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A good creative day for me is one when I don’t allow myself to get in my own way. It’s a day when I’m totally in flow and I’m just submissive to whatever is rolling through me. When the ideas come in usually at some unholy hour of 3 am, without hesitation, I get up and get going. Those days when I have the freedom to drop what I’m doing to explore an idea, a mood, or an inspiration are the best.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
Ooohhh… could I please spend a day with Jasmine Murrell Her work is so powerful and I love how she combines sculpture and photography. I’m also in love withMohau Modisakeng’s work right now. Oh, and I’d love to spend a day watching Gregory Crewdson work because I’m really interested in shooting more expanded scenes and creating stories. His cinematic approach to lighting is beautiful. There are so many people who’s genius I’d love to be around for a day in hopes of absorbing something through osmosis.
How important is the photographic community to you?
Having a photography community to me is incredibly important. I spent a lot of time creating in my own bubble. The only critique I had was my own. I slowly starting to form a community of people who I trust. They don’t keep it light and fluffy and they push me to go deeper and get out of my comfort zones. It’s a work in progress, but I’m forever grateful for them. They make me better.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I’ve been relying heavily on my strobes. But quite honestly I want to move away from this a bit. I want to find new ways to play with light that don’t keep me locked in my studio. I feel like I’ve spent a while studying light. I feel extremely confident in the studio. But confidence can breed complacency and I’ve never been good with stagnation. So I’m thinking about how I can push myself to go beyond the familiar. I’m scared of getting bored. I’m ready to see what other ways I can use light that will give me a little more freedom.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
Yes! I’m interested in moving beyond a flat 2d image printed on paper. I’m playing around with new materials, new ways to display work, new lighting techniques, and printing. I’m giving myself permission to play and see what happens.
Whats on the horizon?
I feel like things are in transition at the moment. Something new is trying to come through. I’m asking questions that I’ve not asked of myself before. I’ve been working on a series of nudes and revisiting some work in progress that I’m taking in new directions. It all feels expansive at the moment and I’m really excited.
Thank you Alanna for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about the work of Alanna Airitam please visit her site at Alanna Airitam.