An Interview With Sarah Allegra

I had the chance to send the amazingly talented Sarah Allegra some questions! To see Sarah’s feature on the Flying Fruit Bowl, click here:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself?

I live near Los Angeles with my husband, two cats and a dog.  The Angeles National Forest dips down near me in several areas, which makes the area not only beautiful, but gives me lots of places to shoot!

2. What kind of music do you like?

I am drawn to any style of music with poetic, meaningful lyrics.  My very favorite musician will always me Maynard James Keenan, of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.  There is no one who can compare with his lyrics; no one who writes as darkly, hauntingly beautiful or hilariously irreverent.  I also really love Brand New, System of a Down, Emilie Autumn, Wax Mannequin, Wintersleep and I’m enjoying hearing more from Mumford and Sons.  When I’m in the mood for a laugh I put on Flight of the Conchords 🙂

3. School or Self-Taught?

Self-taught!  The only formal education I’ve had is one course of black and white film photography over a decade ago.  I hated that class, as it focused mainly on developing the film itself.  It gave me a greater respect for the delicate, fiddly, tedious process that is, but I had no desire to continue with it.  As it was, I was rather put off by photography for a long time until I switched to digital and realized I could do things my way.

4.What do you think about the current state of photography?

I’m not one to keep up with too many current events, in pretty much every area of my life.  I rely on my husband for most of my news updates in the world; I’m much more content being busy in my own little world 🙂  As such, I may have a very sheltered view on “the current state of photography,” but I’ll give  you my thoughts on what I know.  It seems like there are tons and tons of really good photographers quickly rising up the ranks, and there is heavy competition for getting your work seen.  On one hand, this can be discouraging, but I really do think it’s fantastic that photography has become such a huge force in so many people’s lives, and that these hordes of young, talented photographers make enough noise to demand attention, recognition of their work, and respect of photography as a “valid” fine art medium.  Rather than be intimidated by all the talent readily visible from a short stroll through Flickr or Facebook, I try and view the photography community as my brethren, the place I belong and the people I belong with.  That is a much more uplifting attitude to have, and it gives you more of an appreciation for every one else’ talent instead of being intimidated by it.

5. Have you ever tried film photography?

Just for that one photography class.  It really cured me of any desire to play around with film or the darkroom!

6. What would be your dream photoshoot? (location, models, props, etc.)

I have so many “dream shoots” I don’t know which one to pick!  It would probably involve some big, complicated costumes, and a location where I wouldn’t have to worry about strangers wandering into the middle of it.

7. Where do you get your inspiration from?
It seems that almost everything does, or at least can, inspire me.  I keep a notebook (and also a file on my computer) with all my ideas in it.  For me, the problem isn’t usually a lack of ideas, but more a matter of trying to focus down on just a few ideas instead of trying to do everything.  Books, poetry, movies, music, the beauty of nature and animals all inspire me.  I think it helps to have varied interests and explore lots of things.  For example, I follow the Smithsonian, Neil DeGrass Tyson on Twitter, along with several blogs and podcasts about interesting science tidbits, literature and art, and folktales and fairytales.  While these subjects may seem quite wide-spread, I think it really helps a person to be exposed to as many interesting things as possible.  I am daily in awe of some fact or another, whether it’s the way molecules dance under a microscope, the order and grandeur of the universe, the grace of nature, or the power of art.  It all seeps into your consciousness and I think it adds a lot to your art, even if its not readily obvious.

8. If you could take an image of anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I have to pick a few people.  First on my list would be Maynard James Keenan.  His art has been a huge part of my life for many, many years.  It has helped me through some very difficult times and made me feel not alone.  One of my tattoos in inspired by his work (the A Perfect Circle symbol below my sternum, carefully placed over my “center”), one of my cats is names after him, and his work has inspired countless woks of my own.  It would be amazing to get to add the man himself to my works; it would be, pardon the pun, a perfect circle 😉

Secondly is the poet George Gordon Lord Byron, who died in 1824.  He is another artist who has captivated me with his work.  I first read his poetry when I was about 15, and I have loved him ever since.  He was a flawed, but deeply fascinating man, capable of incredible good and horrible bad.  My other two animals are named for him; my cat Byron is obviously named after him, and my dog Calantha is named for a very obscure reference to his work.  His poetry, and indeed, his life, has been a source of great interest and inspiration to me.

And lastly I want to shoot both Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on Breaking Bad, and Jack Huston, who plays Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire.  I love both of their work and their acting, and I think they would be fascinating to shoot!

9. Do you think you have your own style?

I think style is something you are constantly developing.  It’s always mutable.  That said, I think I have developed a bit of my own style, but I also know it will continue to grow and evolve.  If I feel something is becoming too frequent in my work, or if there’s something I’m a little nervous about trying, that’s usually a sign it’s time to shake things up!

10. Do you think that there is a link between music and photography?
Absolutely!  I’ve already spoken some about the huge source of inspiration music is, but I’ll say it again.  I have a whole set of photos that are all musically inspired (http://www.flickr.com/photos/artosthebear/sets/72157625845985126/ if you want the link :))  I love the challenge of taking an audio piece of art and translating the mood or thought into a visual one.  It’s a fun exercise if you haven’t tried it!

11. What makes a good image?

That’s a hard question for me to answer!  The thing you have to remember is that there is no such thing as an objectively good piece of art, in any art form.  Answering the question of if a piece of art is good or not is always going to be subjective answer, no matter what critic or artist or teacher answers it.

That said, I can tell you a little about what I personally tend to respond to.  I generally like images with human subjects, and I tend to like photos that are narrative and dramatic, and seem to tell a story and express an emotion.  Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of straight answers!  I like many, many different kinds of images.  Looking through my Flickr favorites or my Pinterest boards would show a variety of styles and subjects!

12. Do you agree with the statement, “You don’t have to own a good camera to make good images”? If so, why?
Absolutely!  I will say that if you want to print your photos, and especially if you want to print them large, having a better camera helps, but you certainly do not need the top-of-the-line camera.  I began photography with a camera that was good, but not great, and I’ve upgraded it since, mostly to have greater flexibility when printing.  But the quality of a good image; great composition, use of light and color, portraying emotion, telling a story… those things have nothing to do with what kind of camera you have.  Use what you have available to you now; you will get much farther doing that than if you wait around to have the best equipment available.

13. What influences your work?

So many things 🙂  The music I listen to, the artists I admire, the books I read, my own life… it all trickles down into my work sooner or later!

14. What could you not live without?

Art!  I absolutely HAVE to have it in my life!

15. What is your favourite magazine?

Birds and Blooms!  It’s a birding and gardening magazine, nothing art-related, but I absolutely love it!  I’ve learned a lot about taking care of the wild birds who come to eat at my feeders, and I’ve managed to keep a couple plants alive now, which is quite an accomplishment for me!

16. What camera do you use?

I’m currently using a Nikon D5100 and a Nikkor 1.4 50mm lens, mostly.  Occasionally I use my 35-70 lens, or my plastic Diana lens, which, I have to say, is really fun to play around with!

17. How do you market yourself?

That’s something I’m still trying to figure out, honestly.  Social media outlets are obviously very important, Twitter being my favorite.  Art/photography sites like Flickr and 500px are also very useful.  Sending out LOTS of submissions to galleries and magazines to have my work seen there is valuable, but you do have to send an awful lot of emails to get just a few responses.  I think having a blog where you can talk about your work in more detail is also good, but as I said, I’m still answering this for myself!

18. Which of your images are you most proud of?

I’m attaching the two I’m most proud of.  The Court Of The Dryad Queen is the first big photo from a huge series called DreamWorld that I started recently.  It portrays the archetypal characters who make up the world we visit in our dreams.  I made the costume and crown from scratch, which took a long time, and a lot of effort, but I’m so proud of how they turned out!

Exoskeletonation is a deeply personal image I made for my Enchanted Sleep series, dramatizing living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  It took an enormous amount of time to edit, but it’s now one of my favorite images of mine.

Exoskeletonation 600

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

19. Any interesting fact that you think that the world should know about you?

Hmm… I have a great memory for dog breeds, and I can name the breeds of 95% of the dogs I see, even the mixes.  And because I find dog breeds so interesting, my own dog is a pretty rare breed; she’s a Silken Windhound.

20. And Finally, What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?

My biggest piece of advice is to keep creating art, with whatever you have, right now.  Don’t wait around until you have the best camera, start making images now.  Create from your heart; strive to do the best you can now, and your equipment won’t matter.  You can build incredible props, costumes and sets with some sheets, a few dollars at a thrift store and a little elbow grease and imagination.  Create art, do it now, and don’t stop.

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