Hello Alana! Tell us something about yourself. Where does your interest in photography come from? When did it become a job?
I started taking photographs when I was a kid. My parents both had an interest. They gave me a 110 camera when I was fairly small, maybe around age 4. I would explore our suburban neighbourhood, and shoot rolls that my parents had developed at the local drugstore. In my teens, I took photography classes in high school. My art teacher sold me her vintage, baby blue Beseler enlarger, and I set up a dark room in the closet of my parent’s garage. I still have it stored there, and I’m hoping someday I can set up a darkroom here in New York … although now it’s been there for 15 years!
At seventeen I won a fellowship to study at the School of Visual Arts pre-college program, and a few months later I was accepted to Parsons where I completed my undergraduate degree.
In your biography I read that you graduated with your BFA in photography from Parsons New School for Design in 2009. It seems your ideas have been clear about your future since you were very young. Did you always have in mind this profession while dreaming about what would come after your studies?
At 13, I knew I wanted to move to New York. At the time, I was very interested in web design. I had taught myself computer programming as a kid, and the early teen domain scene was a big influence. I thought I wanted to go to school for either front end web development or graphic design. Something shifted when I entered high school. My dad gave me his Minolta SLR, and I started to take photography more seriously. I’ve always known I wanted to work in a creative field, and I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a photo editor. Although then, I thought it would be for a fashion or lifestyle magazine.
Now you are a photo editor. How do you go about organising your projects? Tell us about a typical day at work.
My work as a photo editor is very separate from my personal work. Currently, I’m a photo editor on the business desk at The Times with a focus on the technology. My day-to-day is working with our reporters to create visuals for their stories in print and online. I commission a lot of photography, and work with our art director to help concept illustrations.
Over the past decade my work as a photo editor has made me a stronger shooter. The lens I put on as a photo editor, what I ask for, and what I’ve learned about approaching subjects on set, I have absorbed into my own work. I look at a lot of photography and meet with a lot of up and coming photographers. I am constantly in tune with the news. Especially now, with the pace of everything, you have to be very clued in. Sometimes the days can be very long. On the flip side, it’s incredibly important to me to disconnect and put in place screen time restrictions, to go outside or go to a museum.
If you had to describe with a couple of words what distinguishes your style or your research, what would you say?
I’m attracted to mystery, fantasy, and myths. I like to look back and I like to do a lot of research from different angles, for example investigate scientific subjects, old fashion magazines and movies and remix ideas. I’m a big fan of public archives.
Paradise Falling – This series was published as a book by AINT-BAD. Can you tell us something about your mutual interest and how your collaboration came about?
A mock-up of the book was created during my residency at Vermont Studio Center last April. AINT—BAD held a photo book contest at the end of last year, and I submitted my project on a whim. I was very surprised to receive second place. They had collated a few notes for the mock-up, and from there we published!
Looking at your photographs, my first impression concerns the space about the air they breathe. Each of your photos, framing even just a fleeting image of a natural landscape, expresses the whole context, as a 360° experience -the colours, the clear fresh air, the smells, the breeze … Do you have a message you wish to put across?
I like the idea of the photographs operating like a whisper. Paradise Falling is intimate, and I would like it to be transformative. I’ve always been interested in photographing everyday objects that might be overlooked—their beauty ignored. This series is about coming of age, finding yourself, and reshaping the past through the process of photography. It is a photo album of my last decade—my travels, my desires, my failures.
In addition to your numerous natural landscapes, we frequently find close-ups of flowers, trees and shrubs in your shots. It makes me think of a travel reportage that starts from nature itself. Considering your choice of subjects, can you see a predisposition come to light?
Yes, I’ve always found I’m more interested in the natural world. It has been very hard for me to make work while living in a city. I’ve slowly, but forcefully, started to make work living in New York. For the last three years, I have tried to take a picture every day for 100 days. It forces you to see the world in a different way when you’re hunting for photographs.
You don’t often photograph people. If you do so, you use back-lighting light, place themin the shadows, but never full-on. Are you aware of this?
Portraits, at least in Paradise Falling, act as stand-ins for myself and my emotions. In some ways, I am objectifying my subjects.
Given “carte blanche”, what would you focus your next job on? Is there a special story you would like to tell the world
Editorially, I would love to shoot for Playboy. With their latest relaunch to be more inclusive, they’ve been commissioning really compelling and beautiful work despite being known as a men’s magazine.
In terms of a personal project, I’ve been researching the Decade Volcanoes. Prior to the virus, I was planning to visit the two in Japan as a start to a new project focusing on not only the volcanoes and their destructive histories, but also the populated areas that lie beneath them.
Lastly, I’ve been working on a tongue-in-cheek dystopian fashion project dream scenario with my fiancé. I would love to use one of the video billboards in Times Square for a shoot.
One last question. Which artists do you consider your sources of inspiration?
Rinko Kawauchi, the New Topographics, Deana Lawson, Katy Grannan, Paul Outerbridge, Sam Contis, Roe Ethridge, Anne Collier, Collier Shore, Robert Adams, Dora Maar, Elad Lassry, Bertien van Manen, Uta Barth
Thank you very much Alana!
Interview by Costanza Francesconi
Images © Alana Celii