Allister Ann has a keenness to the tiny menial moments that make us who we are. Her attentive eye is reflected in the stunning portraiture that makes up her body of work, which boasts some of the biggest names in music – Sam Smith, Adele, Cold War Kids and Dolly Parton, to name a few. And the 29-year old music photographer’s creativity knows no confines, as she has recently begun taking on the role of “director” for videos including Tegan and Sara’s “Stop Desire” and Dan Auerbach’s “Stand By My Girl”. We talked to Allister Ann about her art and ambition.
For those of us who are new to your work, can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you’re involved in?
ALLISTER ANN — The Aquarius in me doesn’t want to elaborate too much, but I guess I’d describe myself as an artist that loves to explore different avenues. Photography is my profession, and more recently I’ve been trying my hand at directing music videos.
I mostly document musicians on tour, and do commercial work for them as well. I also shoot fashion and product campaigns. Painting is a love of mine and this past January I went to Paris and did a series of abstract expressionism that was inspired by a previous heartbreak. I always try to have a personal project on the side that excites and challenges me.
How did you get your start in photography? What was the process like of deciding to dedicate yourself to it full time?
AA — I was in Los Angeles studying fashion design and photography had been an interest since early high school. After a year there, I realized I wasn’t happy, and with the support of some friends, I found myself moving to Nashville solely based upon a photography job for a musician. Meeting more people eventually brought more work and surprisingly at one point I found I could actually declare myself as a photographer and make a living at it.
When you’re working with different artists, how do you capture their essence so that the photos turn out feeling intimate and true?
AA — I think it’s important to take some time to get to know them. A conversation, however limited, will hopefully establish a rapport between us that carries over to allowing them to feel comfortable, and maybe a bit more open and vulnerable. The camera grants me the opportunity to capture that interaction. I don’t look at a shoot with someone as strictly work, but more being given a chance to meet someone new.
You’ve recently started directing – what led to that? Do you find that being a photographer and a director are almost two different entities (like “Photographer Allister” and “Director Allister”) or is it more fluid?
AA — Having done documentary filming for The Civil Wars, it felt like a gradual transition to fall into. Directing still intimidates me, but I do see it as an extension of photography in the sense of giving one the ability to tell a story in a more detailed way. Doing a film takes a village, and when you have a wonderful crew to work with it’s so exciting to see an idea come to fruition. Horror films have always been an obsession, and a crazy dream of mine is to one day complete a script and do a full length film.
What are you inspired by?
AA — When being asked this now, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no correct answer. Everyone is moved or motivated differently and it’s so individual and personal. If something or someone “inspires” me, i.e. gives me a creative idea, it can come from anywhere. I guess my point is, what may give me inspiration could mean absolutely nothing to someone else.
How do you deal with creative burnout and self-doubt in your artistry? What keeps you going when you feel intimidated/uninspired?
AA — In having the highs, inevitably the lows come with it. I have had endless conversations about this with friends in how to deal and get through the different phases in our careers. To generalize, to claim being an artist encompasses unpredictability. That in itself can be scary for some, but for others it can be the basis of finding that constant push within yourself to achieve those ultimate goals that you’re striving for. When I fall into a creative slump, I motivate myself with personal projects that stimulate me and eventually get me back on track. It’s a never-ending cycle of challenging yourself and accepting that there will never be consistency and downright moments of boredom. Even then, the Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think that is true.
What’s next for Allister Ann?
AA — I’m going out on tour again this year for a bit, working on a book project with an artist I’ve been with for several years. It’s definitely time for another trip to Paris. Otherwise, no idea. I guess it’s that not knowing that keeps me going.