Phlearn Interviews Alexis Mire
Alexis Mire is a twenty year old fine art photographer living and working in Northern Florida. Along with self portrait work, she is also interested in creative projects and commissioned portraiture. After being self-taught for four years she decided to take her first photography classes in college last spring, and is currently enrolled at the University of North Florida as a full time student.
Alexis has been featured in Racing Minds, Caterpillar Magazine, Popular Photography Magazine, Artists Wanted, Collective Magazine, Crooked Teeth Magazine, Neon Magazine as well as a “You Can Do It!” spread.
Over halfway finished her second 365 days photo project Alexis has a lot of experience behind her, and a very comprehensive portfolio to show. Read on to learn more about Alexis and her work in this very intimate and honest interview.
How old were you when you first became interested in photography? How did you get into it?
I was about fourteen or fifteen when I first got into photography. I started off just taking pictures of lakes, my feet, and my dog, the typical stuff. I got into simple and silly portraiture and self portraits thanks to Myspace. My friends and I wanted photos for our profile pictures so we would get together and get all dressed up for photo shoots. We would make elaborate set ups with our hair and make up all done. It was like playing dress up, such a blast, and still the closest thing I’ve had to working with a team on a photoshoot It was after the MySpace days died down that my friends left photography and I kept with it. It still held an intrigue for me that had left them. What really drew me in and made me take it more seriously was when I came across Flickr and its subculture of young photographers. I realized that I was capable of more than just duck face and profile pictures. I could really make art with my camera. That blew my mind.
For someone who is only 20 years old you have quite the large body of work to show for yourself. What’s your favorite photo that you have ever taken? Why?
Aw man you know this is almost impossible to answer. I have such a fleeting love for my images, I look back fondly on many of them but I prefer to look ahead and get excited for the next one I haven’t made yet. But right now, at this very moment, it’s probably this one (see below). It’s been almost two years since it was taken and I still find myself coming back to it, striving to make work like it. It was an idea that I formulated in the middle of the night while staying in California with my boyfriend, Ryan. The excitement over taking the image the next day kept me up all night, I couldn’t sleep. That’s a feeling that I would do anything to feel again and occasionally, when it hits me, I am so thankful. I am pretty sure that is what is considering pure inspiration. It’s all I ever want, but you can’t always seek it out, sometimes it must find you working. So I will keep working, striving to achieve it.
Currently you are working on a 365 days photo project.
How are you enjoying the project?
I am really loving the project. This is the second time I have done one and I think it’s an experience that anyone should have. During my first project I had just started out and it was about growth and experimentation. I grew more in that year creatively than in any other period of time. I feel like this time around my 365 is really about innovation, planning, documentation, and more than anything, it’s about failure. I fear failure; I need to learn to embrace it and turn it around into something positive. I have days where I have school, work, or both and I have to figure out a way to make an image and to make it count. It’s difficult to stay motivated but the best part about a 365 is that there is always tomorrow.
Your 365 days project is very popular on Flickr. Each photo has about 2000+ views. How does the popularity of the project affect what you produce?
The popularity of the project actually keeps me driven to keep up with posting and shooting because I feel so thankful that people are checking my stream every day to see the images. They are like my virtual support system, cheering me on along the way.
I know frequently a large amount of followers adds pressure to a project like this, to create images that people will like, but for me it’s not of utmost importance to impress them. Sure, it’s really wonderful when people respond well to an image that I am proud of, but I don’t strive to achieve that daily. People are visiting my stream frequently because they like the work that I do, especially because I make the work for myself not for them. I create for me, but I share it for them. I try to keep that in mind and not let pressures get to me, but I can’t promise that sometimes they don’t sneak in and bother me.
How did you become so well known from your photography online on websites like Flickr and Tumblr?
I have been active in the online photo community for a few years now, starting with my first 365 in 2008. Through sharing my images in flickr groups I became friends with many young photographers such as Natalie Kucken, Lauren Withrow and Lissy Elle. Things slowly transitioned to tumblr when many flickr users wanted a place to share their out takes. From that point I connected with a whole new group of people with a more focused pool of interests, that really helped with having my images seen by many younger photographers who would have otherwise missed me on flickr. When I met my boyfriend, Ryan Jay, through flickr in late 2009 my stream really came into the spotlight. People who were fans of us each individually were really happy to see us together and always loved seeing the work we created together. New followers were really swept up by our love story so they watched our relationship grow. We took our relationship out of the spotlight after a while and I started focusing on myself and my work for a while. Lots of people who came for the relaltionship stuck around because they liked what I was creating and I am really thankful for that. I have been very fortunate that my photo stream has been explored and given a chance by so many people through so many mediums. I just always try to create and share my work. I want to connect with my followers, give them advice, share my experiences and just be friendly. I think with time, networking and reaching out to the people who enjoy my work, I have been able to reach the point I am at today.
The work you create is sometimes very personal, which I think is great. But with putting yourself out there so much there are always risks associated with that.
Has putting yourself out there so much ever backfired?
Is there anything you have online that you regret putting up?
Yes, as mentioned previously my relationship with Ryan was in the spotlight for a little while and it was pretty stressful. We opened ourselves up to many people because we wanted to help other couples in long distance relationships see that there is a chance to be together and to be happy. But when you are open with your relationship there are bound to be people who take advantage and pry a little too much. People put your relationship on a pedestal and really make it their business, when it’s obviously not. It was a silly mistake but we were so giddy that people were so happy for us. We learned that some things are just meant to stay between us and don’t need to be constantly shared with everyone else.
As for images, I don’t think there is anything I regret putting up, I try to be sensitive about what I post because I know content on the internet is forever. Usually if I feel uncomfortable about an image I will put it as “friends only” on flickr. But I have never gone so far as to post images that have lead to negative events in my life, luckily!
In regards to the lighting in your photographs do you use mostly natural light?
Yes, almost always. Although I am looking to start playing with artificial light in the future because I want to continue to explore Gregory Crewdson’s style. But I just love natural light because it is pure and unpredictable. I love having to adapt to a situation instead of creating it, it’s a challenge for me.
What does your gear list look like?
5d mark II with a canon 50mm 1.4 and a 28mm 1.8 for digital, for 35mm film it’s a canon ae-1 and for 120mm I use a mamiya rb67 with a Polaroid back, and then for 4×5 I use a modified Burke and James with a fujifilm instant back.
While browsing your photos I’ve noticed you shoot both film and digital.
What process do you enjoy more?
I feel like the two processes are very different but digital has been my preference recently because my lack of patience ruins me. I love seeing the finished product right then and there. The best part of the whole photographic process for me isn’t the final product, but the act of creating and viewing the image for the first time. With film there is such a long gap between the two but I love it when they are simultaneous. That’s why when I do shoot film, I prefer instant film. I shoot sporadically and on impulse, instant film and digital photography feed my need for immediate imagery.
When shooting film do you bring the photographs into Photoshop afterwards for editing or do you show the shot straight out of the camera?
I rarely ever change the fundamental elements of a film image in photoshop. The only corrections I made are removing dust and trying to make the digital copy look as true to the original as possible. I feel like film shouldn’t be messed with too much, you should be doing the hard work in camera.
How do you go about creating your photos and/or starting a new project?
What inspires you and your work?
I am not really one to plan ahead for my images so it all happens in a day. For my 365 it’s a really simple process where I will pace around my house and look at objects and the light through the window and make a decision to shoot inside or outside. When I get a chance to go outdoors I will venture out to the golf course nearby with my tripod on one arm and my camera on the other. With the help of my remote I can take self portraits in any area of my choosing. Many of my ideas come with interesting lighting situations, scenery or articles of clothing. Sometimes I incorporate props but during my 365 I haven’t had too much time to collect them. My shoots aren’t very glamorous but they are all about a personal challenge, the idea that I am going to go out and make a photo and it’s going to be good because I say so. I take the environment in front of me and turn it into another place altogether. I shoot a little and tweak small things as I go. I am inspired along the way. Every one of my photo shoots is a tiny exploration of my creativity, a mental exercise, what can I make out of nothing?
As for inspiration, I am really inspired by new locations and sites, the way light changed throughout the day and creating characters using only myself. I am inspired by places and things with potential.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
I am really inspired by young photographers who use a lot of digital manipulation such as Alex Stoddard and Rob Woodcox, just because that is work I would love to be able to do but haven’t quite gotten to yet. Post visualization is just so awesome.
I am also inspired by more famous concept based photographers such as Gillian Wearing and Gregory Crewdson. And the portrait photography of Shizuka Yokomizo and Philip-Lorca Dicorcia also inspires me greatly.
Overall the photographers who inspired me plan ahead and have meaning to their madness, something I am really working on.
What would you consider the highlight of your photography career thus far?
I think that’s a tie between my feature in Popular photography and my Flickr interview. Having my photo in a magazine seen around the country is absolutely unbelievable and brought so much attention to my stream. And then being interviewed by the site that changed my life and introduced me to photography was also such an honor. Both were just really great experiences.
Within your work you have many self-portraits. Why do you take self-portraits? (self-portrait therapy?)
I take self portraits for many reasons. Initially it was out of fear of photographing others, that they wouldn’t understand my concepts or want to participate in my antics. But over time it became something very therapeutic for me to do alone. I have been photographing myself for so long that I am my own model, I know how to evoke certain expressions and emotions, I know how I look from multiple angles. I also find it to be the most comforting thing in the world to be at a beautiful location, alone with my camera. It’s so calming to spend time creating and thinking of nothing else. That moment when I am making an image and I am totally alone and nothing matters but what is happening before the screen is the ultimate adrenaline rush. I get tunnel vision, I can’t do anything but run back and forth, adjusting and posing. That moment when I am on the cusp of the perfect image is the most tense and exciting moment of my life. And then when I have it, that one image that is just right, it’s the ultimate reward. Nothing else can ever amount to that feeling. It’s what I chase after with every one of my images. After a while, self portraits became less about taking pictures of myself and more about the process of being alone to make an image, to reach that feeling of completion and success. As ludicrous as it seems, after a while the photos don’t matter as much as that moment did. The act means more than the product sometimes. I would rather take a million photos and never see them again than be surrounded by all of my images and never have a chance to make one ever again. To make, that’s all I need.
I actually prefer to photograph myself rather than other people because I feel more comfortable that way all around. Photographing other people feels so different to me, very foreign. I think I will like it better after I’ve had a lot of practice, but for now it’s still so intimidating to me.
So many of your photos have such emotion and soul in them. Your photos are naturally beautiful and in most cases it seems as if very little editing is done.
What photo of yours is the ‘most edited’?
In my earlier work I have some heavily edited images that I don’t feel were very successful edits, but in more recent work this is probably my most edited image (see below).
This one was also very intricate but it was so long ago (see below).
Like you mentioned earlier, I have such a huge collection of work, it’s so hard to dig through sometimes. It’s both a blessing and a curse it seems.
What would you have to say to someone who isn’t sure whether they should go to school for photography or not?
I really don’t think some people need to attend school for photography but to someone who is on the fence about it, for me it’s been a great learning opportunity with access to resources that I couldn’t acquire on my own. I have access to a dark room, a fully equipped studio, top of the line printers and intelligent professors who can provide advice on an array of problems that I don’t even foresee yet. On top of that, being in school has provided me with so many opportunities to have my work featured in galleries and exhibitions in my city. I see school as a resource, if you can find the funds and if you are willing to put yourself into it, it’s totally worth it. To address the concerns that school will destroy your interests in photography and that you will have to follow rules that you disagree with, I think it’s totally up to you whether or not school gets to you like that. So you don’t like the assignments for school? Make photos for yourself on the side that are what you want to do. You should really be doing that anyway. And maybe the assignment doesn’t sound like a total blast, make it your own. Usually assignments are so vague that you can tackle it however you’d like. Basically, if you come into it with a negative attitude you won’t be happy, as with anything. You have to know that you, as an artist and a person, are bigger than a couple of college classes and a difficult professor. See the big picture(lol) and don’t get bogged down in the details.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I would love to be living in California with Ryan and our cats working on big projects with other creative people. After I graduate from school my life is just a big blank page, it’s intimidating but also extremely thrilling. I just want to make stuff with other artists that will make people happy. Is that too much to ask?
Interviewed by Angela Butler