Amazingly, you have only been interested in photography for the past year. What was it that sparked your interest in photography?
I saw some photographs by Francesca Woodman online, and thought they were really interesting. It was the first time I had been so moved by photography. I showed them to a friend, and we started taking his parents camera to take photos of each other in abandoned houses that we found. I eventually bought my own camera and expanded my style.
You’ve always been interested in art. You’ve been painting and drawing for years. Do you still keep up with your other art or do you put all of your time into your photography?
Also, do you find Inspiration for your photos from previous drawings and/or paintings that you have done?
I Draw most of my photo concepts out in a sketchbook, and sometimes still Draw for fun, but I’ve definitely put nearly all my effort into photography. My Style of drawing and painting hasn’t improved or changed in at least a year. I actually haven’t found much inspiration for photos through the art I had done before; my paintings were definitely more cartoon-ish and bizarre than my photographs, and I think it would be too difficult to change them into concepts.
Your photos always seem to be very conceptually strong. Can you tell us a bit about your pre-planning? Do you sketch an idea before you shoot it?
I try to plan things as much as possible. It seems that the more I plan, the more the image will look like it does in my head. I Draw out nearly all of my concepts, and decide where I’ll take the photo, when I’ll take it (usually the golden hour), what I’ll wear, pose, etc. I also often list out everything I’ll need to bring to the location so I don’t forget anything.
You started a 365 days project in December of 2011, and your reasoning behind starting it was because “I’m always impressed by how much people’s photography improves during the course of a 365.”
Your photos have improved so much both visually and technically whilst working towards the end goal of your project. What keeps you motivated to keep producing an image every day?
What inspires you?
Thank you! I think my biggest Motivation is just to keep improving. I’m pursuing photography as a career, so I try to practice as much as possible. Even when my 365 is over I plan on taking photos every day, just not posting the ones I don’t like. The audience I’ve built up also inspires me so much to keep producing, it’s incredible how much support I get from people all over the world. Whenever I skip a day I actually feel really guilty about it!
You’ve done something that I think involves a lot of courage, and guts. You were attending school and you decided to drop out to pursue photography and travel. I think this is amazing.
What were you taking in school?
Currently, are you happy with your decision?
Dropping out was a bit scary, but I don’t regret it at all! I had just finished my second year of college and still had no idea what I wanted to do. I had always wanted to do something artistic, but had heard that artists can’t make much money, so I was planning on settling with something like psychology or advertising. Meanwhile, I was spending hours every day practicing photography, and eventually decided I was doing well enough that I could devote my time into pursuing something I enjoy. I actually quit my job recently as well, and it’s actually been working out well so far! Lately I’ve been making more through commissioned work and prints than I did when I was working, and it’s been growing quickly! I’m the first person in my family to drop out of college, and I’ve never been happier!
How have your experiences while traveling changed the way you look at the world, and especially how has it changed your thinking process and the way you produce imagery?
Traveling showed me how differently people live, and made me very grateful to live where I do. If I had grown up in most of the places I had traveled to, I wouldn’t have been able to afford a camera and do what I love. In order to take photos while traveling, I had to adapt. I couldn’t get very many props, I wasn’t able to drive to locations, and I couldn’t wait and shoot when lighting was right, so I had to try to work with what I had. I think it definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and ended up being very helpful in the end.
Where was your favorite place that you have traveled? Where is your dream destination?
I loved Bolivia, it had such gorgeous scenery and was really cheap to travel through. It was very mountainous, which was very different for me since I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life. You could get a huge meal for around $1, and a room for the night for around $3. I’d love to travel through Eastern Europe- I really want to visit Russia, and I want to go to Pripyat in Ukraine. Imagine how cool it would be to do a photo shoot in a huge abandoned city! I want to travel everywhere though.
In your photos you like to utilize cloth and fabric quite a lot. You manage to bend and twist the shapes of these fabrics to create beautiful images.
Is there a reasoning behind using the cloth and fabric? (other than trying to create a shape)
Well I actually started taking photos with cloth by accident. I was in an abandoned house, and found an old bed sheet. I tried making up random shots with it, and ended up sitting in a chair that faced a gaping hole in the wall, tying the bed sheet around my head, and I threw the rest of the sheet in the air. I probably looked crazy doing it, but it ended up being the best photo I had taken at the time, and I ended up experimenting with it to see what I could do. I started using cloth to emulate other objects, like wings, or a hurricane. I just love experimenting with it and seeing what I can create
In your photos you use elements such as fire, knives, and I’ve even seen photos of you in freezing cold water. Has there ever been a time that creating your photos have gotten you hurt?
I’ve gotten a few minor injuries, but nothing too serious. If something is a little dangerous, but would produce a good photo, I’ll normally still do it. The worst injuries I’ve had were just cuts, bruises, and sprained ankles. I think it’s usually worth it though
Myself, as well as many others first got turned on to your photography through Reddit. Since posting your images on the community how much has the volume of your traffic increased?
It definitely has! Social media has such an incredible influence. I posted an album of 12 of my images onto reddit and over four million people viewed it- that is so insane to think about! After posting there, my viewer base doubled within a week.
You’ve mentioned on a few occasions that Phlearn has helped you with your photography/editing skills. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yeah, I’ve been a big fan of Phlearn for almost a year now. I usually check back a couple times a week to see what new videos are up. My favorite is Aaron’s video on drawing Shadows, I thought it was really helpful!
What is your end goal as a photographer? Where would you like to be with your photography in 5 years time?
I have big dreams and I’m working as hard as I can to achieve them. In five years, I hope to be making a living teaching workshops, taking photos for fashion magazines (in my style), doing large gallery showings etc. I just really want to be able to keep putting all my time into what I love!
Interview by Angela Butler