Photography is something that has always mesmerized me. There is something about capturing a moment in time on film that can’t be replicated. For a while now we’ve been drawn to Allister Ann’s black and white imagery, initially following along on her intimate journey with band The Civil Wars that seems to happen once in a lifetime. Her images of the band were chronicled in a hard cover photo book entitled To Whom It May Concern, documenting their trajectory and musical touring adventures. However, there is much more to Allister than just her photos of this one band, there is a genuine love for the art of images and a seemingly effortless and candid approach to creating timeless photos. With influences such as: David Bailey, Diane Arbus and Annie Leibovitz, it’s not hard to understand why the relationship between her camera and the openness of her subject matter seems to go hand in hand. She has a way of making you feel immediately at ease, even if perhaps she’s not always at ease with herself. We sat down with Allister recently to discuss photography and how it all seems to come so naturally to her.
Growing up in Colorado, what prompted your eventual move towards Los Angeles?
I had decided to come to Los Angeles to go to school for Fashion Design with a minor in Illustration. My Grandmother had worked in Fashion Design so that was kind of why I was drawn to it in the first place. From a very young girl, I thought I’d follow in her footsteps and my path was already figured out. Fashion design had this starry-eyed effect on me. It was so engrained in me but my idea of it was a capsule from my Grandmother’s era: the 1950’s, the gowns, that beautiful time. That’s what made me fall in love with fashion in the first place. It was a big wake up call when I came out here to go to school. While the art of fashion was embraced, there was also the aspect of consumerism. You could take an artist’s path of not making money and struggling or consider how you would go about things working with a designer.
When did you decide fashion design perhaps wasn’t your true calling?
It was just one of those things, I was thinking I didn’t want to be 23 and in so much debt for something that I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to do any more. I remember that transition. It was almost like feeling forced into finding out what it was I truly loved. Also after calling my parents and having them say I should explore things. They really stressed that I didn’t have to know, that I could figure things out as I went along.
Is that what led you in the direction of Photography?
Photography had always been a hobby but I didn’t know you could really make a living at it. I had always carried around my Dad’s Pentax camera. The camera was a great tool to have when you didn’t really know anyone. It would allow me to motivate myself to get out of my little apartment and explore the city. And I think I learned that about myself, that it’s a way to feel comfortable. Diane Arbus once said; “photograph the things that you’re afraid of” and I always remember that quote as it can go so many ways. It can work in so many different aspects with photography and just working with people in general. Photography can allow you to go somewhere where you might not know anyone but give you that confidence to interact. My camera was a safety net for me. It still is, almost like having that baby’s blanket. Moving from photographing places to photographing people on the street. I was just walking around in Downtown L.A. coming to and from school and then going to shows, always with my camera.
There is such an authenticity in your work, particularly in your portraits, is it hard to get your subjects to let their guard down?
I think there is a beauty in getting to know someone. The more time you spend with them, having that shield come down and those walls break, if even just a little bit. Capturing people’s insecurities and moments you don’t necessarily intend to capture, that is an interesting situation. Getting to know someone is my favorite piece of the puzzle when getting to photograph them.
How did you first connect with The Civil Wars? Did you have any idea how far that relationship was ultimately going to develop?
It was the time lapse of a friend introducing me to Joy Williams and her husband when she was doing her solo work and then Charlie Peacock, a Producer, saying there is a band with no name yet that he wanted me to meet. Charlie is interesting because everyone knows him & he’s really good at connecting people. He called me up and said: ‘I think you need to photograph this band, they don’t have a name but I think they match your aesthetic.’ It was shortly after photographing them that they were the buzz around Nashville. They were generating a lot of attention even outside of Nashville. Then around 6 or 8 months later Charlie called again and asked if I wanted to come out on the road with them. 2 days later I was on the tour bus, experiencing firsts with them. Almost like that first love, you remember all those moments and how you felt and that’s what I loved about the experience. We were all in it together. We were all a bit starry-eyed. It was really cool. I think it was in New York, when the Civil Wars were on tour with Adele, maybe at the Beacon theatre, they had asked me to come to the back of the bus to have a talk. I was convinced I was getting fired, not sure why but that’s what it felt like, although I’d never been fired. I was thinking we had a good thing, but it’s okay, its come to an end. But instead they asked for me to join them, follow them, and we’d do it together. That was really the start of everything. No one knew what to expect. We were just experiencing these amazing moments. I always had my camera on me but now it was more in front of my face. It was getting to know these people on such a personal level and photographing that. I was shooting film and would develop & then scan the previous night’s show…it would became this rotation nightly. After a while I could be about an inch away from their face and they wouldn’t notice.
When did you decide to do Tour Diaries?
The (Canon 5D) Mark II had come out and it had a video option, so I proposed doing tour diaries and video clips. There is always so much going on behind the scenes that is more than just still photo worthy and they all agreed to try it. I remember the shift, from them being so comfortable with me taking photographs, getting so close to them that they would hardly notice. But with video, the second they heard the click they would just quiet down. It was almost like starting over. It was so interesting to watch, but again, taking the time and closing that circle, getting one step closer so I could film them in a more vulnerable state…I’d get that honest and sincere take. It took about 4 months but after a while it was just like taking a photo, where they didn’t care. You hope for those artists’ reactions that people don’t get to see most of the time.
Does the idea of capturing moving pictures feel much different to you than still photography?
I think from The Civil Wars tour diaries, I became very intrigued with moving imagery. With photos, you can take that moment, snap it and it’s preserved, but with moving images you can’t hide as much behind the curtain with it. I was intimidated at first but then I did a music video for friends of mine in Nashville and that was a lot of fun and really cool dealing with actors and all the different elements that go into it. You begin to understand shooting film as such a collaborative experience.
Your photographs of cities are so intriguing to me as they have a sense of timelessness. How do you decide how to shoot in black and white vs. color?
It was hard for me to read Paris in color because of all the black & white movies and iconic photos of the city throughout the years. That was the idea of Paris I grew up with and so it kind of stuck. Sometimes I have to be slapped in the face with color to realize the desire to shoot with it. In Lima, Peru it was so easy to be able to spot the wardrobe and the backgrounds and I think there was lightness to how the people acted there. There was always a liveliness so color made way more sense to shoot there.
What do you like most about Photography?
I think it’s an excuse to get to know someone. It’s an excuse for me to be vulnerable and create a connection with someone. I think through my life I have gravitated towards people who have done it in the past, looking at the history of things and learning from it.
It was an honor to spend some time with this young artist who in just a few short years has already begun to make a meaningful mark for herself in the world of Photography. There is a genuine point of view and undeniable sense of intimacy that emanates from Allister’s work and it’s exciting to watch her journey expand and unfold before us through her lovely captures.
All images © Allister Ann. Used With Permission. All Rights Reserved.