Joan Allen creates stunning images – the kind that makes you stop, stare and then stare some more. Her work is remarkable for the variety of emotions her photographs convey, reflective of her unique aesthetic and keen eye. Her portfolio varies from breathtakingly beautiful to unabashedly raw to quietly poignant.
Based in Los Angeles, Joan’s clients include Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Vogue, NBC Universal, FOX Television, Bacardi, Crystal Cruise Line and Random House Publishing, just to name just a few. She has won multiple awards from esteemed competitions such as American Photography, PDN Magazine’s Photo Annual and Applied Arts Magazine. Her work is vast in subject matter, ranging from travel, food, portraiture and advertising.
We sat down with Joan of Joan Allen Photo to learn what it takes to turn a passion for pictures into a thriving photography career.
Brandettes (B)– Where do you draw inspiration? Are there particular artists or works of art that have influenced your style?
Joan Allen (JA)– I am most inspired on the road, experiencing new, visually arousing adventures. My work has not been influenced by a specific artist per say, but rather by individual images that capture great moments in a single frame or collections of strong, complimentary images that tell a great story.
(B)- What is the one thing you wish you had more of in your work?
(JA)- More reportage, story telling and photo journalism. I didn’t realize until the past few years that I loved to tell stories. This realization came about when I began documenting my mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and then again when I volunteered to photograph, along with several colleagues, for a book titled Aging Out, which features young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. We wanted to tell our subjects’ stories in a photo essay – it was a very inspiring project for me. The book will be published later this year.
(B)- You have traveled to some incredible locations. What’s the most memorable place you’ve photographed and where would you like to go next?
(JA)- “the most memorable place”… Impossible to answer. Italy is magical, Belgium blew me away last year. Returning to Africa now that I know what I’m doing with my camera would be amazing (I was a beginning photo student when I was there last). With summer on my mind, my current travel aspirations are tropical heavy. The Caribbean, Maldives, Bali, Thailand, the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre… have all been considered. I will be going to Maui in July and other smaller national trips, but I’m scheming something bigger in the “off” season, maybe in the fall or spring, planning around the tourist heavy seasons if possible. Last year, between travel assignments and personal vacations, I broke my previously set frequent flyer miles record. I love to travel and I love returning home. But when I’m home, you’ll find me planning my next adventure.
(B)- If you could keep only one image, which one would it be and why?
(JA)- This is an interesting question because some days I feel like completely wiping my slate clear and starting over due to how much I have transitioned in my photography style and developed my eye throughout the course of my career. I have become an excellent photo editor, however, after 15+ years of staring at my photos, it is sometimes difficult to tell what’s good anymore. It’s harder with my own work because I have emotional attachments and memories associated with each shoot. I am a great editor for other people’s photography. I once worked with a very well respected photographer who would take photos while on vacation, return home and then put the film in his closet for up to a year without developing it. That way when he was ready to edit his images, he would have an open mind and less of an emotional attachment, allowing him to better choose which images were successful and which weren’t. I was always intrigued by that and respected it, but I am too impatient. I need to see the images sooner. On a flip side to the above, after taking photos for 20 years now, I can honestly say that I can maybe count on one hand the images that I know will always be amongst the greatest I will ever take. I left a shoot about a year ago, hadn’t seen the images yet, but I just knew that I had created an image that I would be proud of. Forever. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I feel it. I’m looking forward to continuing my life transition and seeing where I end up; one day I hope to have created a collection of photography that I am truly proud of. Perhaps then I will have a gallery show, a book, a legacy to pass along and hopefully inspire others.
(B)- Can you share any advice for other photographers getting started?
(JA)- Learn how to shoot with film cameras. Develop your own film. Smell the chemicals. Print your own prints. Think about each and every frame you take, don’t just buy a digital camera and hold down the shutter and pray. Slow down. Practice waiting for the moment. Shoot every chance you get. Assist as many photographers as you can. Learn what you like, what you don’t like, how you want to treat your assistants one day and equally important, how you don’t want to treat others. Eat, breathe, and sleep photography. Go to museums, meet people, ask for advice, ask for opinions on what you’re shooting. Be kind, be respectful. I was fortunate enough to meet a huge family of friends in the photo industry and we are all very supportive and helpful to one another. Community is so important. Find incredible mentors so that you will become a great mentor one day. I have been blessed with mentors who have been there for me since day one until today. Two of them I need to thank for teaching me how to teach: My first mentor when I knew absolutely nothing and had so many questions was Michael Lohr. He patiently listened and answered every question, would help me study images to examine different lighting techniques, gave me advice on what photo equipment to purchase. All so beneficial. Then, I met Art Streiber. He has always been generous with his time and to this day, so helpful and I am forever grateful. Both to date, I consider dear friends. There are certain things you just can’t learn on your own and I am always available to answer questions or give advice to photographers.
We can’t wait to see what’s next for this incredible artist! – CM