Interview 004: Live Music, Portrait & Wedding Photographer, Kelsey Ayres.
Design your life, we'll design the rest.
Welcome to our first interview series where we will be getting to know creative professionals and entrepreneurs from different fields. They all have one thing in common, using BRINN to work smarter, not harder.
INTERVIEWER: You recently joined the Net-A-Porter team as a photographer, tell us a little bit about what that’s like?
KELSEY: It’s a bit more of a technical job but there are still some creative elements to it. We are mainly shooting e-commerce and bringing attention to the different pieces of clothing and what you would want to see when buying a piece of clothing online. Something as small as the type of knit on a sweater which is something that’s really important to me or the type of zipper used down to the way it’s stitched. We really want to show the quality of the clothing.
One thing I really love about the job is that there’s a whole team of stylists and photographers to learn from. Some of them have worked with my favorite photographers like Alex Prager. Everyone’s really positive and it’s a nice environment to be around.
Prior to this you did take some time off from working a Monday - Friday job, how has the adjustment back into a full time job been?
It’s definitely been busy. When setting myself up for the year, I try to book myself as much as I can to carry myself through the year so there’s still weddings and other projects that I have on nights and weekends. Basically I’m coming home from work and if I’m not editing, I am going to a shoot or packing up for a shoot for the weekend. It’s really great but at the same time, I find myself ready for a nap haha.
But I do love going to a Monday - Friday job in a creative position doing something I love. As a freelancer, it’s really difficult to turn off. I’d be constantly reaching out to people, checking emails, thinking about what I can do next, re-editing, just always thinking of something new. Then I’m thinking of which galleries I should go to or a show that I should check out. Whatever it may be, sometimes it’s nice to be able to shut off and go to work doing something that makes me happy and creative and not have to stress about where money is coming from down the line.
When did you first find yourself wanting to pursue photography?
In middle school I always had a camera on me and would always be taking pictures of my friends. Once I learned how to shoot film though, that’s when I knew it was something I loved. I never wanted to stop shooting, developing and printing in a dark room. I think I was 15 years old. Through high school and early college I looked at it more as a great hobby for myself. I did apply and was accepted into a few schools for photography but I had the pressure of people telling me to study something more broad or that will make you more money. I didn’t start pursuing photography professionally until I was booking shows and working at a music venue where I met someone who did photo and video professionally. She ended up hiring me to work at her studio where I really got to learn a lot. I guess when I was 22 or 23 I started pursuing it more professionally but it is something I’ve always loved and wanted to do all the time. I just didn’t think of it as work.
What did you end up studying in college?
I started as a bio major. I really wanted to be a vet but I just felt that it wasn’t coming to me as naturally as I had hoped. I did really love it and found it to be so interesting but it felt like the work wasn’t clicking with me. I don’t know how I felt that at 18 but it just didn’t feel right for me. I switched to communications to learn more of a broad range of marketing and working in groups as a whole.
We are both film lovers. I think anyone who considers themselves a photographer should be educated in shooting film. It’s important to know the history of your craft and I really don’t think anything compares. There’s something about slowing the process down that is so refreshing, especially in this fast-paced, share everything world we live in. Can you touch a little on what shooting film means to you?
I agree completely about slowing down. When I find myself working with film, I’m taking deep breaths before shots, really giving myself the time to get it right. To me it is a way more mindful, peaceful experience. That’s what it means to me while shooting. I think the way it feels and looks as a whole - the coloring, the grain, the shades of grey or black. It just isn’t the same with digital, no matter how hard you try to edit to mimic the look of film.
What is your favorite film camera and film to shoot with?
I just blessed my life with a Leica M-6 this past April and it has definitely changed my life. I was shooting with a lot of different film cameras before and I loved them but there’s nothing like the feeling of knowing I’m going to love the end product even more with this camera. When I get some of the film back, especially when I shoot with Ilford Delta 400, it almost looked like it can be medium format. It is just so crisp and clean. That is probably my favorite film to shoot with along with Tri-X film because it is so versatile. For color film, I’m a Kodak Portra 400 lover but I just shot with Portra 800 so I am really excited to see how that comes out and how it feels.
Kelsey's Revolver backpack by BRINN packed with all of her favorite gear.
You develop your own film too, right?
Yes, I do it right in my own kitchen. Currently I am only developing my own Black & White. I haven’t quite given myself the time yet to experiment with color processing but I am hoping to make the time to this winter.
So, you are super busy. You work Monday - Friday, you direct music videos, shoot bands on the regular and weddings on the weekends. It is so easy to get wrapped up in work and not find the time to create for yourself. We have talked before about the constant search for balance between jobs versus mindfully creating for ourselves. While it’s a topic that I don’t think there is one right answer to, do you have any tips on how you find that balance?
There will be times when friends ask me to shoot with them and I will flake last minute. I would say that what has helped me the most is not flaking on people and really forcing myself to go shoot even when I feel like I’m drowning in work. It always ends up feeling so good when you do actually show up and then I am able to go back into my actual work more clearly. I also try to write down characters, ideas or colors that really inspire me. One day it was about 15 minutes before a Thunderstorm in Bayonne and the church bells started going off and it was such a dramatic and inspiring experience that I just had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. So taking notes is definitely a big tip when it comes to creating for myself.
Do you have any daily rituals that you practice that help to foster your creativity?
I keep a lot of photo books around. I can look at the same picture 30 times but when it’s in a book it feels better than looking at it online. We look at so much online, I am just able to absorb things better when they are in print. I also actively look to see what galleries are showing. I just went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York and it was great. It was all about his early work with “LOOK”. Someone like him really resonates with me so much because you can really see how he took photography and put it into his film process and his character development is so classic. I took away so much from that show.
I often find with artists, including myself, that unknowingly, the things that we are drawn to doing when we aren’t working tend to be where we search for inspiration. What are some of your hobbies outside of shooting?
My number one is watching movies. I’ve also been into a few TV shows too lately which I never used to make the time to watch before. When I was working at Nasdaq, I really needed a way to disconnect. While I was learning, I wasn’t getting anything creative from that job but on the other hand, there was a lot to keep up with so I wasn’t really turning off. I started watching The Office as an escape to turn off, even if it was just an episode before bed. But, Rich and I will dabble in certain shows. He finally has gotten me to start watching The Sopranos which I am really enjoying the character development so far and we just finished Netflix’s the Haunting on Hill House which ended up really great after we pushed past the first two episodes.
My number two is books. When I’m really struggling to find inspiration from movies or music, I’ll sit down with a new book. Dr. Sleep really did it for me last year and I also just picked up Salem’s Lot. I just think Stephen King does a great job with character development which is obviously something that is really important to me.
While you are super talented in every aspect of photography you touch, you are truly an amazing music photographer. Is there an artist or band that you are hoping to work with in the future?
Oh, there are so many bands in different aspects that I would love to work with. I would love to do a music video for Beach Slang. I feel like their music sounds so pretty but it’s really sad and everything they do looks so beautiful. I think a band I would love to follow on tour would be the Menzingers. They have so much energy and they have worked so hard to get where they are. I remember the first time I saw them was at the original Asbury Lane and there were like 20 people there and now 5 years or so later they have totally blown up. They are just a band from Philly that does their thing while staying true to their sound and they always have the same spunk and energy every time I see them. It’s really cool.
For portraits, I would love to work with a band who is down to intertwine and dress a particular way and have a very particular emotion. That would probably be best suited for a post punk band like Ice Age. It’s a tough question because there’s so many people I want to work with in different capacities.
The difficult thing with music photography is that a lot of the time you don’t have much time with the artists. I really want to advance in making more portraits with artists. Portugal the Man would be amazing to work with. I have shot live photos of them but it would be great to work with them in another way.
Tell us a little about your favorite project you have worked on this year?
I really loved working on the Gatherers music video for The Floorboards are Beathing. Rich and I sat down and talked a lot about visuals and color that we could incorporate to create a certain mood and feeling.
I think one of my favorite promos I got to work on was with Wyland because they are so down to get down with whatever. We did a really fun session earlier in the year and then I just had this idea of a photo against a red backdrop with them wearing 3D glasses. They were down and we made it happen and I really loved working on it.
I also just took portraits of my Dad which was really great. I don’t often take the time to photograph my family so it was nice to be able to do that and really put thought into what he would wear and what kind of lighting I would put him in.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have faced so far in your career?
I think opening up my mind to be creative while not over analyzing every idea I have and worrying that it sucks or that someone has already done it. I have a hard time with opening up or spit balling ideas without think it’s corny, even to myself. So just getting over the self-conscious aspect of being a creative has been a problem I’ve been working on and also finding the balance between work and play.
What does designing your own life mean to you?
It’s creating a pace that comfortable for you. I feel very mindful and empathetic of other people. I often feel like I need to make more time for my friends and family but it is also just as important for me to work on my personal world and environment that feels most comfortable for me. I think sometimes I feel more stiff to a social environment then when I’m home and I can really enjoy the peace and quiet. Designing your life is really about learning what you need on the inside to feel balanced. It is about getting over the fear of missing out and creating experiences for yourself.
Kelsey is a live music, portrait and wedding photographer based in New Jersey. Along also directing several music videos for artists including Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, she focuses on documentary photography and artistic direction for musicians.