Alison Resac is a conceptual portrait photographer. We were introduced to her body work through another AOTW, Former Vandal. We decided to slide in the DMs and talk narcissistic art, her inspirations, and why her art was removed from one art gallery. Check it out below.
Who are you and what do you do creatively?
My name is Alison Resac and I’m a photographer. My “thing” is conceptual portrait photography.
What do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Sony a7ii and, once in a while, I shoot on a 35mm film camera. The film look on my digital photos comes from my editing in Lightroom. I started out using the VSCO presets and learned how they use curves, split toning, grain, and all that good stuff to get a film look. Over time, I developed my own presets and editing workflow to get the exact look I want.
SIDE NOTE: I cannot stress enough, you DO NOT need expensive gear to take great photos. I took some of the best photos I have ever taken on an entry level Nikon. While there are some things you need expensive gear for (like if you want to blow your photos up to 6-foot gallery pieces) the most important thing is your ideas, the way you see things, and your editing.
Do you remember your first camera?
Yes! My first camera was a Nikon film camera that I bought off of eBay in middle school. I had no idea what I was doing. I would just put it on auto and fly through a full roll of 36 exposures in less than an hour. I took a lot of humiliating mirror selfies with it and some very poorly framed photos of my friends, my cat, and flowers lol. I was just obsessed with documenting and capturing moments. It felt important. Luckily, my mom has always been extremely supportive of my artistic endeavors and helped me pay for developing the dozens of rolls.
Your photos seem to capture a sense of rawness and grittiness, both stylistically and through your subjects. How would you categorize or describe your work?
A few years ago, an online blog called the French Saucisse featured my work and wrote “she dusts off her taboo subjects to make them beautiful, attractive and interesting.” And I think that sums up my work really, really well. I’ve always been drawn to darker, more taboo subjects—the ones that people are scared to talk about. I try to take very intimate and real photos that are inspired by all sides of the of the human condition.
How do you choose what to shoot? Are they planned or mostly impromptu?
Nearly all of my shoots are planned. My favorite shoots revolve around a concept—conveying an idea, a message, a story or an emotion. But sometimes, I’ll fall in love with a location or some weird prop and create ideas around that. And once in a long while, I’ll text someone and say “Hey wanna drive around until we find a cool place to shoot pictures? Bring a duffel bag of clothes!” but that’s pretty rare.
You do a lot of work with a previously featured artist, Former Vandal. How did you all meet and what has it been like working with them?
Yes! A few years ago, Quinn hired me to shoot his album cover and some promotional photos and we really hit it off! After we finished shooting, we sat in the car in my driveway for hours just talking. We reclined the seats and listened to a bunch of my old mix CDs while we bonded over art and music and life. It felt like something from a movie. We started hanging out all the time and have been best friends ever since! A year or two later, Christian joined FV and fit in instantly. Working with them has been a dream. Our creative visions align pretty seamlessly, so it never feels like work. It’s just an always evolving collab with your best friends.
You spoke out about a photo that was removed from an art show at Atrium. What happened there?
Yes, that was a mess haha. It’s a long story, so grab a snack and get comfy. A while back, I got invited to a birthday party that was lingerie themed. Without hesitation, I brought my film camera with me to capture moments with my friends. One of the 40+ photos that I took that night was a photo of my friends’ butts. They were proud of their outfits, they were feeling confident, they were embracing their bodies and their sexuality. To me, it was a beautiful moment that I had to capture and they were ecstatic when I sent the photos to them. The film lab who developed the photos (@fortwaynefilmlab) posted the piece on their Instagram page and almost immediately received irate DM’s, condemning them for objectifying women. They handled it very gracefully and shut down the oppressive comments instantly.
A couple of months later, the same film lab asked me to take part in an art show they were putting on. I submitted the same photo. Seeing as it was an art show, I didn’t have any concerns about the content. The show was hosted at Atrium, a local business that rents out a workspace to freelance creatives. It’s really a great business and they were very accommodating through the entire debacle. It was the members at Atrium who found it to offensive and outrageous that they complained and cancelled their membership. This isn’t something new in the Fort Wayne art scene (I live in Indiana, our governor used to be Mike Pence if that tells you anything!).
Just days after the work was hung, I received an email notifying me that it would be taken down. I wasn’t mad, I was more so saddened and honestly just bewildered that in 2018, people still cower away when seeing the female body embraced. Having had similar issues with my work in the past, it continuously frustrates me to see such suppressive ideals being exercised. These ideals fuel the already prominent issues of women being shamed for their bodies, being forced to fear their sexuality, and ultimately, learning to diminish parts of their entire selves in order to conform to outdated norms.
All in all, these women were dressed for the occasion in clothes that made them feel confident, sexy, and happy. None of us thought that they were dressed “offensively” or that this photo was “objectifying” and it never should have been deemed as that. When I took this photo, I looked at it as capturing a moment in the human condition. Naturally and undeniably, that involves sexuality. Those who refused to be in the general proximity of this photo are the ones who made it out to be objectifying and hyper-sexualizing.
With that experience, do you believe that photography can be a more restricting art form, especially in the age of social media?
Oh, absolutely! Whether it’s staged or not, photos and videos seem much more real than paintings and drawings. They have an inherently factual and documentary nature and when you take photos of subjects that are not readily accepted among the masses, they tend to feel voyeuristic. At the same time though, I think it gives the medium an influential power that not all forms of art can evoke. I think a lot of people are scared of the power that photography holds.
Where do you draw inspiration? For me, social media is so hard because I find myself clicking through hashtags and different publications like Milk and Adolescent…I see these ideas and I want to recreate them but I don’t want to copy them. It’s so difficult.
I totally get that! There’s so much great content being created that sometimes it can be difficult not to get someone else’s idea stuck in your head. I think the key in that scenario is figuring out what you loved most about the piece and channeling it. For instance, if you see a piece from Girlhood by Petra Collins and you fall in love because of the way she captures femininity, you can translate that to your own work without copying the exact content. Think about what femininity means to you or how you perceive it and build ideas around that.
As for my own work, I draw inspiration from anything and everything. From music, poetry, film, what’s going on in my life, memories I can’t shake, a girl I see crying in the supermarket, a guy I see doing heroin at a party, the color of a shirt in a window display, a hotel bar that made me feel like a bad bitch, hanging out of a sunroof and feeling endless. Ultimately, my inspirations are all a reflection or a perception of myself. I draw inspiration from anything that makes me feel anything and I try to explain that feeling in a photo.
I think that we all have a photo that was our changing point. A photo that inspired the rest of our shooting style. Which photo was that for you?
For me, it was a photo that I took in my first photography class as a sophomore in high school. The assignment was “lines” so I drew lines on a girl’s back and took a photo. It was by no means a revolutionary photo, but the attention it got has greatly impacted my photography. I went to a very conservative public school in the Midwest and this photo got me sent to the principal’s office (it would be the first of many trips). I wasn’t particularly surprised. I mean, it didn’t follow the “no leggings, no shoulders, no knees, nothing that will ‘distract the boys’” dress code. HOWEVER, I was surprised that, for the same assignment, another student turned in a picture of a shirtless male and was not sent to the principal’s office. Instead, they were praised for their creativity and allowed to show their photo during critique, while I had to sit out. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to shoot photos that broke barriers, blurred lines, and exposed toxic social norms. I spent the rest of high school pushing the envelope. I found ways to more subtly get my point across, while following all of the suppressive rules. It outraged so many people and it taught me how much more productive it can be to bend the rules instead of break them. I had many more talks with the principal about my photos, but more often than not, she didn’t really know what to scold me for.
“Great art is narcissistic”. What does that mean?
In my opinion, the best artists create about what they know, what they fathom, or what they want. When you create about yourself, there’s passion, conviction, angst, honesty, and vulnerability that translates through a piece. The film “Blame” comes to mind when I explain this. Quinn Shephard wrote a screenplay based on her own experience, she acted in it, and she directed it. It evoked so much more emotion in me than a box office movie ever could.
Right now, I seem to be in a creative rut, where I just can’t find inspiration from any one specific thing. What advice would you give to someone experiencing that exact thing?
I am way too familiar with creative ruts, so I have a few bits of advice that have worked for me at different points.
Let yourself be in a rut. Stressing about not creating only perpetuates your inability to create. It’s not a thing that you can force. Spend some time just living in moments and being present. Eventually, something will strike a chord and you’ll be thrown into a creative endeavor without even realizing your hiatus has ended.
For me, a lot of times, creative ruts will come from a feeling that I have to create for other people. I feel like I have to be putting content out constantly or I’m going to lose relevance. And with the horrendous Instagram algorithm (don’t even get me started on that bullshit, I could go on for hours!), you actually do end up losing followers and relevance. Butttt it’s much healthier to just sit it out and create for you instead of just to generate content.
Being an artist can make creating stressful. Sometimes it starts feeling more like a work-related burden and less like doing what you love. Try working in a different medium for a little while. It doesn’t matter if you’re bad at it, it just matters that you get to create something in the purest sense, without any stigmas or expectations surrounding it.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Oh God, I hate this question haha, that’s what my family also keeps asking me. Honestly, I have no clue. I’ve got goals and hopes and dreams, but nothing ever goes as planned. Life is wild. For now, I’m just working as hard as I can, taking opportunities where I can, and letting that take me as far as I can go.
You can keep with Alison’s work by clicking here.
Follow her on Instagram @alisonresacphoto