Allison Pharmakis will walk up to you on the street, become your friend, take your photo, and respectably amass the memory of you with all the other people she has met in her life. Every word, motion, gesture, and mark someone makes is significant to her. Nothing is a mistake and everything is a possibility. She knows how to live well and if you told her so she would tell you she doesn’t know anything. She’s not afraid to admit her faults, tell you how she really feels, and remark at how funny all of this is. From documentary to editorial, her photos do exactly the same thing.
Allison: I will answer anything you want.
Hmm, that's too much pressure. Let's start easy. How is your summer going? Is there anything really big you’re thinking about right now?
Well, this summer is one of the busiest summers I’ve had both internally and externally. Inside I feel like I am finally sitting with being alone. Something I avoided for a long time. Something I always wanted to do but it was never the right time. So that is challenging and painful but also exciting and new. I have been mentored by another photographer, Guido Vitti, for two years now, doing casting and production for him as well as assisting. He’s shown me a lot about my own personal work that I couldn’t quite see clearly. One day he turned to me and said, "Do you see what I’m seeing in your work now?" “Are you ready to jump into this industry?” and I said yes. Since I said that three-letter word it’s been something of a madhouse. He’s been guiding me so wonderfully and I've got all these deadlines, which I find secretly exciting. My portfolio is complete, my new site is being built, and I’ll be seeking representation soon. It’s crazy because photography as a medium is a form of therapy for me and the images I shoot of my friends are very intimate, real, and important to me not just because I know these people but because I think their open honesty and intimacy is something that could be useful for people who like to look at photographs as well.
This is all really great to hear. I think as an artist a lot of the time we have to be mentally prepared emotionally stable or at least work at understanding our emotions so we can give our energy to our work.
I agree. I feel like new information comes to us at specific times when we're ready to handle it. It’s our responsibility to be a conduit for that information and to mold it into something that translates to everyone else. I agree, it takes a lot of work on emotional stability and grasping emotions in order to make use of that information. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t done the emotional work on myself that I have. I am just at the beginning.
I hear you. Do you always feel like whenever you are taking photos that you've got the grasp on it, like you're in the zone? Or are there days when you haven’t reached where you wanted it to go?
My mind moves really fast most of the time. When I have my camera to my eye, the limited perspective I may have on any given day is opened up to me. There are times I’ve walked into boulders because I’ve been so in the zone with my camera to my face. Usually when I do not get where "I wanted the picture making to go" it was because I was forcing images or trying to make a picture happen. It doesn’t work, not for me at least. Giving up as much control as possible is the key, but also knowing when the moment is right and clicking that shutter is just as important. I rely a lot on my intuition and people.
You enjoy photographing people close to you but what about strangers?
Well, I have always had a fascination with humans. I love people. I will go up to almost anyone on the street. I want to hear everyone's story. I love getting to the essence of people whether strangers or close friends because in the essence, we're all the same. I am always looking to capture that oneness. Sounds "New Agey." But it’s important and it’s a very true thing.
It is true, and yeah, you do find interactions with people. I know this just by having hung out with you in the past and walking around the streets of Newport or something.
Yeah there is some magnetic things that happen or maybe more of a bumper car theory.
Yeah, I think bumper car sounds about right. What are your thoughts on editorial photography versus documentary and what is your opinion on digital photography today and other photography formats?
Well, I had a lot of hesitation with getting involved in the industry of editorial because I was keeping documentary and editorial photography in two separate columns in my mind. I was thinking something like editorial. Magazines: You have to make pictures an art director wants, selling your soul, not being able to do personal work except in the context of sprinkling your images with a little bit of your own viewpoint and you make more money, blah blah! Then documentary: Totally humanitarian, altruistic motivations, travel on grants, find time to make pictures cause you're so busy working at the coffee shop, broke as hell, but important work, blah blah. Then my mentor sent me links to websites of some photographers who are shooting documentary style and getting work editorially; Jason Nocito, Lise Sarfati, Corinne Day. Then my columns melted and I found my calling as it were, I think.
I just got a chill.
I did too but only because I spilled iced coffee on my boob.
RACHEL FAE COLEMAN
For more on Allison check out her documentary book Tell Me You Love Me and her website will be launching real soon, right Alli?