This week continues a three-part interview series with local creative stallion, Aleah Fitzwater. Ranging from visual arts, music, to poetry and more, Aleah is carving a unique space for herself in the wide world of artistic expression. Her website is located at https://aleahfitzwater.com; here, you can learn more about her specific projects, check out her music and photography portfolios, and follow along with her blog ‘Fusion!’
Based on a podcast style interview format, Aleah and I shared a sprawling conversation, first talking about some of the software that she has been using recently in her musical process; later, Aleah shared her perspectives and insights on her approach to practice as it relates to the many artistic mediums she enjoys creating through. Finally, we chatted about photography and what lies ahead in the future, brainstorming upcoming collaborative projects together.
Part one of this interview can be found here.
Part two of this interview can be found here
This interview is three of a three-part series.
Pt.3: Photography and Collaboration
Sam: Could you tell me a little bit about how you got interested in photography and what your process looks like?
Aleah: I first got interested in photography because… well, actually let me backtrack to a story about my mom! This is the story of my formative origins as a photographer… When I was a very young child, my mom took me to JC Pennies or [some store like that] to get my photo taken. I was in this pretty little dress and green sparkly shoes, but by the time that we got to the store, one of my shoes was missing!
S: What did you do with your shoe?!
A: I don’t know! I was three! And my mom she was [panicking] like “Oh my gosh! She doesn’t have a shoe!” and I was crying… and [the whole situation] wasn’t really [showing] me. My mom wanted to capture me [in my element], so my dad got her a Minolta camera (which is basically a film camera) [so she could get some natural pictures of me]. When I was a toddler, I grew up around my mom taking pictures of me with this film camera. Eventually, she got a digital camera, and as soon as I was old enough to be able to hold it, I started taking pictures!
We would go on trips to West Virginia and apparently I would say “Take picture? Take Picture!” and she would just hand me her camera! Well then, fast forward a bit and my first camera was a digital Nikon – loved it – then in high school I started taking digital photography and Photoshop classes, I bought my own Photoshop program, and I started noodling around. A lot of [my process] was self-taught, [but] some of it was informed by those initial high school classes.
Then, I ended up putting in some proposals online through Submittable for some different abstract pieces. It’s funny, people always take my abstract pieces and they DON’T want my macro butterflies… nobody wants my macro butterflies, it’s fine. BUT! I [submitted] a few of my abstract pieces, some of which included: textures from trees, reflections into water that I altered significantly, and self-portraits… Some of them have made it in galleries in Portugal and Rome…
S: Wait, you’ve had things on display overseas… in galleries?! Did you have a chance to go to the premiers?
A: Absolutely…not. But I thought that it was really interesting… There were two that I was REALLY proud of; there was one that was in Rome, Italy and it was very odd that it was displayed because it’s actually a self-portrait [laughs]. I wasn’t expecting it to get in at all. It was for [a series] called the UnderWater Exhibition, so it was supposed to be for things…underwater.
I had taken a picture of water and soap bubbles, and I also had an old profile picture of myself. I took the bubbles and I edited them to look like multi-color chrome – but they definitely still resembled water. Then I took this watery edit and stamped it onto the photo of my profile, which created this really interesting texture…and THAT was displayed for several weeks in a gallery.
The other one that I was proud to have chosen was for an environmentalist-themed gallery in Portugal; this exhibition was based on photography displaying human destruction of natural resources. It was really weird because it was exploring the theme of destruction, yet we were finding beauty IN the destruction, all while advocating for the preservation of the earth’s natural resources. For me, it was strange taking pictures of human destruction, because of course I wanted it to be beautiful, but in a certain way, it’s not beautiful at all.
S: Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s really interesting, trying to find a way to hold these two completely contrasting perspectives in focus at the same time. What image did you end up submitting?
A: I was digging through my old stuff – I do that a lot, because there are a lot of pictures that I forget that I’ve taken – and I had taken a picture of a graffitied quarry in West Virginia. Since the time I first took the picture it’s gotten worse and worse. I mean, there are stories of people dumping entire campers and horses inside of this quarry…
S: Whoa whoa!
A: It’s absolutely terrible… So that’s the first place I thought of when I saw this competition. I submitted a picture and they DID invite me to the premier, but OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t make it to Portugal – I don’t have those kinds of funds. But it was also printed in a magazine; It was a picture of these beautiful layers of red-brown rocks in the quarry in West Virginia, and on top of that, all the layers of graffiti from over the years. And the graffiti is super high up too, I was impressed that somebody even managed to find a way to spray paint those rocks!
S: Did you get paid commission?? Because I think you should have!
A: That’s really funny that you should say that. You’re the only person that has ever paid me for my photography when I did your head-shots. Shameless Self-Plug: a few pieces of my art are available as non-fungible tokens on the digital marketplace platform, OpenSea.
(Aleah’s Art on OpenSea can be found here)
S: That’s sweet!
A: Yea! The artist Grimes put up one of her paintings and it sold for over $1,000,000… and well, I’m not expecting that, but I think it’s really interesting, this emerging craze over original digital files. I have a lot of those, so I thought it’d be worth putting up some art.
S: I’d be interested to hear about how that process unfolds over time!
A: Yeah, I think I need to do a lot of promotion that I don’t really have time for right now, but it’s on the list.
S: You and I have done some collaboration with glow-juggling and nighttime photography, can you tell me a little bit about the process you use to derive such cool final projects?
A: Night photography and working with light are some of the hardest aspects of photography. For those pictures, I used a setting called bulb. Bulb allows me to control the shutter speed with my finger. Usually when you are running a camera, the shutter speed is a predetermined number that you can change with a dial. But since the way you were moving and the patterns you were using were constantly changing, I decided to take the shots with bulb – that way, I could watch you, and whenever I decided to lift up my finger, that would determine my shutter speed.
S: That’s so cool!
A: Sometimes it would turn out super underexposed or overexposed, so there is a lot of experimentation in that process. When taking photos like that, with manual shutter speed and bulb mode WHILE the subject is moving, it’s really interesting because I can’t actually see where you are through the lens. So I have to guess where you are and try keep my hands super still! The second I push down my button, I actually can’t see you; sometimes I look over my camera, but I can’t see you through the camera – I have no idea what the camera is going to pick up until after. There is a lot of spatial guesswork!
S: That’s CRAZY! It was so much fun to do that with you, can we do that some more? And what about on the editing end? How did you do the editing after the photography-magic voodoo you were conjuring?
A: So I pop it into Photoshop and I crop it to the rule of thirds – this way, the design that you’ve danced into my camera is centered in a pleasing way. Usually, you don’t find true darkness, so I have to adjust the black levels and the individual colors. Then, since you were further away and were using the colored LED balls, I adjusted the saturation. I do this ONLY after I fix the light and dark balance, because if you don’t, you could end up with the night background looking a little…green.
So I crop, edit the background and darkness (sometimes I have to steal parts of black from other parts of the picture and then paint it in by hand), then adjust the saturation.
S: And the saturation changes the juiciness of the colors?
A: Well, too much can make it look a little grainy, but just a little bit of saturation makes it look more accurate to what you see. It’s interesting, because actually, when a camera takes a photo, it’s not actually accurate to what your eyes are seeing. I don’t really have a lot of problems with using Photoshop. Some people do, some people are like, “Oh my gosh, no, I want it to be exactly how it is.” But a camera is a representation of what you see already, and it’s never going to be accurate, so I don’t see anything wrong with light editing.
With yours in particular, some of the pictures you have on your site, I did a little bit of reflection or kaleidoscope effect with your patterns.
S: I remember we had a few pictures of fire and you talked about turning it into a DRAGON! Have you encountered this wild creature in the realm of your Photoshop creations lately??
A: *Shakes head “no” laughing*
S: My last question is: Do you have any projects you would like to collaborate on in the future?
As far as digital art goes, I would love to work with your sketches in Photoshop again sometime.
S: YES! OH MY GOD THAT FUCKING WAS AWESOME!
A: If we could do that blend of sketch and digital art again – some sort of fusion between those two mediums – that’d be really fun because I love working with textures!
S: Yes. Yes. Yes. That is so inspiring to me, the way that you turned that around and brought it to life, was like [exclaiming loudly and sputtering with excitement!]
A: [Laughing] I love things and – I wanted to transform it, but I didn’t want to change the feeling, I liked working with and guessing what your intention was and then working from there!
I know that you do a lot of electronic-sort-of-experimentation with music. I actually have a way to animate photos. If you ever wanted a video for some of your music, I would absolutely love to let you riffle through my stuff. Then I could animate something and we could put something visual with your music!
S: Oh, I would love that! I just need to get my ass in gear! I was just looking through some of the snippets that I have on my computer before our conversation; there are little pockets of things, some are like, “Eww,” [shudders] “What the fuck was THAT?!” But others aren’t so bad…
A: [Laughing] Oh yes, I have PLENTY of those too… that is why we have external hard drives.
S: Yes! The visualized art and music sounds SO cool.
A: I’d also really like to do a collaborative album – nothing too complex or layered, sort of a minimalist poetry album, kind of like that previous poem we worked on together. I’d love to record spoken word poetry, send it to you, and let you produce it however you want. That sound SO cool to me.
S: I know we talked about about record called **** ** *** ***, that took those same ideas of spoken word and poetry and spliced them with acoustic guitar. I’m still really interested in that too.
A: Well, there is no shortage of poetry to work with.
S: Amen. Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with me and share your process, it was so fun!
A: Oh my gosh, it was so fun!
This concludes part 3 of of the 3 part interview with Miss Aleah Fitzwater; Thanks Aleah for taking the time to share a glimpse into your photography practice and for brainstorming ideas with me!
Aleah is an advocate of ScanScore for her arranging process; we talked at length two weeks ago about the usefulness of ScanScore for arranging. For more info, check out the software here!
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Love and Bows