Meet Allister Ann, talented music photographer, director, and all-around creative soul. Alongside her work as Kenny Chesney’s longtime personal photographer, Allister has photographed some of the biggest names in the business and is continually expanding her scope and client roster. Do Tegan and Sara, Cold War Kids, Adele, Jenny Lewis, Sam Smith, and Dolly Parton ring any bells?
Allister has impressively broken into the typically male-dominated music photography industry with her signature monochrome style. Her knack for capturing the heart and soul of her subjects has quickly helped her make a name for herself in the music world and beyond. Naturally, we were excited to pick her brain over email to learn about how she got her start, what fuels her creatively, and more.
Livingly: To get us started, can you tell us about yourself and how you got your start in the music industry?
ALLISTER ANN: I majored in fashion design in college and found during that time I really was taking a serious interest in photography. I quit college and moved to Nashville because I had some friends there. I was introduced to people in the music industry and eventually was lucky enough to be hired to take photographs for them.
You’ve collaborated with so many amazing names in the business – Tegan and Sara, Jenny Lewis, Cold War Kids, and Adele, to name a few. We LOVE the music videos you directed with Tegan and Sara especially! Where do you find inspiration when it comes to projects like these?
AA: You are so kind, thank you! I feel music videos give me more liberty with being creative and I find such great pleasure in the storytelling process. I grew up watching old movies, and loved the tempo humor of 1950's films labeled as 'Observational comedy.' Those along with Alfred Hitchcock's style for the dramatic always were favorites. Wes Anderson's colors are inspirational with bringing in a fantasy aspect to a real world.
As a songwriter can leave a spectrum of interpretation, I love attempting to do that in directing. My goal is to show deeper layers besides the obvious, and trying to find a bit of humor as well.
I was not sure if Tegan & Sara would actually like the idea I pitched to them for the first video 'Stop Desire.' Sexuality is a beautiful thing, and T&S have become a powerful voice for their fans. I wanted to shine a light onto that visually. I know for some that may be uncomfortable, but we wanted to push it to what we felt was a fun provocative place without crossing the line, presenting it not as crass but rather keeping within the innocence of discovery and curiosity.
In the midst of the video they asked me to direct the next one, so I spent time with them on the road to film. Having a background in documentary work, it was just fun to follow them around and ultimately create two completely different music videos, showing two different sides of them.
To continue in that vein, what inspires you most creatively in your daily life?
AA: As I have gotten older, I'm appreciating the little things in my daily life more and how important it is to always seek something outside of your comfort zone. Routine should be avoided, new experiences embraced. A favorite day may start in the water for a surf, or an early morning hike. I get out of my head most with those two things; [it] makes me smile thinking about it.
It seems like everywhere you look today, there are women breaking boundaries in typically male-dominated fields, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to the music industry. Can you tell us about any significant setbacks you might have faced as a budding music photographer and how you overcame them?
AA: I really appreciate you asking this question. There were obstacles that I had to overcome. Being a female, sometimes I was made to feel inadequate, unknowledgeable, or worse, that I got jobs based on something other than my talent. A girl is looked upon differently, but you have to move forward with an attitude of not necessarily having to prove yourself, but have a mindset that my work, eventually, will speak for itself.
It is getting better; more women are getting out there and I've seen some incredible talent. I guess I could say, transform any negativity you run across into fuel for the fire rather than seeing it as a glass ceiling. Being assertive should not be perceived as bitchy, nor being shy as naive.
What has been one of the proudest moments in your career so far?
AA: There are always little personal moments along the way where I see my photographs. Driving on the street and spotting a billboard, seeing an ad for an album cover I shot, or a magazine cover while waiting in line at the market. A recent one was having a client who I have looked up to and viewed as a respected artist of our generation call to tell me how proud he was of my career path. [He] called me a true artist. It really made me tear up to hear from a hero of sorts!
At Livingly, we strive to “live life beautifully.” What does living beautifully mean to you?
AA: Living beautifully to me is finding enjoyment in simplicity. Noticing and partaking in the world around you and not just making it your own. To give, rather than take. Reinforcing [the] positive and dealing with any negativity, which will inevitably come, with grace and understanding. Appreciating those around you that simply make you smile.
Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
AA: A Van Gogh quote as a reminder that art comes in every form of your life. Live, and breathe art to inspire your art.
Love many things,
for therein lies the true strength,
and whosoever loves much performs much,
and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.