Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Ashleigh Coleman
Looking through a camera can change your point of view. And the theory of defamiliarization — presenting what's commonplace in a fresh way — is what drives photographer Ashleigh Coleman. With her camera in hand, Ashleigh engages the southern landscapes she calls home to craft her sometimes-haunting and always-stunning imagery.
Today in Richard Photo Lab's Photog Spotlight, discover Ashleigh's journey from gallery girl to professional photographer, the camera that changed her career trajectory, and how film is an integral part of her family life!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Ashleigh Coleman: Even though he works a nine-to-five job, my father always had a camera in his hands. When I was younger, he talked to me about what he was doing—setting the aperture, composing, etc. I loved watching him. Naturally, I wanted to emulate him.
During the spring of my "gap year" between high school and college, I went to Europe and he entrusted me with his 35mm Canon. After that, I was hooked.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
AC: Post university, I worked in an art gallery for several years; however, after getting married and moving to Mississippi, it wasn’t feasible to continue gallery work while living in a rural community. My husband gets the credit for encouraging me to take my passion for photography more seriously—it had been relegated to the hobby category previously.
I will be frank, I watched a lot of CreativeLive courses and read lots of photography books and studied the work of other photographers, as well as talked to any photographer in the area who would give me the time of day. When I think about those first sessions with clients, I am incredibly grateful to them for trusting me to capture that season in their life!
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
AC: Oh sheesh. What don’t I love to photograph? I photograph my children, when they let me. I also love riding around—exploring small towns and dirt roads and talking to people along the way—to photograph what I see, to try to make sense of what I see.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
AC: For me, just being able to shoot film itself is creatively fulfilling. Without adding to my workload, it lets me create while juggling three children and editing work for clients (I primarily shoot digital for clients, unless they request film). The film is shot, sealed up, and kept on the counter until I have time to mail it off to the amazing and wonderful Richard Photo Lab. Then, scans arrive in my inbox all ready to go, thanks to the Color PAC process I went through in 2015. Win win!
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
AC: My favorite camera is the Hasselbad 500c/m with a Zeiss 80mm that I inherited from my husband’s uncle. The format and weight of it just fit. I was shooting a Mamiya 645e when I visited Uncle Bob in Wyoming one fall. He asked if I could still get film for “those old things.” Then, he disappeared into his office, returned with a box, and said, “I think you will put this to good use.”
This past January, when I had my first two-person show at Fischer Galleries, it meant so much that Uncle Bob and his wife attended the opening to see images taken with that camera! It still floods my heart with gratitude when I think about how that unexpected gift changed the trajectory of my career.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it today?
AC: My first memory of shooting with film is in 2001—being in Rome and loading black and white film into my dad’s camera. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I loved it!
As I mentioned, I have three young kids, so shooting film gives me a creative outlet that doesn’t tether me to a computer screen. It is also the undercurrent in exploring—camera always in tow, but building memories with the family.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
AC: Like any other relationship in life, unexpressed expectations lead to disappointment and frustration. When I communicate regularly with the lab (Albany, in particular), we all stay on the same page and we all are happy with the final results, me especially! It almost goes without saying that my work is made easier by the quality, consistency, and cheerful service of Richard Photo Lab.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
AC: I make sure I have on deodorant! Ha.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
AC: Right now it is "Aftergold" by Big Wild.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
AC: Chocolate, if I have to...
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
AC: Breakfast—if someone makes it for me.
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
AC: Cold weather.
R: Early bird or night owl?
AC: Night owl, hoot hoot.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
AC: Historical non-fiction, but really contemporary fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
AC: I’d be an interior designer with a side passion for horticulture—dreamers can dream!
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
AC: To tesser! (AKA to travel in time, from the book "A Wrinkle in Time")
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
AC: My favorite word is "grace"—we all need it.