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The Essence of Light & Love

Lesson 1 of 1

The Essence of Light & Love with Alexis Hunley


The Essence of Light & Love

Lesson 1 of 1

The Essence of Light & Love with Alexis Hunley


Lesson Info

The Essence of Light & Love with Alexis Hunley

Mhm. Mhm. Yeah! Mhm! Mhm! Yeah, Yeah! Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creativelive. Welcome back to Creative Live. If you're a regular here, welcome. If it's your very first time. My name is Ken Klosterman and I am the host here of Creative Live as well as one of the hosts of Creative Live TV and the host of our podcast that is called We are Photographers. I am super excited about our guest today, Alexis Hunley. But before we introduce her, I want to just give a shout out and thank you to Paula Room Goo. This is our final in a series of five conversations that we have had over the past month as a collaboration with Creativelive and black women photographers and Paulie started black woman photographers. Back in June of 2020 she recognized a gaping hole in the photography industry for featuring black women photographers for hiring black women photographers. And she decided to do something about it and she created a website has built a large community of support of networking as well as a...

database of women nine binary photographers for higher. So after this broadcast, be sure to go check out check out the black woman photographers dot com also shout out She is doing a print sale. She's been doing all of this on the side. She's got a full time job. And so just please, if you are wanting to support that community, go to black women photographers dot com and, um, check out how you can help and, like I said and higher. So if you are tuning in, whether that's on Facebook or YouTube on our channels or creativelive dot com slash t v, I would love to give you a shoutout. We love to hear where people are tuning in from all over the world so you can click on the chat icon. If you are on creative live TV, let me know where you're tuning in from and then on the socials. We have got Desperado, California with Lynn and keep those coming in. All right, So without further ado, I am thrilled to bring on today's guest, Alexis Hunley, and Alexis is a freelance photographer in California in Los Angeles. Um, she is a self taught photographer, um, having only started her photography career just in 2017 and has gone on the fast track from incredibly hard work. She just had her first magazine cover with Essence magazine. We're definitely going to talk about that. But she has does beautiful work, whether it is with storytelling, whether it is her commercial worker editorial work. Um, she started out doing fashion and lifestyle. Um, and there's just a sense of color, beauty, intimacy in all of her style of images. She has been featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, New York magazine Men's health clients such as Airbnb, and we're just excited to have her on. So please give a big round of applause and welcome to Alexis Hunley. Alexis, thank you so much for being here today. Thank you for having me. Can I really appreciate it? Yes. You have been incredibly busy, Alexis and we were just talking right before going live. And, um, I'm excited to hear that you are going to give yourself a break. Uh, you have been doing a number of whether it's podcast giving talks, um, getting featured. You know all of these things? Um and so kudos to you. We'll talk a little bit about self care later, but kudos to you and and thank you for joining us as your final podcast of this this month. Uh, so before we go further again now, the shout outs are coming in. We have Oklahoma City. We have Bert in Alberta, Canada, Loretta in Long Beach with Rima in New Jersey. Jose and Portugal Wilfred in D. C. We've got Janet in Rome, Italy, and Paul in Liverpool, UK so truly all over. So, Alexis, one of the things that I was super excited to see on your instagram and just in general is your your cover of Essence magazine. Um, first of all, congratulations. Thank you. Being a self taught photographer, just having started in 2017 and and coming to having, um, you know, working with Kiki Lane and tell us about the experience for you and what it has meant for your for you personally and professionally. It is still sort of percolating and like settling in, you know, running around like crazy, you know, doing assignments and doing other things. I didn't really have an opportunity to kind of sit with it. Um, so that's kind of what I've been doing this week, and it's just a lot of gratitude like I have had so much support and so much help over the last three years, um, to get to this point, all of the hard work. But also all of that support kind of paved the way to the opportunity to the point where I felt ready for that for that job, for for that cover for the to create those images in a way that I felt proud in a way that would represent Kiki well and Jermaine and Arsenio. But also essence, you know, having my first cover with a publication like essence that really has historically just celebrated blackness in such a beautiful way is it is it kind of leaves me speechless like I feel really amazing, but also just really grateful that, you know, so many people trusted me to take on that project. How did it happen? Like for other photographers out there who are like, I want to shoot a cover. I mean, nobody is going to have the same path as you, but, um and not only how did that happen, but, like, what is the what is the scene like? Take us to the scene of the actual shoot and Who are you like? What is the process of creating that image? Because again, um, and I want to talk about your background. When you first started photography, you were like, This is similar to a lot of your images, you know, color and fashion and all of that. So talk us through a little bit about the experience for people who have never done such a thing. When I think about that, it didn't start that week or that day. It started in 2019 when I was going to New York, you know, like, two or three times a year to try and hustle up portfolio reviews. And I snagged a review at Essence, and the team was kind enough to carve out time to meet with me, um, and give me honest feedback about my portfolio and some things that they wanted to see to make me a stronger candidate for assignments and for work and continuing that relationship with editors till, you know, now, um, following up with people sending new work in the summer in the spring and just continuing to stay in touch that that was it. But it started two years ago, almost which is a very important message, you know, to um Yeah. I mean, talk to me about, like, how often do you do you reach out to an editor? Um, you know, after you, I mean, getting even getting a portfolio review there is a is a big deal where you kind of like relentless in your, um just in the follow up. Or or how does that like, What's the cadence of that? It's a fine balance. I remember when I first started, I came across. I believe it was an interview Dana Scruggs did somewhere she was explaining how her process was consistently so every month or every other month, sending new work and follow ups and just being top of mind with different editors, as she wanted to work with. And so I ran with that and I took that to heart. And so probably every other month, or like in relation to like having new work, I was following up with people, Um, and like, oh, I'll be in New York in a couple weeks or I'll be in New York, you know, in October. And you know, I'd love to bring you coffee. I'd love to bring t you know, if it's the summer, I'll bring smoothies and just, you know, if you have 15 minutes, I'd love to learn more about you and your team's work at this publication, but also show you some work that I think might be a good fit. Um, and maybe half of the people responded sometimes sometimes less, sometimes more. But the folks who responded, um, with enthusiasm, I just made sure to continue to build that relationship with especially folks that carved out time for me to meet with them in person like everybody's busy. So it really means a lot when people, you know, create space for you. Um, and now that we're all at home, it was a little bit easier to get people to agree to do reviews via Zoom. This is way easier. Yeah, I'm just going to pause and shout out to Polly again with black women photographers who has been coordinating portfolio reviews. Um, for I think, over 70 and and that was the last time I checked where, you know, coordinating them for photographers with people like Getty and Reuters and, you know, just a wealth of, um of industry folks who have been willing to do those, you know, zoom portfolios. Can you go a little bit? And so go and check that out again. Uh, yes. Um, talk to me about that. The like what you learned, even maybe from that essence, um, experience of getting that portfolio review. Like, what did you take away from the work that you needed to improve? Because portfolio reviews are can be a scary thing, but also look so important. Do you remember what what feedback you got or what you took away? What, You changed? Yeah, I remember feeling really unprepared for that portfolio review, and I never wanted to feel like that again. I had a crazy day. It was just all over the place. Um, but I remembered how they were very gentle and very kind, but, like, gave me good, constructive feedback around like, Oh, this part of your work is really strong. We really like your work on location and your use of natural light. But we want to see more balanced work when it comes to studio work and your use of artificial light and strokes. And I was like, I agree I didn't take any of that personally. Like when I'm seeking feedback. I really do want constructive feedback. I want to grow. I want to get better. I want to be able to boost up those areas where maybe not a stronger don't have as much experience. So that was really helpful. And so I went went back to L. A and just started to test more, um, on my own, with some use strobes that I got and take on more jobs that required me to utilize strobes and different types of artificial light to build up that part of my portfolio that ended up leading to other work than you know to the cover. So, yeah, I mean, truly that you took their advice, ran with it and, um, turned around. And two years later, you know, two years is a is A is a short period of time, especially in a three year or you know what I mean, Like it, This is It doesn't happen necessarily, you know, overnight And that commitment, that commitment to learn and grow and do the things you're uncomfortable doing, um is you know, is what advances you. Um, instead of just saying like Oh, I don't know how to use, you know, uh, a natural light. Uh, studio work. I mean, the cover is this beautiful? Um, studio shot. Um, let's go back to that being self taught. And, you know, I've I've I've listened to you on some other podcasts and, you know, read some of your stories, and I know that your grandma was a huge influence on you and when you started and that she was an artist. So talk about her and that influence. But also sort of Do you have any memories of being with her in the dark room or, you know, those types of things? Yeah, I I distinctly remember, um, because we moved away from L. A. When I was really young, and so we would come back every or every other summer. Um, and I distinctly remember her bribing my sister and I with ginger ale, red vine and like, gummy bears to sit and take photos and you can see, like in the photos I was the child who was going to comply and, like, do the big fake smile. Um, and my sister was completely zoned out. She didn't care, but we were both there And like a lot of those images, like we have printed around the house and just in books. And, you know, like, I look back now and I can see, like, you know, she was doing her own set design and she had her Muslim backdrops, and, you know, she had, you know, a lot of natural light, but it looks like there were some strobes in there, too. Um, unfortunately, I think by that point, I was too young to like being to notice, like, you know, any dark room activity. But by the time I was older and we were coming to visit, she had moved on to, like, digital cameras and lots of video recording and things like that. But, um, I always was really impressed by and admired how she would just decide to just I'm going to do this now. Like if if a contractor came back with a bid that was too high, she would be like, No, and she'd get a book and she would go lay the tile herself, and she would sell her own curtains and she would just like I'm going to do this and she would just do it. And I think that's that's something that I've carried with me is once I had that realization like, Oh, you can just decide to do things and then do them. That's just kind of how I operate now. It's like, Okay, once I've made the decision, I'm willing to put in the work to do it. So then I just can't stop. I just have to do it. What an incredible role model in that sense. Because you are then at choice of what you want to make of your life, you know, and and that I mean that just again. Like, I'm sure she is incredibly proud of you. You know, Um and and, um, what a beautiful, you know, legacy for for you to continue on. Um, talk to me about your initial draw to sort of that your your fashion, your color, your draw to, um, to that lifestyle. How did that become what you were first drawn to? That's just such a great question. I've been thinking about that a little bit recently, and I think the fashion element was kind of on accident. It wasn't necessarily intentional. Um, it's more so related to aesthetics and composition and, like, how certain colors make me feel as opposed to, like, fashion itself. Because most of my early work I didn't have a stylist. It was just me and my talent and just be like, Hey, what do you have in your closet? Okay. These these things work together. These don't bring these. I'll match you up with this person because we're going to this location. And this is the These are the colors that I want. This is the feeling that I want to evoke, as opposed to like we want these labels are These brands are like, you know, these are the styles right now. It was more so related to that. But it all kind of panned out together. And then the lifestyle element is directly tied into, like, my background in psychology and, like, sort of documentary work in general. Um, I love people. I love understanding people. I love studying people. It makes it easier for me to understand myself. Um, and even though I didn't go down a path of, you know, being a clinician or like working in psychology in that way, like it's still informs everything that I do, whether it's shooting, putting together mood boards, the projects I decided to take on the clients that I work with, how I relate to talent like it fuels everything. I'm really interested in that because I had I had read that your background was in psychology and kind of that that you combining and thinking about science and art and and just in Europe and you add science, art and then people and connecting to people. Can you talk a little bit more about the the science art combo or or or just, Yeah, a little bit more of to that to that thinking about that connection? Absolutely. When when I think about it, it's like the sides of people. And like all of the factors that come into play when we're dealing with others, ourself like are like What motivates us? Our behaviors are emotions, like all of those pieces that sometimes aren't recognized within art that are integral to how people perceive your art. So, like, the big thing for me is like, my goal is that I always want people to feel something when they're viewing my work and, you know, feelings, emotions. Those are types of behavior. And just like how we work through the world, it's also tied to you know how people value your art, how you value your art. Like I don't think that you can separate them from each other. I think they're inherently bound to each other. And so I like to play between the two and explore them. Like if I'm creating new projects, it's usually from a space of like, What is this psychological principle? What is this motivating factor? What is this emotion or feeling that I want to explore more? And how can I do that? Visually, it's just It's an interesting approach. If you're starting from emotion first versus visual first or and then that like How are you infusing you as the artist and connecting to the people and, you know, putting that all together, And I mean, how how how do you think that you are able to? You can look at an image and an image can be perfectly lit, uh, and have no emotion. How, and maybe it's what you just talked about, but how do you, Um, since that's such a you want other people to feel How does that manifest or or are you thinking about it or you just emoting? I think I'm just selfishly emoting. Yeah, I think that's selfish. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I think it's I'm using those projects. Are those moments of those images to process my own emotions that I can't always put words to? Um, I really struggled as a little kid explaining my feelings. Um, and it drove my mom insane, like to this day, it's still really frustrates her. But I've started to realize, particularly over the last year, especially with the documentary imagery you know, in relation to the lm that I'm creating images that allowed me to see my feelings in the real world and capture them and then later process them because I'm not great at processing things as I'm feeling them. Let's dive into some of that work because again, we we we've talked about sort of the early work in the most recent work, but I know you had an exhausting and, um uh, 2020 that, um is I'm sure, like you said, and I've heard I've heard you see this say this, that you're still processing, which you know. I know we're all still processing 2020 but especially, um the the length that you went to, um, to bring to light what was happening, whether it was covid or then black lives on matter, movement and protests and all that, and to show it in your own way. Um, can you talk to us about you're bringing joy into that work? Absolutely. Um, it was really important to me to find a way to show a more balanced view of what was happening because a lot of the images that were circulating and being published where the typical you know, there's a cop car on fire, People are looting, people are screaming and yelling, and all of those things, while they might have been factual, didn't paint the full picture. Um, there was a lot of like, profound grief and sadness, but there were also a lot of moments of joy and a strong sense of community and love that I felt like we're missing from a lot of the images, and I've all but three times that I went out to document or self assigned. So it gave me the space to explore those moments more especially the intimate moments, you know, amongst activists, community members, just my neighbors, people. And it's about to show that sort of more nuanced view of what was happening. It was important for me to see as well because I was starting to be overwhelmed by the same sort of, like, angry, traumatic images. Were you capturing those at first where you were you seeing and capturing that and and when you I'm curious, if when you then we're there on assignment did you feel pressure to be capturing a certain type of image that they may have wanted versus like what you had been developing and and and your emotion and heart wanted to show? Yeah, I think at first it was I don't think I was adequately prepared. Uh, sort of. They shifted so quickly. Um, but even when I started to look back at my images at the end of May in the beginning of June, um, it was still very heavily based and like specific feelings that I was noticing or like within myself, but within other people. But some of the ones that I'm still more drawn to are the more quiet ones. Um, when I would take on assignments. I did notice like I was consciously or subconsciously trying to shift, to fit more into that idea of what I think a photojournalist should be and capturing more of like what's happening and the historical context as supposed to like what's being felt and like, I want to shoot for myself. I'm much more in tune with, like, what are the feelings that are popping up that are quiet, that are intimate, that are gentle, um, or sad? Or, you know, things of that nature, whether it's because it's a specific person and the way they're looking at the way they're holding their body. Or maybe it's the way that the light is hitting somebody, or it's the composition next to this tree or that sign or, you know, something like that. I have more space to play with the abstract when I'm doing things for myself. Yeah, and I I think it's I think it's interesting that you, you know, you still then when you're it's this like question of our people hiring me for what they've seen or am I trying to, you know, fit into a mold, and I'm sure it's like maybe you're able to capture both. Or, um, I imagine that that's just an evolution of Of figure out the approach. Yeah, absolutely. Talk to me about let's go, go back to It's hard to believe it's coming up on a year. But when you, you know your your photography is at the time, you know, um, the fashion, the lifestyle that you know, as we were talking about earlier, your and then covid hits. And I've heard you talk about how you started, you know, with was that the shift to more documentary style and starting with your family and community and kind of take us through that that first part of of shifting the focus to more, uh, documentary style? Yeah, that was documentary projects had been on my mind. I had started, um, the initial stages of a few different documentary projects that I had been wanting to do, but just like hadn't had time. And then once lockdown started, I was like, Okay, those are going to be on the back burner, but this is an opportunity for me to document my neighborhood, my family, my community, um, and like what's happening close to home um, so I just ran with that because I quite frankly, was going crazy sitting in my house every day. Um, at the time, I was a nanny, and so I wasn't able to go to, uh, my family's house and work. So it was It was stressful financially, but also, you know, here with my family, trying to make sure everybody was healthy. And so it was a good release for me to have something to do and, like, feel not necessarily productive, but like, a good distraction doing something that I really enjoy did that. And that's I mean, it's I can imagine that, um you said being being a Nandi and therefore having to self isolate from your family. Um, because it seems like you're very close with your family. Um, that that well, yeah. Must have been incredibly challenging. Um, tell me how that work, then, Uh, are you continuing to do that work today? Are you, um, in terms of telling stories about covid or, um, is that you know, how did it did it grow further? Things definitely shifted very quickly once the like blm protest started. But I have still I've taken on assignments to do work around covid in my neighborhood, Um, and haven't experienced those same sort of like internal limitations around how to document it. Um, but because I'm not the way things are moving in L. A in terms of the vaccine rollout and everything like that, I feel like there's still space and time for me, especially as we come up on one year to come back to my neighbors who had their first child during lockdown in April. And like, you know, my grandfather passed at the end of March and like going back and like, Sorry, looking at thank you like how to document, like, where my family is now and, like, you know, my the rest of my neighbors who received job and lost jobs, other, like other neighbours, have lost family members. Um, I think that's that's part of one of the things that I'll be exploring as they get ready to take my break is like, How do I circle back to that? What does that look like? Are there ways that I can shift? Do I want to, you know, expand it? Are there other people? I want to include things like that. So, I'm sure. I know you've talked about this probably a lot through the year, but I think it's still important to, you know, talk about your coverage of black lives matter movement and how, um, you know just what you what you have taken away from that now, a couple of things, Um, in terms of I've heard you talk about, uh, the getting an adobe creative residency community fund, Um, to sort of start to to support that to get p p e. That just having the sort of network of support around you. Um, but how did you, uh, how did you navigate? I know that's kind of a big question, but it's, um Yeah, how did you navigate? As best as I could. Um, So the adobe community residency, like the community fund, was a huge part of that, um, financially. And then, you know, support in terms of PPE, um, reaching out to my mentors. But one of the biggest things that has sustained me even now is like the community amongst other black photographers that started and has continued through today. You know, um, especially folks like Polly Paul is a huge part of that d dryer, A huge part of that. I talked to them at least once a week, and the the friendship and the support that has been extended amongst us, but even amongst other photographers has been what honestly has what carried me through, because there's a lot of there's a lot of pieces that are hard to digest and then also explain to other people who aren't doing the same work, even to my family. They don't necessarily understand, Um, some of the things that come up if it's a frustration with, like a negotiation with a client or just trying to process the fact that, like I was having nightmares about helicopters for, like, two weeks, being able to reach out to my peers is has been the greatest gift you recently, I I saw you, you know, right about, um, again, just yes, processing, um, feelings that that that have, you know, come about just that that that have come about through through doing all this work as a black photographer for being there Black female photographer. Um, can you take us through an experience where your just where your, um, you realize sort of what what situation you're in because of being black woman. But having a camera there and, um, just yeah, just what? How did that aspect change the way that you are able to tell stories? Mm, That's a great question. Um, I think two examples come up and they're very different. The first one that I think of is I was at a protest in Leimert Park, which is down the street from my house. Um, and it was particularly special to me because the majority of the protests in L. A are intentionally placed in non black neighborhoods. Um, and so this was one of the few that was here, Um, and filled with, you know, people see the grocery store, neighbors, friends, Um, and it was majority black people. Just the way the demographics are in LA. The majority of protests are not predominantly black. That's just it's just what it is. So, going into a space in this very black neighborhood filled with black people coming together, Um, it was a completely different energy. It was very much more. It was healing. It was calm. It was loving. But it was very somber at the same time. And I remember I was standing there and they were doing like, a moment of silence, but it was like eight minutes for George Floyd and in front of me was a parent and a child. And it was just something about the way. Like the parent was standing in front of the child and the child's hands were wrapped around the parents head. And it was just so soft and so tender and just like, so natural that I had to grab that. But I also really struggled to not just break down at the same time. Like so many of the other protests there, there was that tension and anxiety and that fear because of the violence that was happening, um, to then see, you know, black people in a space that was safe and they were able to just love on each other was something that I didn't realize that I really, really needed to see and I can I've seen that image and I can visualize it and it it again, like going back to talking about earlier about your, um you're focused on seeing on emotion, but also intimacy, Mhm. Um and I I was looking through and seeing your series that you've done on personal projects on love, intimacy, um, love outside of romantic relationships. Uh, and you talk to me about that body of work and how you've approached it or what it's you know what, what it's about. Are you continuing that work as well? Absolutely. That project has been on my mind a lot lately and has revived itself, especially since, you know, we've been in this pandemic and had limitations about how physically intimate we can be with other people. Um, and I realized that I really want to expand that project, and it's continuing to shift as we move along. Originally, it was focused on, you know, intimacy and love outside of the confines of like, you know, traditional romantic relationships within the context of like queer friendships, queer relationships, the queer community. And as I started shooting like through the protests, I noticed a lot of those images were still in that same vein. But it was parents and Children. It was strangers. It was community leaders and neighbors. And so I haven't decided if I want to split them and explore them as two separate projects or merge them into a wider project that looks at it, you know, outside of just like queer relationships. But just like people in general, Um, because it's something that's been on my mind for quite a few years. You know, I've always filled my needs for physical intimacy outside of the confines of romantic relationships. My friendships keep me alive. Um, and so as soon as the pandemic it I knew that this was going to be a, you know, a topic of conversation as people were deprived of those, you know, opportunities. And so it's still something that I have to flesh out in my head and how I want to do it visually. Because now you know I have more opportunities. My skills have progressed. You know, I want to really take my time. And it's not a project that I I see myself ever really stopping. It's one that will always continue. I think, Yeah, I mean, I can I still feel I live by myself, and and it's like all you want to do is get like, When am I going to get a hug? My next hug? Yes, I guess, uh, it's, um it is. It's and so to be able to to document that, but And bring that to life even, you know, pre covid having that be, you know, part of your what you've acknowledged about yourself. Um, as you know, like going back to you how we're talking about, you know, you infusing you into the work or your emotion or wanting other people to feel and see. Um, I'm I'm interested in what? It's interesting because I keep I keep looking over at the comments that are coming in and people you know, as as this is we're recording this live, Um, and Gary is actually on your site. And what does love mean to you? He's asking, What what is love to you? And I'm like, Oh, that's a good question. I love is so many things, But I think for me love is how do I break this down? Um, love is bigger than affection, and like it's, it's the combination of care and commitment and affection and trust and responsibility all wrapped into one. It's it is that culmination of those foundational beliefs about how we should interact with each other, and I believe that love should extend into every facet of our daily lives. The way that we deal with policy and politics, the way we deal with each other, our Children, our partners, you know, clients, you know, talent. Like how we engage with the earth. Like it should be a part of everything that we do. I'm going to clip that out and listen to that again. What a beautiful I mean, it is I kind of in general, I always come back to like love is the answer, you know, And you just kind of listed off in all all the ways whether you know, and and we we do we have to constantly be reminded of that, especially right now, uh, and and, um, yeah, beautifully said in great question, Gary. Thank you for that. Thank you. Yeah, Especially again, because that is something that you have, You know, it is it is what comes out in your in your images. I mean, I think, uh, one of the images I can remember seeing of yours is you know, back to the black lives, matter, protests and movements. Yeah. Uh, sure. That just says I'm armed with love. Uh, and you know, and and that being the message, it really is the answer. Um, I'm just pausing. Sorry. That's you know, it is. It is, Um, I I am curious about, um I had seen you, uh, post just yesterday. I'm always going through people's internet, you know, not just the day before, but especially the day before. We're doing that. These conversations, uh, and you put to your instagram stories a Toni Morrison quote. That was You are not the work you do. You are the person you are. You're not the work you do. You are the person you are. And that really struck me because especially entering this conversation, like a lot of, you know, we're talking about the work. We're talking about the cover of essence. You know, we're talking about doing this work for different getting published in different magazines. Um, but is that who you feel? You are? And if if not like what? What? What are the elements of Alexis? Mm. Who are you? Who are you? I have been working really hard over the last year too. Allow myself to be seen through my work. So allowing more pieces of who I am to reflect in the work that I share. So it's that, like find balance between the two because I wholeheartedly believe that we are not our work. More so, like we are more than our ability to produce is something that's been on my mind heavily like I I create for myself. First and foremost, the work I make is for me, and so a byproduct of that is that it does reflect a lot of the pieces of who I am. Um, but I have to every once and I was sort of recalibrate and remember that, like, I'm not doing work for engagement for likes. Um, you know, I do work for clients, but I'm creating because that's what I need to do for myself. It's a very important point, and I love that you that you brought up that word. Um, to be productive is not who we are, because I feel like, especially in the United States, you know, in this society it's a huge, um, emphasis on, you know, the first. The first question that people ask often when you meet them is what do you do as if that's who we are, right? Uh, and you go and you, you know, travel to the A lot of places in the world. And that is not the question. First question people ask you, um and so, you know, sort of keeping that in the forefront of your mind, Um, and being able to to continue to come back to that. I mean, it's it's a process. Like, you know, it's hard to not to put stuff out there and and not want to go see how many likes or whatever, like are on there. But when we were talking earlier, you mentioned that, you know, you turned off notifications, uh, for social. How is that impacted you or how? What was the decision to do that? Oh, it was life changing. Um, by its very nature, the way social media setup, it's meant to be addictive. It rewards your brain when you get those little doses of, you know, serotonin, dopamine. When you get like when you get engagement, when people are happy, and then if it drops especially liked due to the way the algorithm works or whatever happens that plummets. And so I didn't want to ride that emotional roller coaster. I don't the need that anxiety or those problems. And so it has done wonders for me to just go into Instagram when I'm in their post the post and leave same thing with Twitter tiktok all of it. Let's just do what I need to do and get out. Um, because even just even just hearing you say the words like I am a photographer like it, it's still like it's still hard to grapple with because, like, I do photography. But like, am I a photographer? Like I'm I'm me and I do photography, but I also do a whole bunch of other things. And so it's strange to even, like have to grapple with that because I'm more than just a photographer. Let's talk about some of the other things. What else does Lexi What are the other pieces of? And sorry I said Lexi, but because I see people call you that some of the times is that, like a friends and family name or yeah, but it's fine. Okay, Okay. What are the other pieces? I How do you like to spend your time currently napping? Yes, that's that's what it's been or like. I'll just go sit in the back yard in the sun. That's been another thing. But when I graduated college, um, and realized I didn't want to be a clinician, I I went, and I was a bartender for a couple of weeks. I, you know, really enjoy cooking. I was a cooking school for a little bit. I love to travel. I like animals. Like I, you know, let's talk about space or aliens like there's so many other things. I really love film and, like, I'm not a cinephile. But like I want to produce, like, motion projects and just, like, explore everything possible, anything that catches my interest, I wanna at least scratch the surface in some way. So I'm looking forward to creating space, to do all of those things at some point, creating space to explore space and aliens. I love it. Um, what? I just I want to I want to talk a little bit more about some of those other things because I think that's a really important point that you just made in terms of okay, photography is your profession, and then you know, a lot of people, whether it's their profession or not, this is probably the majority of people it's not, you know, maybe their passion or whatever. So it's like it's It's this balance of, um, like being proud to call yourself a photographer and again, whether it's your profession or not, but also recognizing, you know, that that's just a piece of your creative outlet and path. And I'm curious, you know, you said he said, that you create for yourself and, yes, you have clients create for yourself. What do you still create photography? This is a question that somebody asked me, um, several years ago, when I bring it up every now and again because I think it's really interesting your psychology background. Um, would you create images if nobody was ever going to see them? That's what I was doing prior. I've always had a camera. Um, I just actively chosen not to take courses or do anything because I was terrified of being horrible. I was good at other things and, like, wasn't ready to branch out and try something new. Um, but I always had a camera, was always taking pictures, used to make small movies with my sister when we were kids, and if everybody forgot about me tomorrow, I would still be creating images like photography is my career, but I also really love it. It is also a passion, and it is something that I would do for free for myself. Good point. Good point there. I actually, and that's the same answer that I have. And I found it very curious that the person who asked me this question his answer was, No, I wouldn't I wouldn't great photos if no one was going to see them because it's part of it or that's and I was like, Oh, uh, like sometimes I barely I go on a trip and I, you know, it's It's how I experience the world and it's part of my experience. And then sometimes I don't even, you know, do anything with the images, and that's okay with me. But it took me a long time. It took me a long time to be be okay with that being okay, Um and so yeah, so I love that, that is, and it's okay if other people, whatever other people's you know, answers are to that question. Um, but I think it's an interesting one to kind of frame up what your intention is because, yeah, I mean, doing things with intention, whatever it is, um, you know, it's just it's It's an interesting question, but I wanted to go back to the you said, do it for free For myself. I know that you have been, um, vocal as well, in terms of helping get educating people on valuing their work, getting paid, um, again, coming back around to black lives, matters, movement, hits a lot of people are looking for, you know, press and whatever. Looking for images and a lot of photographers out there trying to figure out like, Well, how do I How do I get paid? How much like all these things to talk to me about your journey? Um, with that and then how you've been able to help others or what? You know, some of those resources were, um, to to get paid. Yeah, I so that that started a long time ago that began prior to photography, when I was learning how to navigate, like different types of workspaces corporate work spaces. But also, like a year prior to starting photography, my sister and a friend and I were like, We're going to start an app and we developed our own company. We put everything together, business plan and, you know, going through that process and those exercises helped me develop a different set of business skills that I hadn't had before. And even though we shuddered that company and that didn't work out, like, I brought along all of those practices and those lessons with me when I started photography. Because it is a business. The creative aspect is important, but like the majority of my time is spent doing bookkeeping and reading contracts and budgeting and invoicing. So without that solid foundation, like, I would have been sort of floating in the wind. And even though I didn't have the answers when I started, I knew that those are questions that I needed to be asking. And so when I was reaching out to people and seeking out mentors and just like looking for support, I was generally looking for support when it came to the business side. Like Okay, there's no standard rates, really. But like continuing to ask people, you know, that I trusted for help like, Hey, they're offering this. Does this sound fair and equitable? These terms what's work for hire, like getting a better understanding and sort of trying to educate myself so that I was being treated and compensated fairly was huge. And so by the time we reached last summer, I had a better idea. But there were still holds because, like, you know, I'm not trained as a photojournalist. I haven't I haven't been in that space. And so I still had questions or, like, it's more commercial work, came up, you know, reaching out to folks like, Hey, they want this, this and this. Does this sound okay? You know, how do I respond and like building that foundation so that I could negotiate from, you know, a space that made sense. It was important to me, too. Pull up as many of my peers as possible and try and get them up to speed as quickly as possible, because it hurts all of us, not just like other black photographers. It hurts everybody in the photo community when people, you know take rates that are way too low or take on work for free or agree to ridiculous terms and things like that. So I want to, uh there's no reason that we all can't be treated fairly. There's no reason that we can't be compensated fairly, especially from larger brands. Like there's plenty of money. Um, it's just a matter of knowing your worth and having the support and the confidence to ask for it and say no when you're not receiving it. Going back to your grandmother. What was your grandmother's name? Geraldine. Geraldine Going back to Geraldine and you know no, that bids too high. I'm gonna I'm gonna figure out another solution. Uh, and have you had Have you? Have you said no to projects that are? You're like, Hmm? Absolutely. Um yeah. Had a couple inquiries in the last week, um, asking me to take on work for free without a budget. There's this idea that if something is digital, it doesn't require compensation. Even though we are all digital printers, print is what it is. Um, and so you know, I have my template that I put on instagram. I use it, I copy and paste it. And I put in the necessary information. And, you know, I just don't take it personal. It's not about me. Um, businesses have bottom lines. People operate in the ways that they've been taught. And so I just will very graciously tell people No, thank you. But if something comes up in the future with a budget, I'd love to be considered. Or, you know, sometimes the project just isn't the right fit. And even if there is a budget, it just doesn't line up in whatever way. Um, and so I can either graciously bow out or outbid myself. Another strategy? Absolutely. I truly do. Um, appreciate that. And And I had seen you put that, you know, template out there and such an important lesson. Um, that that we can say no. And and here's why. Um and they like you, said the gracious, um, when there's a budget, you know, I'd be happy to be considered. Absolutely. Yeah, we don't want to burn bridges. And you know, I don't feel any animosity or angst towards anybody who approaches me because most people are very nice, and they're really kind about what they're asking for, even if the terms aren't fair, equitable. It's not about me. They're asking probably almost everybody for these things, Um, or more people than you know should be asked. But it's not. It's no sweat off my back. It's not a personal matter. It's just I'll say yes or no. And then we go about our day. I think that that is such a key. Take away from me personally. I do often take things personally, you know, and then you get wrapped up in all of that. Uh and so you're It's just such a great piece of advice in life generally not just in looking at, you know, job offers or happy that are coming through. Um, super wise advice. Alexis. If we can stop taking it all personally, then we can. It's hard. It is easy. It's scary, especially when you're newer, like there were definitely times where I've taken on assignments and said yes to things that were not compensated or not compensated fairly. And then there's that little seed of resentment, and it finds its way into the work sometimes, uh, and so I'd rather just enthusiastically say yes to things that I want to say yes to and say no to things that I don't want to do, not just within photography, but, like just in general, across the board, like I want my guess is to be enthusiastic guesses and my nose to be clear, firm knows that are not personal. I love that. I love that, um, and and in terms of your its boundaries, right? Yes. And so I am, um, you know, so grateful again that you that you took the time to be with us in our community today, Uh, we've got a lot of shadows coming through. Well, Fred, Yes. You have to keep your mind active on what it is that you love. Um, Robert Super interesting. Thank you. Um, we had Brian from Baltimore. We had Michael from Germany. Um, and I wanted to go back to Javier Hernandez, who had said, um, you don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great and and And that being one of his takeaways as well, um, I'm excited for you to be able to give yourself that well deserved and needed a break over the next few weeks and, you know, excited to continue to follow everything that you do that hasn't even come out yet. You know that work that you've done and again, like kudos and congratulations on the essence cover. Um, thank you for all of your insights today. Tell us where everybody can find you. Follow you. Hire you. You know, all the things. Absolutely. So across all social media you can find me at by Alexis only B y. Alexis Hunley. And then, if you would like to check out more of my work, you can find it on my website. Alexis hunley dot com Awesome. Everybody, go check out Alexis's work. Um, one more. One more. Shout out who, Uh, Skeeter Arnold, who says thank you for sharing your heart in your story. I've written down a few projects and ideas that you sparked in me. Awesome. Thank you. That's why we're here. Exciting. That's why we're here again. Um Thank you, Alexis. I want to give another shout out to polyurethane goo. Black women photographers. Thank you, Polly, for collaborating with us all month long, taking over that we are photographers podcast. Uh, if you didn't listen to the last several episodes, you can go back and subscribe to were photographers where they'll be audio episodes coming out. You can check out our YouTube channel. Creativelive past episodes are there with Tommy Thomas Dara Expo as well as Recetas Dragon, who we started off with in addition to Polly to, um, So it's been an absolute pleasure during this collaboration. And again check out the print sale, um, at Black Woman photographers dot com. And you can check out everything playing here on Cradle Live by scrolling down, seeing our calendar. What's upcoming? Uh, but once again, thank you for tuning in everyone today. And thank you, Alexis Hunley. It's been our honor to have you on. Thank you, Ken. I appreciate you having me.

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


In this episode, Alexis shares how she’s fast-tracked her photography career in three years. Landing portfolio reviews with editors and improving her work based on that feedback ultimately led to her first magazine cover for Essence. She describes how creating images allows her to process her feelings and emotions of life experiences. Go behind the scenes of Alexis’ coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement - both personal and for clients - and why she focuses on capturing the little moments of connection and intimacy across her body of work.


Alexis Hunley is a self-taught freelance photographer based in Los Angeles. Visual storytelling, a love of color, and connection can be seen throughout her commercial, documentary, and editorial work. Alexis’s work is featured on a recent cover of Essence magazine. Her clients include The New York Times, NY Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Verge, Men’s Health, Airbnb to name a handful. With a background in psychology, she consistently seeks out ways to combine her love for art with her desire to better understand the human condition.


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