My name is Sarah Allegra. I am a fine art photographer, specializing in conceptual and self portraiture. I often describe my work as "ethereal," "symbolic" and "mythic."
I have a background in illustration and painting, which were my big artistic focuses for most of my life. About seven years ago, I became ill with a disease called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME for short). Its exact cause and nature is unknown, but one of its primary symptoms is muscle, tendon and joint pain, exhaustion after very small efforts and chronic, wide-spread pain. All these things together made the hours I used to spend drawing and painting unavailable to me, but as I reeled from trying to adjust my entire life to this sudden-onset disease, I had more need than ever for art in my life. Luckily I was dating a photographer at the time (now my husband :)) and I made him sit down with me one afternoon and teach me the basics of photography. Since photography was a much faster medium than drawing and painting had been, it gave me back the voice that ME had taken away.
Now of course, I spend a lot of time preparing for shoots and editing them, but I've learned ways to manage my ME better. It may be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, and I often have days where even quiet, easy editing is too much, but art is so vital to my mental health that I make sure I fit it in somehow, even if it's painful!
3. What inspires your photographs?
The short answer is anything I'm passionate about! A slightly longer answer would be books, movies, music, current events, my own life and struggles, whatever emotions I feel during the day... the list is really endless! Anything I feel strongly about will probably end up in an image at some point, although it may not be in a literal way.
|"We Rise Again"|
I love, love, love shooting in nature! Natural light is my favorite and my shoots are usually during the golden and blue hours of the day. I'm slowly learning to use artificial lights, but natural light is my go-to light. There's such a healing, calming quality of just being in nature and there's so much beauty everywhere you look, I don't think I'll ever get tired of it! I happen to live near several wooded and forested areas as well as some more desert-like terrains, so I have a lot to pick from!
5.Do you like to photograph other things, or just your main work?
I like to photograph people most, but animals are a lot of fun too! If I can create an image with people AND animals in it, that's one of my favorite things :) Animals can be tricky to work with since they'll mostly do what they want to do, but I (usually) enjoy that part of the challenge.
Has any artist ever answered this question easily? Oh, gosh, it's always changing, but one that has consistently stayed a favorite is a self portrait I took called Exoskeletonation. I took it during an extremely stressful period of my life, and also as a time when I felt like my body was becoming a cage due to the ME which I was forced to live in. It was also something of a nightmare to edit, but because it was so complicated, it gave me something to really focus on and shut out all the negative things that were happening at the time. I also feel it really represents how ME has effected my life; infiltrating my body and keeping much of me a prisoner, but it is not without hope or beauty despite that.
7. What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
I want them to feel emotionally moved somehow. My exact goal will vary from image to image, or series to series, but it all boils down to wanting the viewer to feel something. My Glass Walls series about animal rights, which is in its infancy, seeks to make the viewer feel for the plight of the animals it touches on. In Enchanted Sleep, my series on living with ME, I want the viewer to be able to feel in a visceral way what living with ME is like. And with my DreamWorld series, I wanted to the viewer to forget that this is an imaginary place and feel that the world is full of magic and wonder, even for just a few minutes!
8. What gear do you use? What's your most used lens and why?
Right now I'm shooting with a Nikon D5100. I'm hoping to upgrade it sometime soon so I can make larger prints, but, and I cannot stress this enough, great gear does not equal great photography. Yes, I'd like to get a "better" camera because it would solve some of the technical challenges I have with my images (such as low-light noise) and, as I said, allow for larger prints, but what you put into your image will always be more important than what the camera puts into it! As far as lenses, I most often use a Nikkor 1.4 50mm prime lens, which is my favorite, but I sometimes use an old kit lens, a 35-70mm lens, which is very useful for tighter spaces. I also have a very old 70-300mm lens which doesn't even have an auto focus mode which I mainly just use for photos of birds and other wild animals I'm compositing into my other images :)
|"Where Earth Meets the Sky"|
9. Who would you say is your favorite photographer? Why?
If I can only pick one, I'd have to go with Kirsty Mitchell. Her work is so inspiring, and she completely embodies the idea of passion trumping gear. So much of her work is hand-made by herself with a very low or no budget, which is usually how I work too! But she is proof that you're only as limited as what your mind can imagine, not how big your wallet it!
|"The Blue Ribbon"|
I'd definitely say the biggest source of negativity has come from my own body, not wanting to do the things I need to do to create! I found strategies for dealing with it, and it's far from perfect, as my body is constantly changing, so my tactics have to as well.
11. Do you plan on doing anything with your photography or do you shoot just for fun? (If you are planning a future with your work, please explain where you want to go with with)
I have quite a few things on burners at the moment, some closer to being done than others! There are a few galleries I will probably be showing at soon and I have work I'll be doing with an author I love, along with other plans from his publisher. Prints and book covers will be coming, hopefully sooner than later; the rest I should keep a lid on until they're ready :)
12. Do you have a favorite inspirational quote? If so, what is it and why is it your favorite?
I have several! The easiest one to explain is "Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light," from the poem by Dylan Thomas. It inspires me to keep going when things are rough, either from external sources or when I'm having an especially hard time with the ME.
13. What is one experience from shoots that you will always remember?
Oh dear... well, one of my models and friends, Dedeker Winston, and I were shooting some outdoor nudes and we discovered a patch of stinging nettles... unfortunately by her crawling into them. Completely nude. To be fair, I got some stings too, but poor Dedeker took the brunt of it. We both now know very well what stinging nettles look like though!
A more healing experience was with another model and friend of mine, Katie Johnson. I had a shoot planned with her about a week before I discovered that a childhood friend of mine had died tragically in the line of duty as a firefighter. He was a part of the Granite Mountain Hotshots; 19 of them died battling a wildfire, the largest number of firefighters killed at once since 9/11. I was deeply mourning the loss of him and his incredibly heroic team, so I told Katie to plan on doing something to commemorate their deaths. What, I didn't know yet, but I had to do something. We ended up shooting my image To The Lost, which shows us both running through a wall of yellow smoke, Katie pulling me along, carrying a bouquet of 19 large flowers. The large flowers had smaller ones branching off them which I felt nicely symbolized the firefighters' families. After we got the shot, we hugged hard and there were tears; it was such an emotional piece for me to create, and I was so glad to be able to have my dear friend along side me, helping me create the image and honor the Hotshots.
|"To The Lost"|
14. What would be the best advice you could give to a new photographer?
Create for yourself. Don't worry about what's trendy, just create the art you want to make. Anyone can follow a trend, no one else can look inside your head and create the images you have in there! Don't worry about gear. A little imagination and passion will always be more powerful than having the latest equipment.
15. Any final words you'd like to say?
Pursue your passions! They are worth making the time for, saving up money for, getting them realized however you need to do it!
Thank you so much Sarah for being so open about your experiences and work! The two images you mentioned in this interview were my favorite and the 2 main reasons why I started following your work to begin with! I'm so glad that those images have a deep meaning to you because they definitely stuck with me and I also was able to tell the story and feel the emotions that were put behind them! I love when I find images and artist like that and it's so hard sometimes. Trends are a huge thing with photography and I feel like sometimes people do get caught up too much in what everyone else is doing that they tend to forget about their own voice and what makes them unique and different!
Here are all of Sarah's Sites and places to buys prints, etc!
Red Bubble (tshirts, greeting cards, mugs, phone cases and other items with my images on them): http://www.redbubble.com/people/sarahallegra/portfolio