Aubrey Denis: Fuck Practicality
interview by kyla rain, intro by abby strangward
when it comes to writing an introduction for aubrey denis, I’m at a loss for words. and that doesn’t happen often. words are kinda my thing. well, turns out, photos are aubrey’s thing. and she does her thing really fucking well.
as eloquent in the written language as she is in the visual, aubrey shares how 35mm captured her heart, how she stopped resenting an industry that comes with very little compensation, the emotion & the moments that propel her to keep going, and most importantly - how to fuck practicality and just go for it. which, really, is a lesson we all need from time to time.
Could you maybe start with telling me a little bit about yourself, and how you initially got started in photography?
I grew up in a home of artists - my mom, a master curator/writer and my dad a self taught musician + producer. They made expression an integral part of my life from a really young age. So naturally, I gravitated more and more towards this idea as I grew into myself. Writing first - but I quite literally just woke up one morning with this pull towards film. I’ve always taken photos of everything but they didn’t take shape or meaning until I was gifted my first analog camera 2 years ago. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people, lives and emotions that I feel compelled to document. Luckier still that in some cosmic way this slammed straight into my love for music; more specifically the magic that is a live show.
What is it about film that you feel has more shape and meaning than digital?
Film feels more like preservation to me, like bottling a moment up in its purest form. Shooting with a film camera also radically keeps you present in the moment + has very much taught me the art of delayed gratification.
What initially got you into live music photography? Can you tell me a little bit about the first show you ever shot?
Honestly, shooting live music started for me through just shooting my surroundings. I’ve kind of always been that girl running around finding shows to drag my friends to, so the two things conjuncted naturally. The first show i ever shot on 35mm was by total chance at LouFest a year ago; it was Cage the Elephant, and the sun was setting. I’ll never forget it.
So you’re a full time photographer right? How did you get to the point you’re at now?
The world we’re living in is so content saturated that to say i’m a full time photographer might mislead. I shoot for myself, I shoot for a few different bands, i shoot portraits of people I love and I shoot places that make me feel things. I’ve yet to land that big commission job that pays the bills, but I’m working and it’s being appreciated in its own ways. I went through a phase of really resenting the layer of this industry that doesn’t offer compensation - but more recently, I’ve stopped asking my art to pay the bills. It allows me to create more freely and to trust myself in my work, instead of hoping to please someone else’s eye. That being said, I did just book a gig to shoot an ad campaign for an up and coming brand out of Nashville - I’m really excited about that.
Congratulations on the campaign! That’s so exciting. And I think it’d be difficult to phrase that any better; money can tend to drive a wedge between the artists and their art. How do you think we can keep that passion and honesty? What advice would you give to someone with a big dream? One thing I come across a lot is the whole “it isn’t practical” response. What would you say to all those people who feel that way?
I think keeping yourself grounded in the reasons why you do what you do is the biggest component. I never started taking photos to get recognition for them. While that’s still the dream - it’s not what propels me daily. Staying honest and authentic in your creations will ultimately draw the right people, the right gigs your way. It’s more a matter of finding what YOU want to create and saying fuck everything else, nothing can stop me from making this. This industry can breed comparison, competition, and self doubt at times. It can feel cruel and vulnerable to put your work out there relentlessly. I remind myself daily that as long as I follow the emotion, the raw moment - everything else will come. Don’t stop dreaming those dreams just because someone else doesn’t deem it “practical” or even possible. You get to decide for yourself what colour your world is, ya know? Fuck practicality.
Fuck practically, I agree. So you just got off tour with Rainbow Kitten Surprise, how was that? I’ve been seeing all the photos you’ve taken and they make me FEEL so much. Could you maybe talk about a few of your favourite moments from that adventure?
I’ll start off by saying those guys are a total trip but that’d be the understatement of the century. I consider them all great friends - they put on the most exciting live show i’ve ever shot. We just got back from Europe, and it was my first time out of the country. A few of us decided last minute to catch an earlier flight to Amsterdam just for a few more hours in the city. We rented bikes and rode around Vondelpark for hours - that place is like a portal to some soft, quietly cinematic dimension. Memories like that are my favourite moments by far; the smaller, slower ones in between all the noise and chaos that is tour. That’s when I take the photos that transport me right back into the moment whenever I look at them.
AUBREY I think I might cry. Beautiful. Do you think that emotion translates into your art? & you said a bit ago that you take photos of the people you care about, why is that important to you?
Truly all I ever want to do through my art is make people feel. In contrast, all the photos I take are some strange interpretation on what I’m feeling in the moment I take it. Even in my music photography - I want to show someone an image and have them smell the smoke in the crowd or hear the chick on the rail losing her voice, screaming all the words. To FEEL the energy I was feeling. Photography is teleportation in so many ways.
Ask anyone who spends a decent amount of time with me; I’m always taking photos of them. I have hundreds of photos I keep for myself of moments that feel too special to put on any social media platform. The thing that’s always driven me in photography was to document the people I live my life with + the places we find ourselves in. It’s a visual diary of sorts that’s constantly running in my mind. As life has it, sometimes you have limited time with people you adore - so I find myself searching for ways to archive that time together.
So many people never get the chance to find their passion. I think it’s absolutely beautiful that you were able to find yours, and aren’t letting it go. If there was one thing you could tell yourself, in the moments before you ran headfirst into photography, one thing - what would you say?
Take your camera everywhere you go. Take all the photos, every last one of them. Shoot 5 rolls a day if it feels right. I can’t tell you how many times when I first started shooting that I’d be out and be so enamoured by something, the light at 3pm or a stranger on the street or a place I might never see again, with no camera in sight. Never leave home without it. You will thank yourself a million times over for it later.
I could honestly just sit and pick your brain forever. Thank you, Aubrey.
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