The Journey Begins…

The Journey Begins: An Interview with YPA exhibiting photographers, Allaire Bartel, Leah Schonauer and Mariah Wild.

By Jacquelyn Cynkar

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Last week in New York City, the Young Photographers Alliance (YPA) showcased their annual mentoring exhibition, which was a compilation of photo essays from 11 teams across the United States, Canada and England.

Our Pittsburgh team was composed of up-and-coming photographers Allaire Bartel, Leah Schonauer and Mariah Wild. All three of these women tackled the project’s theme, Boundaries, with poignancy and provocation; showcasing final images which revealed as much about their process throughout this project as they did about the end result of challenging us to reach beyond what we think is set.

I had the privilege to sit down with Allaire, Leah & Mariah, after the summer mentoring program came to a close and their work was exhibited locally. We talked about the YPA program, the Boundaries endeavor and their thoughts on photography. These energetic, ambitious women easily reminded me of the course of laying down roots in photography: nurturing growth and allowing your photographic vision take hold of you and blossom.

For the betterment of our industry and for these three women, the journey begins…

Boundaries is one theme, but you offer three very individualized projects. How did you hear about the YPA opportunity in Pittsburgh and what led you to apply?

LEAH:          For me, I heard about it from Jon Lisbon, he was my teacher for a lot of classes the quarter that I applied. It was just one of those gut feelings that was, “I need to apply for this”. So I did and it worked out.

MARIAH:      It’s kind of similar, I saw a flyer at school on a bulletin board and then I went online and looked at it. I really liked what it was about and went out on a limb and applied.

ALLAIRE:      I got an email about it. I had done the project in a previous year so they just send me emails.

Tell me about your personal interpretation of the theme, Boundaries. When you heard the theme, what element of the word ‘boundaries’ struck a chord and led you to pursue this?

 LEAH:          The first thing that popped in my head was imagination. I work a lot with composites so I really wanted to make this huge thing that was all about imagination; it could be this little dream world kind of project. So that’s what drew me to it. I guess rather than having the boundaries, it would be breaking the boundaries.

MARIAH:      I’m always kind of a stubborn person, so I instantly was drawn to people telling me what you can’t do. My first instinct was to go towards things that people think you can’t do or shouldn’t do, and I went from there in terms of age and what not.

ALLAIRE:      When I first heard about the project it was when the Santa Barbara shooting had happened. I’m very about women’s rights and a lot of my friends are too. There was a lot of online discussion about that and so when I heard about this year’s theme I was like “Oh, this sounds cool” and I was immediately thinking about it in terms of gender boundaries and I’ve done projects on it before. So, my brain immediately went there, because apparently, that’s all I think about! (laughing)

You contemplate the concept of boundaries in your individual ways and then, of course, you each approach it a little differently. Walk me through your process of making a project. Where did you decide to start, how did you decide to find subjects and plan it all out?

ALLAIRE:     For me, particularly, fiallairebartel_boundaries-3guring out how I wanted to represent what I was thinking took a long time. In our first couple of meetings I knew I had a general idea but I didn’t know how I wanted to interpret it. So, after a lot of discussion with my friend, who is also the subject, the model in my pictures, we decided to represent the idea of oppression by using male arms and hands performing very offensive actions and intrusive actions. We wanted it to be about the action, so just the arms and hands instead of a person, and then the woman in the photos was going to be doing a variety of everyday subjects and the idea was to show that this could happen. You can feel this way in whatever walk of life or wherever you are, on the street or at your job, anything like that. Once we got that representation down, we figured out how to lay out the individual scenes, and it was always me and my friend working closely together. She was always the subject, and it became a day in the life of this one person. And then for the male model hands, we were scrambling at the last minute like “We need hands, we need hands!” (laughing) But, that’s how we would do it, we would figure out what we wanted to do and where we wanted to do it, and her and I would coordinate our schedules and then try to find one of our guy friends who were willing to make it happen and help us out. They would stand out of the frame or hide behind her; the logistics of the shoot were a lot of acrobatics, nothing too fancy. (more laughing)

Leah SchonauerLEAH:            Mine started off kind of trial and error. I wasn’t really sure how to go about shooting this still, small-scale, background photo because mostly I shoot on location and just on a bigger scale of course. So, it was getting used to that and then I wanted to use older people for multiple reasons. One was because it went more with my theme of representing wisdom, people trying to fix things for others from what they’ve learned, so the wisdom. And then also, it helped because I don’t have a lot of older people in my portfolio as of now, well, as of then. It worked hand-in-hand that I could get out there and include more people, and people I know that were in a different age range. It all fell together so nicely, it worked.

MARIAH:      I don’t want to say my project was completely different, but I always had this idea of elderly people in these elaborate setups. And, I’m a pretty shy person, so I met everyone through family members and it was out of my comfort range. But, once these people invited me into their homes, it suddenly seemed (pause) it didn’t seem right I guess, to put on this big spectacle of a photograph when they were opening up their home to me, being polite and gracious. And, I wanted to capture that, them as a person as opposed to what I originally thought they should be. It changed the whole thing when I’d go in and talk with these people and there was a lot more. It was almost more about talking with these people than the photographs themselves, because I wouldn’t have done that prior. So, I went in and talked with them and ended up photographing based on the misconceptions that people have about older adults. That at a certain age, they aren’t relevant anymore in our society. Suddenly, we don’t think they should be going out and doing things. I wanted to show that these were still people. They’ve had experiences, they still do things, and tWild_Web_Portfolio_1-1 copyhey shouldn’t be writtenoff, just because you’ve aged. Everyone’s going to age at some point so (pause) you might as well embrace these people because you’re going to be one of them! (laughter) It was a really good experience just personally and then photographically it was different than what I normally do.

Although it is personal, you have mentors alongside of you at various stages [Pittsburgh’s mentoring professional photographers were Brian Kaldorf, Jon Lisbon, Laura Petrilla & PR/marketing consultant Jen Saffron]. Did you find that you were often re-evaluating and adapting?

LEAH:            I think I definitely had an idea of what I wanted it to be, but having the mentors, and Mariah and Allaire, throwing out things to think about in a different perspective really helped to bring my whole project together. Even seeing each other’s projects, it motivated me to really do the best that I could and make something that means something, not just to do photos.

ALLAIRE:      Yeah, I think if one of us had a weaker project it wouldn’t have made the entire experience as meaningful. You know, there’s an option to all work together and do one big project and we didn’t really go that way because we all had our own ideas, but they became such strong ideas on their own. I think that’s what made the final show so awesome. It was good to work in a really creatively charged environment. (agreement all around)

All of these projects have to do with portraiture, which can have a lot of emotional, behavioral and psychological elements to it. I’m very curious how you felt as the photographer, having to create that relationship with your subjects?

LEAH:            I think the best part and I don’t want to sound cliché about it, but it really is hard to get to know somebody in a short amount of time and take their picture and represent who they are. But, it’s really fun – you can see so much just from having a short conversation and taking their picture. Sometimes it gets so comfortable that you can do that. And, I think like I said, it may sound cliché, but that’s what I enjoy about it. It’s hard. I’ve come a long way from this and from school and everything, but being able to do things or say things that can really make them feel comfortable and you can get at who they are, rather than, like Mariah said, who you want them to be in your photo.

ALLAIRE:      It’s definitely tough, especially for mine. If I wasn’t working with my friends I don’t know if I could have pulled off the photos in the same way because not only in some of them she’s being physically restrained, so that’s painful for her, or she’s contorting into a weird position, but the male model is also contorting into a weird position to hide out of the frame. So, first of all it’s really physically demanding, and they’re doing things that aren’t natural and aren’t comfortable. On top of that, I have my really close female friend, who we bonded and created this project over our emotional experiences, and I’m asking her to re-create and re-live those experiences. Then, at the same time, I’m looking for the right shot and I don’t want to stress them out further, so every shoot was really emotionally charged. They were physically uncomfortable, but really willing to power through. My models are awesome. Then, I’m trying to keep it together and communicate without stressing anyone out anymore. So, it was tough but ultimately worth it, I think. I think that’s what you said, the best part about working with people is when you see that moment and you finally get something out of somebody that is perfect, you know.

MARIAH:      I agree. Probably the best part is being able to capture the subtleties in people that they may not notice, because most people don’t like portraits of themselves so it’s hard. I don’t want to say that it’s how they see themselves, because it’s how I see them when I photograph them, but it’s opening their eyes to things that they may not have noticed before. For example, one of my subjects was my grandmother and I had people come up to me that knew her and they’re like “I’ve seen that look on her face a thousand times, but you’ve captured it, you’ve just captured that moment.”  That’s a huge rewarding thing. I mean obviously you can’t completely embody a person in a photograph, but you can get a good sense of who they are as a person in the photograph. You want that to be conveyed. It’s really a special feeling when people approach you and are “I can relate with that person” or “I want to know that person.” I kept travelling back home in New York to do this. I would generally bring a family member, someone who’s more social, and initially I’d keep my camera down for a little bit, especially if I wasn’t familiar with them at first. And then, I would just talk to them, almost like a distraction technique. I’d just have to talk and socialize and eventually they’d forget I was there or when they would include me in conversation, they didn’t mind the fact that suddenly I had picked up a camera because we were already talking and sharing all the experiences. I wouldn’t say it was a slow process, but there was definitely respect. A mutual respect, where I’m going to wait and then we’ll go from there. It was fun.

Let’s talk technical. What equipment did each of you use, and explain your post-production?

ALLAIRE:      I have a Canon 60D and it is a crop-sensor, so that’s unfortunate, but the lens that I used for this project was 55-135, also a Canon lens. I like it because it focuses really fast and really silently. And, it has a very smooth fall-off, a very smooth background. It’s a nice portrait lens, it’s flattering, at the 55 setting especially. Additionally, I have a Bowens kit. I have two strobes and a couple of umbrellas and that was what I used. Most of the shoots were indoors. For the one that was outside, I have a Canon flash and I just used that. Some of them I gelled, like the kitchen shoot. I gelled the light to make it a little more orang-y, so that it was implying that it was morning. And then for the outdoor shoot, the one in the Strip District, the lights overhead were very weird, they were like yellowy-green-orange and there were a lot of different ones. But, they had a really nice mood, they set this sort of creepy industrial mood, so I wanted to include them and I left those in by gelling the flash to match that a little bit so I could balance it later. But, nothing crazy fancy, just one or two lights per shoot and my little camera and little lens.

MARIAH:      I have a 5D mark III and I shot with a 50mm. Everything worked out in that sense, as I didn’t want to come in with all of my stuff. I feel like it would have taken away from the conversation. Definitely if I’m lugging in all of these lights and setting up, then they are instantly uncomfortable. You also had to be very aware of your surroundings as far as windows and everything else, because I hadn’t been at these places previously. As far as post-production and coloring, it kind of worked itself out. There were reoccurring themes and colors that I didn’t even notice prior, until I started laying them out that worked out really nicely. It just fell into place with very minimal post work.

LEAH:            I use a Canon 6D. My lighting setups, they were very different. It just depended on where we were meeting and how it was easiest to light or what would suit the photo best. So, I had a combination of just being in the shade, I have an Alien B that I used a soft-box with for one, or I used a huge window. For this one, I met the one older gentleman, he works at this thrift store, he’s so cute, and there’s this giant window and we just did a photo right in the middle of the store. And, on another one, it was just a ceiling light. It was all different. I usually don’t set up backgrounds. It’s more convenient just setting up that I don’t have to lug a huge background around and also it does make them more comfortable. I know all the models that I have, and I think it makes them more relaxed. More enjoyable. It all came together.

ALLAIRE:      You’re really good at cutting people out of backgrounds, and it’s not apparent that they weren’t on solid backgrounds. You have a skill there; you’re just good at it.

LEAH:            I think a lot of it is, whenever I take a photo, I can see it edited. Sometimes I don’t realize how much work it’s going to take to get that way, but I know I can make it look like that. It’s knowing that I can see the potential.

I want to talk about the YPA program and hear your thoughts about the mentors/mentee relationship, which you formed with the other people involved. What value did you find in this program? Did it meet your expectations?

MARIAH:      It was definitely different. It was a great experience because it’s feedback from professionals in the industry that you wouldn’t necessarily get. It was incredibly rewarding. But, at the same time, it could be really frustrating because you have this vision and then you have three people, that aren’t seeing what you’re going through, so they see exactly what you’re showing them. They’re not on the shoot with you and in that aspect they could be tough critics. It’s frustrating to convey how much time and effort you’re putting into it because you’re just bringing in your work every week. So, it was really helpful and it was great to get feedback as you’re going, it’s just that sometimes you had to stand your ground and know what you wanted to do. Which is important and good to learn too. It’s not like a class assignment, now, this is your work. It was a good transition, especially from student to professional, because you’re still in that student mindset initially where you’re looking for approval. But, what you’d want out of this, in reality, is exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and they’re there to help you. So it’s good in that aspect.

ALLAIRE:      I think we all had that. I felt a sense of that at a certain point. I think there was an aspect of standing your ground. Also, I mentioned earlier that I did this program in 2010 when it was brand new, and I worked with another mentor. Going through the process was really helpful to me to have someone to talk to and to get feedback and to vent even about transitioning to living in Pittsburgh, and all of those things. And this year, I liked the theme so I applied again and I was almost hoping for the same thing, even though I’m a couple of years older and wiser. I wanted guidance and I wanted to feel more creative and to move forward. I think the program is really good for that. I don’t think my project would have gone as far as it had if I hadn’t had the people to bounce ideas off of. Although it could be frustrating, I think it was really good and I probably would have settled for something less if I didn’t have a lot of peoples’ opinions and other people pushing me.

LEAH:            They hit the points. I’m still a student and whenever I get assigned something, I usually wish they would tell me what to do and then I can just do it. So now, when I have to put all this extra work in, I have to really think through this program. Because it is so open and it’s free, even though you are getting feedback on everything, you really are doing what you want to do. And for me, I actually like understanding how to do this more, it was “wow, we just planned this whole thing and it works!”

ALLAIRE:      Also, I think the YPA is a volunteer organization, and I think they had some issues with general organization. They didn’t have much of a social media push, and they’re a little bit like flaky on the dates when things are going to be, but I would 100% recommend the program, if they get some of that organizational stuff together because twice in a row it has helped me out a lot, as a person and as a photographer.

As a photographer, you have to build your own community of people who are consistently willing to be a resource for one another. I’m wondering if that is another outcome of this program. Have you made a connection with one or more of the four mentors involved?

ALL:             (nodding ummhumm). Yes.

MARIAH:      It almost put you on the same level. Not the same [photographic] level, but I mean in dealing with people. It’s almost like putting you as a peer with them. So, they’re not some all-knowing person that you wouldn’t approach. You’ve talked with them, you sat down, you’ve bounced ideas off of them, and you feel more comfortable approaching someone who’s clearly been in the industry longer. Now you can connect with them more.

What are your thoughts about opportunities in Pittsburgh for young up-and-coming photographers? Is Pittsburgh a hospitable environment for a new artist?

LEAH:            I think no matter where you are, if you know what you want to do, you can make it work, no matter what is already there. I think in Pittsburgh there are different opportunities, but I also think there are opportunities everywhere. Whether that is in a small town that you can start something in, or a huge city. I think if you know what you want to do and you know how to do that, you will make it work, if you want to.

ALLAIRE:      I’m planning on moving to New York, which is a much bigger city. Part of the reason is I think there are more opportunities in a large city. That isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities in Pittsburgh, but like she said, I could make Pittsburgh work for me if I really wanted to and I knew exactly what I wanted. But, I don’t. So, right now I think I need a broader net and a larger city has the broader net.

MARIAH:      I think there’s plenty of opportunity if you’re going out and seeking it. A lot of people think it’s going to fall on their lap, but you have to actively go out and seek it, which I know is difficult at times. You see a lot of photographers, especially young ones, who are so caught up in their work or their school or their job that they forget about the importance of personal projects and what not. I’d kind of like to see more photographers expanding on that in Pittsburgh, especially the younger ones.

ALLAIRE:      I think in Pittsburgh too, being a college city with the Art Institute, Point Park, Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, you get a lot of young people that graduate and there are a lot of markets in Pittsburgh that are over-saturated. Photography may or may not be one of them, but when you just have young people looking for opportunities in such like a college-centric town, it’s a hard fight, I think.

In Pittsburgh, you had an early opportunity to show your Boundaries work to other people at a gallery show [co-hosted by The Alliance for Contemporary Photographic Learning and Camera Arts Creative], which can be a beautiful way of finding closure with something you’ve worked so hard on. I’m curious, was there a moment of transformation for you when you saw these final pieces up? Did the images hanging on the wall make your work come alive in a different way?

ALLAIRE:      We started hanging and we had to rearrange things and then we discovered that the color worked really well with yours (to Mariah), and yours (to Leah) looked really good against the brick wall, it really came together in that studio. There were really different bodies of work, but the show worked well. I didn’t feel a sense of closure when I sent things out to print because I was still stressed that they weren’t going to come in on time. (laughing) It might just be me, but it needed to be ready to go for me to feel calm about it. And even the day of, do you guys remember it was like ‘I’m afraid no one’s going to come’?

MARIAH:      Yes, that was probably the biggest thing, more so than hanging on the walls. When it was us hanging, it was still us three in the space we’d been at all summer, so it was kind of like “Okay, we did it. Cool. It’s finished.” But then, the day of, when you’re sitting and thinking “Oh my Gosh, no one’s going to come! It’s going to be a room of empty people who’ll be staring awkwardly!” So, the biggest moment was seeing the room packed full of people looking at your stuff and actually talking about it. It was mind blowing. Wow, we did it. We did it. We finished!

LEAH:            I agree with you guys. The weekend before, because my dad built my frames and I printed them myself, I had so much to do. And after all this work, you don’t really think of how big it is I guess. So, I think when it finally hit me that it was real was whenever people were coming. It was one of those things that mad you think, “This is set up perfect. This is how it’s supposed to be.” It was to a T much better than I thought it would be. It was incredible, it was awesome!

It was awesome; it was a great night and inspiring. So, let me ask about inspiration: where do you draw your inspiration from?

LEAH:            A lot of mine is movies. I wish I had more time to watch them, but actually all my photos, it’s almost like when the twist and the plot are revealed in the movie. That’s what I love about movies and music and everything and that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. That, and photographers that do composites and dramatic work, like I try to do. The ultimate one that stands out in my mind that really, really inspired me to start compositing was and is Erik Almas. He is amazing and he even has on his website that it just fell onto his lap. I mean, he puts so much work into it and he’s amazing. He’s so good at it that I don’t think this guy is real!

ALLAIRE:      It’s beautiful. It’s just a fantasy world!

LEAH:            Yeah, and that’s it exactly. I love making that, that little imagination world.

MARIAH:      My inspiration is definitely movies and books. I was a huge, avid reader when little, so I’m very big on the story-telling base. I’ve noticed I always tend to gravitate towards story-based themes, more conceptual things based on personal experience. Even lyrics and music and movie plotlines are definitely like story-telling, that’s why my project ended up being more like these people’s stories.

ALLAIRE:      I think visually I pull a lot from paintings and graphics. I think my work is illustrated, but in a more abstract way and so I don’t always look at other photographers. Sometimes I just look at paintings, and I love watercolors and that kind of thing. And then, I think the other half of that is, most of my work is portraiture, it’s the people themselves. Sometimes you have an idea and you just find a model for that. But, other times, I’m so creepy because I’ll just walk down the street or sit in a bus and I’ll be staring at somebody and I’m thinking I want to take their picture. I haven’t got up the courage to approach strangers yet, but I definitely just like to stare at people. I find them interesting, visually.

Think about what you don’t know yet in photography. What is one thing that you still want to work on or you still want to learn?

LEAH:            How to edit without all the hours.

ALLAIRE:      Streamlining that process. I can agree with that.

MARIAH:      Approaching people and getting their story would be incredibly helpful in my situation.

ALLAIRE:      I think what I really need to do is streamline my portfolio. I’ve had a food photography job for about a year now, which has nothing to do with any of my personal work. And, I do graphic design for a music production company, which has nothing to do with my personal work. So, I would like to decide on something and then become better at it and grow with that. I’m a little too ADD with my portfolio right now, and I need to streamline it a little bit.

Since we are in Pittsburgh, where is your favorite local place to go and make photos?

ALLAIRE:      Phipps

LEAH:            I don’t have a specific place, just somewhere in nature. Not necessarily a woods scene, but I just love outside light.

MARIAH:      Actually, I haven’t shot there but I’ve always been meaning to down in the Strip District. There’s a ton of places there to photograph.

If you were not out photographing, where would I find you?

ALLAIRE:      Working in a restaurant. You’ll find me waiting tables.

MARIAH:      I work with a lot of bands, so I’d probably be with a band somewhere.

LEAH:            If I’m not doing photos, I’m probably editing the ones that I haven’t. I love editing, sometimes more than taking a photo. So, that’s usually where I’m at, my computer.

What’s your favorite piece of photographic equipment?

MARIAH:      Part of me wants to pick something really obscure, like a reflective umbrella. (laughter)

ALLAIRE:      Can I be really awful here and just say that I really like natural light, because it makes life so much easier. Morning light, golden. Yeah, I love not pulling out equipment, actually.

MARIAH:      That’s beautiful. That, and one reflector.

LEAH:            This is really, really nerdy but whenever I click the shutter, the actual sound of the shutter, I’m thinking “yes, this is awesome!”

Do you have a favorite focal length?

ALLAIRE:      I shoot 50mm a lot, but I’ve been weirdly wanting to use a wider-angle lens recently. I’m getting an urge for some reason and I don’t have a good one. So it’s on my purchase list.

MARIAH:      I need to try more lenses but I have a 24-105. I really love trying to get a wider angle with the person in the foreground, which makes it kind of a weird scene, but I just love that editorial in-your-face kind of style

LEAH:            I’d say 50mm is probably my go-to, I use it predominantly. But I geek really hard over a 70-200, 2.8. I don’t have one yet, but it’s going to happen and I’m gonna love it dearly!

What is your favorite photography-related website or blog?

ALLAIRE:      Peta Pixel. I’m on Peta pixel all the time, just looking at random projects and they have tutorials too, sometimes.

LEAH:            100% Phlearn. Phlearn is like Netflix to me. It’s amazing. They have tutorials, photo tutorials, they have everything.

MARIAH:      I’ll admit, recently I’ve been getting into pinterest. It’s not necessarily photography, but there’s just a lot of interesting things on there so I’m like “Hmmm, I could get on board with this”.

I need to know where you would go out to eat, since I love food. What is your favorite Pittsburgh restaurant?

LEAH:            I don’t go out to eat a lot, but I’ve got to say Noodles and Company is so good. And I went to a seafood place in the Strip District, I don’t remember the name, but it was amazing.

MARIAH:      I’d say this is the nostalgia aspect more so, but my family, every time they come in to town, we end up going to the Spaghetti Warehouse. Every time, every time. It’s just non-stop.

ALLAIRE:      I work in restaurants and I work right now at Tamari and Grit-n-Grace, and I wouldn’t work there if I didn’t love the food. So those are good ones. But, I’ve also worked at Eleven, which has great food. Grit- n-Grace has the same owner as Spoon and BRGR, and I went to Spoon recently with my friends and that was our destination outing. It’s amazing. There are so many, so many good restaurants in Pittsburgh.

One last question, if you could inspire someone else to follow his or her pursuit of photography, what advice would you give?

ALL:              Don’t do it. (laughing)

ALLAIRE:      Well, no, that’s not true. I do think what I would say is, we’ve all been through The Art Institute. When I was there, it was a couple of years ago and there was a really big transitioning happen, from film to digital. Classes were being dropped and created, and a lot of classes were redundant. What ended up happening was, I feel like I spent a lot of money on it and there were points in time in my education that were very stagnant and the classes weren’t teaching me anything. I’m not saying that I regret going to school and I learned a lot at The Art Institute. But, if there were someone new, I’d say, maybe don’t take the traditional education first. You can learn similar things online or through apprenticeships and that kind of thing. And maybe take that and save yourself some money.

LEAH:            There’s a lot to say. I think the main thing is I feel like so many people, from my friends and my roommates or past roommates, some of them went to school just because they felt they had to. And it was just a last minute decision, like “I’m just going to go for photo”. I know that a lot of people don’t think it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of dang work! And, I think that it’s for the people who know that they want to do photography, or it just resonates with them. It’s just something that they’ve always wanted to do, they don’t necessarily know why, but you do know in the back of your mind. From my experience, I’ve learned so much from going to school, not necessarily from just the classes, but being around other people and getting to know the people and realizing what I’m doing. And, I am finally coming around that I know what I like in a photo. I know that sounds simple, but I know what I want to see when I do a photo, and I know what I’m looking for and I think sometimes people get really caught up in being told by teachers or just other students “you really should just do this”. They get so caught up in the technical, that it’s like you’re missing out on what photography is. It’s creative, it’s fun, it’s art. You’re limitless with what you can do and whenever you get caught up in “ooh, this light is a little bright here” it’s like you’re missing the whole point of what’s beautiful about the photo.

ALLAIRE:      I just remembered, when I was in school and I was getting into my final classes and after all of the curriculum changing, after those people who just choose something at the last minute and realized it’s a lot of dang work and they dropped out, you know, I ended up graduating with a solid class of really talented photographers. People would say, “what are the artists you admire most?” And I’m like “it’s the people I’m graduating with because they have really individual styles and they’ve got it down at this point”. That part was a really amazing, an awesome part of going through the school system and being around creative people all the time.

MARIAH:      Definitely. For the longest time, you come into a market where there’s tons of photographers and technology so advanced, everyone’s got a camera and I’ll admit I’m terrible with an iPhone camera, which is pretty embarrassing as a photographer. It’s a hard reality to learn that there’s always going to be people better than you. And, it’s hard because I’m just a competitive person. I want to be the best at what I can do and so I feel that if you’re going to go into a field like this, you have to know it’s hard. There are days you don’t want to pick up the camera because you look at someone else’s work and you wonder “why should I bother; they’re clearly more talented”. But, it’s not about that, it’s about what you enjoy about photography. Individual expression. And yes, you should have some technical knowledge behind that, but it’s an amazing form of self-expression. You’ll always have people out there saying you shouldn’t be doing this, but that’s why we do it, I guess. Because, it’s how we express ourselves. You have to remember that’s why you’re doing it, not because you’re fighting paycheck to paycheck or you feel like you should just go to school. You have to remember, “This is who I am.”

Are you going to stick with it?

LEAH:           (definitively) Yes.

MARIAH:      (definitively) Yes.

ALLAIRE:      (definitively) Yes. 

How grateful we are that they will. Their success and the universality of Boundaries inspires contemplation of our own restrictions. By recognizing the implicated imposed (and self-imposed) confines, we find new ways to appreciate what lies beyond our perimeters. Allaire, Leah & Mariah emotionally and thoughtfully pushed the barriers, giving us all a glimpse of what they are capable of. Their journey will continue… 


To view the exhibit and to learn more about the Young Photographers Alliance project Boundaries, please visit

To learn more about these photographers, please visit:

Allaire Bartel

Leah Schonauer

Mariah Wild