Finding Focus

People feel at ease when Allister Ann photographs them. Proud to be called a Witch, Ann cultivates connection, not only with her subject but also with her surroundings. A third eye, her camera has allowed her to explore a world outside her comfort zone and worlds within those who find themselves in her focus — from Chelsea Wolfe to Adele. Today, Ann talks to Sabat about the magic that exists in capturing moments that otherwise would be lost, and how art helped her reconnect with her own powers.

Image by Allister Ann

Estefanía Pérez: You’ve said in other interviews that it was the consumerism aspect of fashion that led you to pursue a different dream, is this aspect less influential when it comes to photography?


Allister Ann: I studied fashion design when I was 18. A year later I had not only discovered the reality of the industry, but saw its limitations, and that my interests were changing dramatically as an artist. I wanted to explore different types of art media. I was drawn to photography. I didn’t think of it as a career choice, but simply as a way of fulfilling my need to express myself artistically. I’ve always said if you can make a living at it, that’s a bonus, but never a necessity. You do it because you have to.


EP: How much of yourself can be seen in your photos?


AA: One thing I love about my work is meeting new people. Taking the time to get to know them, not only to make them comfortable, but to hopefully to make a connection. I’m not holding a camera to their face, I’m making eye contact with them, and in that, I hope that I can show a bit of insight as to who they are, and what they’re feeling at that very moment. I’d like to say that I’m not just observing, but interacting with them, and the camera just happens to capture that. If the viewer of the photograph gets a sense of who that person is, then they’re sharing my experience.

Image by Allister Ann

EP: You were born in Phoenix, grew up in Denver, moved to L.A. to study, moved to Nashville, then back to L.A.… do your surroundings influence your art?


AA: Yes, everything you’re surrounded by plays a part. I recently moved to a new home in L.A. and I already feel like I’m seeing the city with a fresh pair of eyes. I guess because I see things a little differently; I’m just as fascinated by how the sunlight plays on the floor in the morning as the new view of the city skyline or the intense color of a persimmon hanging from a tree.


EP: Does it influence you?


AA: Environment affects me tremendously. With this recent move I have recognized how much difference surroundings can make. I felt an energy shift the minute I stepped through that door. There was a strong feeling of need to protect that space and avoid bringing in any negativity. Sometimes we have to let go and clear a path for the positive to come in. In doing that, I found a sense of well-being that was missing before and it’s reflected in my personal life as well as my work.


EP: Diane Arbus said “photograph the things that you’re afraid of” — What are you afraid of?


AA: I don’t take the quote literally, but it says to me: constantly challenge yourself, pushing your limits so that ultimately you discover that the only boundaries are the ones you’ve created for yourself. Nothing is more boring or futile than staying within your comfort zone, so don’t be afraid to step out of it. Feels more like a life lesson that my camera can carry forth.


EP: On your study L’Espace you go back to painting and you experiment using your body as a form of expression — Do you think there’s power in connecting to yourself in this way?


AA: Yes, definitely. We all find ourselves in situations where we feel we’ve maybe lost control. I was in the midst of a heartbreak, consumed with self pity and sadness. I found I was better able to release my feelings physically within my art, rather than putting it into words. I had previously gone through thyroid cancer and was still feeling vulnerable, desiring to be comfortable in my own skin once again. I needed to reconfigure quite a bit at that time within myself, and for me, unleashing unwanted emotion with art helped immensely and gave me back my power.

Image by Allister Ann

EP: Is there magic in being the artist and the piece of art?


AA: That was the first time I truly felt that connection between the two. Using a tool to create art is one thing, but becoming the tool that initiates and participates is a unique experience. There is a conjuring of sorts. I would love to translate that feeling into my photography.


EP: Do you believe in magic?


AA: Very much so. I grew up in a household of stories that went back to my great grandmother. I was told only that the women on my mother’s side had “a gift”. I went through surgery and after that it honestly seemed that all hell broke loose within me. I went to doctor after doctor trying to get a medical explanation of what I was experiencing. I met a man who sparked a desire to explore magick, and long story short, was recently told that I was an Empath. Having an explanation for the last two years set aside,what was so crazy was this not only gave me an understanding of myself, but clarified all those stories I heard growing up. It wasn’t just identifying who I was, but where I came from, and how it had all come full circle. Magic? Yes.


EP: What does magic mean to you?


AA: A belief that there is so much more than what we could possibly imagine, and if we truly believe, it can bring what we consider to be the unobtainable within our reach. Evocation — the act of conjuring or recalling a feeling, memory or image to the conscious mind. I’d like to think that my camera relates to that in some small way.


Image by Allister Ann

EP: What does the word Witch bring to your mind?


AA: It’s something I’ve been called and that I take as the highest of compliments. I feel it represents strength rather than power. Someone who is conjoined with nature. Having respect and compassion for every living thing that surrounds us. One who believes and practices magic and uses it for the greater good.


EP: Some people think you steal a piece of someone’s soul when you photograph them — how do your feel about this?


AA: When I photograph someone, I’d like to believe I’m not taking anything from them — I consider it to be a gift. Giving them back a moment in their life that would otherwise be lost forever.


Originally published on Sabat Magazine at https://medium.sabatmagazine.com/finding-focus-4fb9d82f9b00