Interview with photographer Ama Lea
from Bootleg Magazine Dec 2007
1. For photo sessions, do you have creative control? Do you go in with a distinct idea or do models create alongside? Are you open to others contributing? Honestly, I'm kind of a dictator, ha ha. I like to have control over concepts and art direction as much as possible but if I can't, I work around it.
2. How much of your work is hired gun and how much is you being creative outside of work? Most of my work nowadays is stuff I'm hired for but I've been lucky to work with great companies that let me be creative such as Pin Up Girl Clothing who followed me to the desert for an entire day and let me pay Russ Meyers or Morgana Femme Couture who let me shoot their new line with a 57 Hearse. I've also started my own Magazine which gives me a great outlet for what I want to do!
3. After finishing school, how quickly were you able to find work? Who did you work with first? I'm actually still in school at Brooks Institute of Photography here in Cali but I work quite regularly. It's so strange. I was out there every day trying to assist or make connections and I was getting really frustrated. Then about six months ago everyone started knocking down my door! It's been pretty awesome since then. My first real shoot was with a band called Bane, a well known hardcore band out of Boston. I was telling them how I wanted to drop out of college to become a photographer and needed a kick start so they let me take promo shots.
4. Where did the interest in photography begin? You said you've been shooting for 4 years. Judging by your work you've come along fast. A few weeks before I graduated high school I was goofing around with my friend Kate and we took my grandfather's old Pentax K1000 and did this silly Goth cemetery shoot. I didn't even know how to load the film. After the first roll came back I was hooked. I already had a full scholarship to go to school for Music Theatre so I had to stick that out but I was just kind of snapping and learning…using all my friends as models and shooting bands at hardcore shows. I really got serious after a bad break up and I knew I had to do something for me! So I moved away from the town where I grew up in Maine and moved to Boston to attend photo school. Since then I graduated and moved to Cali to get my Masters at Brooks.
5. In much of your work there's a bridge between the past and modern. Do you feel it's a fresh take on the past or merely a continuation of something timeless? I'm inspired by so many things! I love the mood and aesthetic of the vintage pin up girl but I'm also truly inspired by people like David Lachapelle who brings so much vibrancy and storytelling to his images. I try to blend these influences together as much as possible. I don't think I can really take credit for that. I work with some AMAZING women and all of them have such great personalities that the second they step in front of my camera it's completely evident.
7. Do you shoot more color than black and white? Do you find one harder than the other in terms of lighting or composition? I definitely shoot more color but I have a place in my heart for Black and white. Color is harder as far as composition. I take a color wheel with me everywhere to plan my shoots! I am a stickler for color schemes. With Black and white I concentrate more on lighting and creating atmosphere… and driving make up artists crazy as make up reacts differently in black and white.
8. Looking at film titles on your page there's a thread of stylized period films by great photographers - Storaro's Dick Tracy as well as Sin City, Amelie and Pleasantville. Many of what you've listed are stylized and period, what do you take away from film that enriches your own work? It's ambience and atmosphere...It's the feeling you get when you see that, and that is the feeling I try to capture. All of those movies have heavily influenced all of my work. From lighting, concept, and color pallets. For Dick Tracy it's all the colors and the uses of colors, for Sin City its lighting and attitude, from Amelie its ambience and quirkiness, and from Pleasantville it's probably the lighting and the styling. I think another huge influence is pretty much anything Quentin Tarintino has been a part of. The mood, colors, lighting. Everything is amazing!
9. Have you ever done any work for benefits? I have worked for PETA and several other non profit Animal Rights groups. This is something I strongly support.
10. You photograph women both beautifully and strong. What do you think makes women beautiful and strong when not in images? Confidence is the most beautiful and strong trait a woman can have.
11. What are you attending school for currently? I am currently attending school for advertising photography. I'm done in 4 Months. Then I think I want to try my hand at cinematography… I've always dreamed of making movies.
12. How do you prefer to photograph women? In your work there's a combination of playfulness and tough exterior. In the final result, what do you think makes them sexy and strong? I prefer to shoot women in a way that makes them feel comfortable. If they are oozing with sex appeal I like to let that show, if they are a total man eating vixen I like to show that too. Even though they are essentially taking on a role, wearing costumes and working with make up artists I try to bring a little bit of them out in every shoot.
13. Creatively, how do your ideas come together? Are people always willing to join in for joy of the work? What's a typical day entail? I surround myself with creative people. My best friend Kat Kartel, who is a model as well, is one of the most supportive people in my life. Even if I'm not shooting her she's right there with me carrying lights, painting sets, you name it. She really rocks! A typical day is pretty crazy. We start at around 8 am with packing the car usually by 10 we're at the location building, the set or cleaning cars, doing make up, setting up lights. We usually finish shooting by 5 pm and of course the a Denny's run. After that its home by 11 pm to Photoshop the images from the day and get everything ready to start over again. There's barely time to catch your breath!
14. In an age where digital is widespread, how often do you use film? Do you ever use old equipment? Digital is such a nasty tool, necessary, but still a very sad thing. So many great films, papers, and cameras have been discontinued because too many people have found the convenience of digital superior to the quality of film. I'm a huge fan of 4x5 cameras which are considered somewhat obsolete. I love the size of the negative and the quality is just unmatchable even by these high tech modern cameras. Nothing beats a large format negative.
15. What is it about women and cars that are so appealing? There's something about it! You can take it back to basic psychology. What are the main drives in life? Sex and Death. Fast cars and even faster women.
16. In your images there's almost always an explosion of color, an amplification of the moment captured in the image. What do you feel the strength of color in a photograph brings to the subject? Color defines my work. I'm not one of those people who makes things bright for shock factor but more to make statements and to emphasize what the concept is trying to convey.
18. If you go back in time, who would like the opportunity to photograph and in what setting? There's much nostalgia to your work, what period of history do you find the most interesting? That's such a hard question! I love stuff about so many time periods! I would have to say the mid to late 40s. There is something that's so romantic about that time period. If I could photograph anyone it would have to be Audrey Hepburn. Not only was she beautiful but so elegant, a true lady. I would love to be the one who got to shoot her Breakfast at Tiffany's images.
19. What camera do you shoot with the most? For those just beginning in photography what advice would hand out? I shoot with a Canon 5d most of the time as far as digital goes. I also shoot with a Mamiya medium format and I'm a big fan of the Holga. My biggest advice is stay true to what you want to do and be proud of what you create. Don't try to be like anyone else. Be yourself and never get an ego, once you start to think you're better than everyone else you'll stop growing and progressing. Just work hard and don't forget that you're doing this because it's something you love, not something you have to do!