10 minutes with Alyson Aliano

Interviews with Photographers February 17, 2014 7:14 am

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I have wanted to be a photographer since I was fourteen years old. I started looking at a lot of war photography and photojournalism. I saw a show of Mary Ellen Mark and Annie Leibovitz in 9th grade at ICP with my High School Photography class and then my fate was sealed. My parents however, were not convinced, more like horrified. They had me apply to universities with strong art history programs, and communications. I thought I would get a degree in Art History and minor in Social Work.I first went to Boston University and studied Art History. However, most of my dorm was majoring in pre med and I thought I was a dunce. My friend encouraged me to apply to SVA, I was accepted, transferred in, and the rest is history…

Aside from Mary Ellen Mark and Annie Lebowitz, what other photographers and artists inspired you?

As a young photographer, in art school, while I was still learning photography, and of course, still love:

Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Larry Fink, Nan Goldin, Eugene Smith, Brenda Ann Keneally, Tina Barney, Marc Asnin, Helen Leavitt, Gary Winogrand, Sally Mann, August Sander, Henri Cartier Bresson, Carrie Mae Weems, Larry Sultan.. Right now, I am looking at a lot of Irving Penn’s portraits, Richard Avedons Portraits. I am inspired by many contemporary photographers such Melodie McDaniel, Tierney Gearon, Dan Winters.

Can you tell me a bit about your project Familiar Places? How long did you work on it?

I started Familiar Places in 2009, I was moving from NYC to LA, which was very unfamiliar. I had been shooting Real Mother for a few years before, and still shoot that body of work on and off. I really love family dynamics, my family’s, other people’s, the relationships between parents and children. While still in NYC, I started shooting familiar places and people; my grandfather and I while on vacation, some of the first self portraits I had ever shot. I was also aware at the time, he and I would not ever have that time together again. He was 94 when I moved away. When I visited home, I would shoot my family, when my mom and sister came to visit me in LA, I would shoot us here.I shot a bit of making a new home, traveling across the US, making a new home with boyfriend, Glenn, and what it is like to live somewhere completely new. Because I live somewhere I didn’t grow up, as I am sure a lot of people do, I am always traveling home to see my family and seeing it new. Now that I am going back to NY to teach for a few months, I would like to photograph Familiar Places a bit more, even though now I feel like LA is the Familiar Place and NY is the unfamiliar place. Does that make sense?

Makes sense. Its always interesting to me that no matter how well I know a place, having been away for some time and then returning can make you see the things you never noticed before. Are you working on any other personal projects?

I intend to shoot more of my mom while I am home.

My other personal project right now is to return to portraiture. I started out shooting a lot of Hasselblad portraiture, because I loved Diane Arbus’s work as well. And then when I switched to digital, I got away from that, so I am trying to bring a bit of formal, quiet, contemplative, but still quirky and playful, maybe a bit of both. I am drawn to both and admire and like to look at both types I work, so I like to make both types of work. Also, I got away from portraiture for a while. I love how it can be as complex as people are. I heard Judith joy Ross speak once at ICP. She said she was fascinated by people so she photographs people. If she was fascinated by trees, she would go in her backyard and photograph trees.

I love that line. If you could go back ten years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Thats a hard question, I have to think about that some more, I am always listening. I have been very fortunate to have very encouraging, generous people along the way. Photo Editor, Amy Feitelberg, and Maren Levinson, of Redeye Reps helped me edit my commercial portfolio, Renie Solis, whose work I admire, works closely with my better half, and was very kind in looking at my work as well.. I often say, photographers have difficulty editing their own work because it is very challenging to see your own work objectively. Feitelberg, she said, when editing your book, you can’t have too much of the same thing and have to pay attention to the pacing of the images. I wish I was a better editor sooner or knew how to edit my own commercial work sooner. I struggle with that. So, the advice I would give myself is, find people you trust to help you edit your work and ask them to look at your work and ask them to look at it, don’t be afraid of what they say, listen to what they respond to and don’t respond to, and let all that inform how you want to grow as an artist.

Alyson is based in LA and New York. See more of her work, here.


  • Eugene Brodsky

    Interesting as always!

  • Ally, great words very inspiring. I often struggle with what to visit in my personal work and where to put my energy, and why. Especially being so entrenched in the commercial world, so thanks for bringing up that helpful line of just go shoot what fascinates. I can’t believe I have known you since sva 1st sudio class ha. Looking forward to visiting the SVA class you teach.

    Kate, I remember the first photo assignment you ever gave me. You were so sweet and kind to me and everyone on set…a breath of fresh calming air.
    So cool you know Ally, are you addicted to hearing her laugh like I am?!

    • Jordan! Right — so long ago — that assignment — was that one the family (in Jersey?) Glad I was nice 😉 You da best.. Good luck in class! Thanks for your comment — xokate

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