Allison and I met in 2013 on Tumblr, through a series of re-blogs and private messages. We quickly moved our friendship from online to an old-fashioned pen pal-ship. We’ve been sending each other letters and photos, keeping up and growing up with each other via the postal service. We told each other stories of our teenage experiences, first concerts, boyfriends, travel and our irl friends. Our artwork developed simultaneously, Allison through photography and my own through illustration.
In August of 2017 we met for the first time in Los Angeles, California. I was visiting a boyfriend at the time, and Allison just happened to be in town at the same time. We got brunch together, catching up and reminiscing together about our time growing up with each other via the many, many letters sent over the years.
Allison is now an established photographer at the age of 19, having exhibited work in several shows around the USA. What follows is an exclusive interview between two friends and artists.
Malaika Astorga for Pink Things: Let’s start with the basics, who are you and where are you from?
Allison Barr: My name is Allison Barr and I’m from Portland Oregon.
Pink Things: How did you first get into photography?
Allison Barr: When I was 15, my friends and I had this really fun movie marathon that I remember not wanting to leave. They introduced to me the idea that movies were art, and I began to fall in love with them after that. I told my aunt about how I excited I was and she gave me her old camera so I could start making my own movies. The camera didn’t have the ability to record though, so I had to stick to taking photos. I eventually became obsessed with doing that instead.
Pink Things: How do you think your work and passion for photography has evolved? What has impacted this evolution?
Allison Barr: I think my passion for photography started really growing because it was the first hobby I ever tried that I loved. I was that kid that was in every club at one point, but never stuck with it. I always knew I loved the arts, but never thought I could be an artist because I couldn’t paint or draw. I thought that’s what art was. But I could finally channel all the love I had in me into something tangible, and it felt amazing. I think my passion and dedication is what helps my art constantly grow.
Pink Things: Talk to me a little bit about your chosen medium. Why sometimes film? Why sometimes digital? What do these mean to you conceptually?
Allison Barr: I use a combination of film and digital photography. One of my photography goals is to make it very reflective of real teen life. I have this obsession with coming-of-age stories that are raw. I think this comes from the lack of “art kid” representation I had when I felt like the most awkward, bizarre creature in my high school. I think photos on film visually add a whole other dimension that I can’t really describe. They’re just so /real/. I casually shoot a lot of film when I’m with my friends, but it’s a goal of mine to start doing more staged film photoshoots this year! In all honesty, I just admire purely film photographers so much because it’s a very risk-taking process!
Pink Things: What’s your relationship with artwork online?
Allison Barr: I love checking my Instagram feed at the end of the day. It’s like a treat. It makes me so happy to see new art and to get inspired. I love that Instagram has become a place for people to pursue their business and express themselves. I think it’s a great tool.
Pink Things: Do you think that social media platforms can be equally as beneficial as irl, traditional ways of going about promoting your work?
Allison Barr: I’m really all for old fashioned, traditional contact. If I had to choose one or the other, I really think I would only promote my art in person, but we’re fortunate to live in a world where both are possible. For me personally, social media has been more of a platform, because Portland doesn’t have as big of a physical art scene. We’re really big on connecting on Instagram, which has helped me grow a lot. I think both are really beneficial for every artist, it just depends on where and who you are.
Pink Things: Can you talk about you experiences creating artwork as a woman and how that might influence those who view it?
Allison Barr: Wow, I really had to think about this one. Recently, I read an article about the Time’s Up Movement, and I looked a long time for the exact quote, but I couldn’t find it. It was either Kiera Knightly or Natalie Portman, and they said something along the lines of, “I’ve never met a woman who didn’t have so many layers and wasn’t so beautifully fucked up, so why are there no stories of women like that being told?” In my art, I’ve always tried to highlight the voices of femmes that otherwise go unheard. If I wasn’t a woman who wasn’t flawed and had insecurities and a story to tell, I wouldn’t be able to relate to the subjects I shoot. It wouldn’t be my space. I hope my, mostly femme, audience can relate and feel empowered by the subjects I choose to capture.
Pink Things: Tell us about the inspiration for this series. Why did you make it?
Allison Barr: I’ve always had a fascination with bedrooms. This might sound really creepy, but ever since I was a kid, I was always intrigued with seeing a new friend’s room when I went to their house for the first time. There’s so much personality in someone’s room, and you learn so much about them. Shooting in a subject’s bedroom just elaborats on the story they’re telling.
Pink Things: What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?
Allison Barr: I really hope my work is a positive experience for people. I constantly want to remind my viewers that there’s beauty in everything and everyone in the world.
Pink Things: Where do you find your inspiration in general? Does it come from the same place when you’re creating a personal project versus for a magazine or curated audience?
Allison Barr: I find a lot of inspiration from old movies or people I follow on Instagram. Lately, I’ve had many people come to with me ideas to collaborate on, which I’ve been focusing a lot on producing—it’s another way of telling someone’s story. What I’m working on right now is to be more vulnerable with my art. For both recent magazine features and my personal projects, I just try to think of a struggle and how I would visualize that. It’s a way of coping. For example, I’m working on a project right now with a friend who is struggling a lot with their gender, and we’re submitting a project to a magazine whose theme is “resisting”. We’re working on ways to visualize and express their ongoing discomfort with this topic. I’m also personally working on a project to express my struggle with feeling so much all the time, that’s not for a magazine. Both of these examples are about expressing emotions that will hopefully become a safe space for others to relate to.
Pink Things: Who do you find the most influential to your work right now?
Allison Barr: I’m always inspired by the ultimate mom of photography, Petra Collins. I’ve also been really inspired by the soft tones and exploration of female sexuality in Ashley Armitage’s work lately.
Pink Things: Given that a lot of your work is in pastel tones, what does pink mean to you?
Allison Barr: Honestly, my love for pastel tones comes from when I first started getting into film. Wes Anderson was the first director I ever loved, and a lot of my inspiration is from him and his director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman. Light tones complement my work the most, because I want my work to be magical and uplifting. Pink has just always been the go-to for me. Not only am I attracted to it the most, but it’s a representation for the delicacy and empowerment in femininity.
Pink Things: How do you think about pink in the context of your work?
Allison Barr: I think of pink as “a representation for the delicacy and empowerment in femininity.” It just fits what I want to express most.
Pink Things: In regard to the future, where do you see yourself creating work ideally? What’s next for you?
Allison Barr: Right now, my friend and I are working on curating a gallery of those who don’t normally get their art shown anywhere. I’m working on being apart of more gallery shows, and hopefully print jobs this year!
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.
Photos courtesy of Allison Barr.
Allison Barr is a Portland-based photographer.