OFF THE FLOOR: Episode 001 "Alice Shoots People"
In our first podcast episode of "Off the Floor" I had a chance to interview photographer, Alice Cannon, also known by her Instagram handle @AliceShootsPeople.
Her story center around her journey to creating her successful photography business, but it also reveals a story of a character, overcoming both external and internal criticism, to do something daring, artistic, and now successful.
Click the link below to listen to her interview
CL: Chris Lynam
AC: Alice Canon
CL: Once I saw your Instagram profile I saw that you take some breathtaking photos, and I feel like your work needs to be shared with more people, so it's really great to be able to chat with you.
AC: Well, thank you!
CL: Yeah you're welcome! So, give me the origin story of how things got start and how you came up with your great handle?
AC: Oh, thank you. The start of my business probably goes all the way back to when I was 14-years old. I did a class all through my elementary school and middle school years called "Gifted and Talented," and it was a class basically designed for students who weren't pushed in the normal classroom. I had a different curriculum in that class than most other classes, and it was supposed to really push us. We spent the year working on this project called "National History Day". It sounds totally random and nerdy but that's what I did: I studied a topic for the entire year, I competed with it, and at the end of the year we had 6 to 8 weeks left that we got to choose what we studied through the rest of the year. My friend in the class said "What if we do photography?" and by the end of the year I had completely fallen in love with it, so I started taking pictures.
So technically that's kind of beginning, but throughout the next couple of years I just used my family's camera. I don't know how much you know about cameras, but I'm pretty sure it was something that was a step below a Canon Rebel, it wasn't really good. Then this family I babysat for came over and said, "My father-in-law is a photographer and he gave us this camera and we don't know how to use it. Will you learn how to use it? You can hold on to it 'till you go to college, and when you go to college just teach us how to use it." I didn't know this at the time, but now I know it was a Canon 5D Mk.II that I had been given.
So I had no idea how nice the camera was, but I would go almost every day with my next door neighbors to have a photo shoot. We would go to the canal behind my house and just take pictures and then I would go home and edit them on iPhoto, which is not good at all - and also my pictures were not good. It's so funny; I just did everything trial and error, but when I graduated from high school I was really frustrated with my work. It was just not where I wanted it to be. I didn't like my editing, I didn't like my posing, I didn't like anything I did. I just knew that I wasn't where I wanted to be, and I got so frustrated that I stopped. For an entire year I didn't take pictures, I didn't really do anything with it. My camera staid in its box.
Then, after my first year of college, someone asked if I would do their engagement photos and I was really hesitant about but I decided I would do it. So we went and did their pictures, and once again I came home and I didn't like any of them. I thought they looked really bad, but I remembered how much I absolutely love photography. So in that moment I decided, in that moment, that I would do whatever it took to get where I wanted to be.
The next day I went to camera shop and talked with them for maybe two hours, 'cause I also didn't know anything about cameras, and they helped me buy a new camera with some lenses and really get started. I figured out how to use my camera, I learned how to use light room, and I also started thinking about changing my name on Instagram to "@aliceshootspeople". But I didn't think it would catch on. I thought people would think it was year, so I stewed on it for maybe a year before I changed my name. Finally, one day I just did it, I changed my name to @aliceshootspeople and it caught on.
CL: Did it just blow up at that point? Was that the trigger? Pardon the pun.
AC: That was a good one. I feel like once I changed my name I officially branded myself as a photographer. My Instagram was no longer just a personal Instagram, I was branded by the name @aliceshootspeople.
I was very surprised at people's reactions to it. Initially it was just my friends and family, who were like "Oh, that's so funny". And I'd be like "Okay, I'm glad that you understand it and you think it's funny." Then I just really started pushing my Instagram game: I started posting every day, I started shooting every day. Just looking at tutorial after tutorial on YouTube on how to use light room. I feel like it took a year until I felt like I had my feet on the ground and I started running with my business.
So it's difficult for me when people ask when I started my business. 'Cause technically I was 14, but really the moment when I understood what was going on and I had the equipment to do it was really more like 3 years ago.
CL: It sounds like, for a time, you fell victim to that internal critic. Do you feel like you lost anything during that time? How do you see that time now?
AC: Before I took that year off I really thought that I was so good. And now it's hilarious 'cause I'll go back and look at those pictures and they really are terrible. I knew that I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I also thought that I was pretty good. Right before that year happened some girls from my high school made a status on Facebook that was obviously pointed at me that said something like "We're sick of people becoming photographers that suck, but everyone's telling them they're so good. They really just need to stop." I knew that it was directed at me, and there was a whole thread of comments on there about how everyone was telling me that I was good but I wasn't good. It really tore me apart, so I just took the year off.
When I came back, took my camera out of the box and used it, I realized that I might not be very good but I'm going to do whatever I can to get better. It really drove my passion. It motivated me during those times, and even currently still. I remember back to that time, that this is my dream, that I tried my life without taking pictures, and I just like taking pictures so much more. It really motivates me to push through the times when I'm down on myself. So instead of getting frustrated with myself, I sit myself down and think "what do I need to do to get better" and it motivates me to put in the extra time and effort; reaching out to people and doing collaborations or marketing myself more. Just figuring out where my weak spots are and fixing them rather than just trying to dust them under the rug.
CL: Do you have a screenshot of that Facebook thread? Like the comments and all that?
AC: That's a good question. I wonder if I can find it.
CL: You should I find it and just frame it. I got fired up just listening to that.
AC: Yeah, I was bullied a lot in high school and I got diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder right after I graduated and came to college and my photography is what has saved me. Through all of my counseling and all of my really hard days, that is my escape. So in the end I am really grateful for the people who were mean to me 'cause it really motivated me to stick with it just to prove to people that I can do it.
CL: So many people see hardship and they just let that steer them in wrong direction. I think it's you're trying to use it for the right reasons.
AC: It's something I try to be really open with people about, my struggles. I've been there and I know what it's like. I feel like Utah is the most saturated place in the entire world with photographers, and I could be wrong, but I feel like a lot of the photography trends in the world are born in Utah. So the pressure here to perform well, to get clients, to stand out is immense. It's really easy to see how well someone else is doing and how well you're not doing. They are still girls that I talk to that are frustrated 'cause they're not booking, they don't like their work, and they just want to give up. And I'm like "No. I've been there, I've been in your shoes. Do not give up. I promise, if you put the time in you will get where you want to be." I can use my experience by saying, "I can tell you this because I've been there, not because I just want to motivate you to do it." I'm a living testament to the idea that if you put hard work in, and you really have the determination to get there, you will get there.
CL: So let's talk from the Utah photographer's standpoint: do you feel like it's just because of the beautiful landscape or is it some great photography courses at the University of Utah? Why do you feel like that's the hotbed for photography?
AC: I don't know the answer, but I do have an opinion on it. I feel like it's because the Utah world is just different than anywhere else in the world. I feel like other people might need pictures for Christmas, family pictures, and maybe birthdays and babies, but mostly it's for weddings. I believe Utah is the most saturated place for weddings in the world, because of the culture that is here, because of the Mormon community. It's not like the normal world where people meet and they date for years, they're engaged anywhere from one to five years, and then they get married. People here meet, get engaged, and get married within a couple months. There are weddings consistently happening here every single day, so the reason there are so many photographers is that it is so saturated with the weddings the market can handle that. There is a need for 100 photographers every Saturday between Salt Lake and Provo.
Most people here get married at the temples, and there's about 8 temples between Salt Lake and Payson, which is about an hour's drive. Salt Lake can get up to 80 weddings a day, and the Provo City Center can up to maybe 50. 80 weddings in one location, and there are 8 of these locations, so it's really hundreds and hundreds of weddings going on. That's just counting the temples, not even other venues where weddings can be taking place. It's just so saturated with weddings that it's necessary to have so many photographers here, and I feel like the Mormon community looks to find the best deal possible, so, if your aunt or your friend can take pictures, people would rather pay someone $200 than pay an established photographer that you'd have to pay thousands of dollars for.
CL: That makes total sense. I just didn't realize the dating-to-married window was so short.
AC: Yeah, I've photographed couples who had met the end of November and were getting married at the beginning of February. And that's not an uncommon thing. I feel like the average time is people meet, get engaged, and are married all within a year.
CL: Without naming any names, do you have any experiences about wedding dances you'd like to share? Something from both ends of the 'spectrum.'
AC: The first one I'll name 'cause it's my brother-in-law. The first wedding dance I actually witnessed was at my sister's wedding when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, and it was hilarious. He and his friends got together and did a choreographed dance and surprised my sister with it, and it was hilarious. His family still watches it regularly.
CL: What did they dance to?
AC: It's on YouTube, let me look it up. It was NSync song I think. No wait they danced to "The One" by The Backstreet Boys, that's it. I can get you that link.
That was the first one I had seen, but since then choreographed dances. The most common would be the brides with their dads. The one I'm thinking of right now, the one that sticks out the most to me, was a wedding I did 2 years ago. It was the cutest thing. They started doing their slow dance, they're really emotional, and then all of a sudden the song changed and they had this full-on choreographed dance and it was absolutely hilarious. I loved it; it was so cute. Their personalities really came out during the dance.
I've seen a couple of choreographed dances between the bride and groom. They'll start with a slow song and then they'll break out into a choreographed dance that's just more fun. I feel like when people do stuff like that it entertains people, and it spices things up.
The other thing with Utah weddings is that they're all very cookie-cutter. They have a reception where they have a line. I don't know if people outside of Utah know what a "line" is. The bride and groom literally stand in one spot and the bride's parents are standing by her and the groom's parents are standing by him. People walk in and come through the line to greet the bride and groom and their parents, and then they get the food and sit down, and then they'll leave. Then at the end of the line, which can be anywhere from an hour and a half to 2 hours, then they go do their first dance, they cut the cake, they the bouquet toss, the garter toss, and sometimes they'll do a group dance. They'll turn on the music and other people can dance, and a lot of the times they don't. It's pretty cookie cutter with everything that happens at Utah weddings, so when you come to a Mormon reception and they do something like a choreographed dance it's way out of the ordinary, it's super entertaining, and it gets the crowd involved.
CL: We talk about pretty much the same thing to couples that come in. It's a way to differentiate your wedding. If you're going to spend so much money on a photographer and a videographer and then you just sway to a Boyz II Men song for 5 minutes that's not going to create the best photos or video.
AC: I 100% agree. You can talk to pretty much any photographer or any videographer, and receptions that are super cookie-cutter are not fun to be a part of. They all look the same: the videos will be the same, the pictures will be the same. It's when people do things that are different and spice it up that it makes our job more fun, but also gives them more unique photos and video to help their day stand out more than anyone else.
CL: Speaking of doing something different. From an engagement photo standpoint, are you having people come in as a blank slate or do they come in with a point of view? How often are you trying to encourage to do something more like your work?
AC: I do have a range of people coming in from people who know exactly what they want to some people not knowing anything. I hate shooting in places that I feel like everyone else photographs. I will sit down and say "Okay, with this day I'm going to do nothing but drive around and find a new location." I'll write down ten new locations and I'll take pictures of them so that when I meet with my couples I will first ask "Do you have somewhere specific in mind?" They usually say no, so my next question is, "What do you want in your background? Do you want a beach look, do you want mountains, do you want pines or aspen, or do you want snow?" I run them through all the questions, and we narrow it down to kind of what they want and then I show them all of the locations. If they pick a spot that's super popular I'll try and persuade them to go a different direction, but if they won't really budge then we go there. I always try and push myself with every photo shoot to shoot in location I haven't and in a pose I've never done before, so that I'm always pushing myself and they're always getting something that they've never seen before.
CL: Now we like to do rapid-fire questions. These'll just be random questions just for fun. So, what's some geeky collection or closet nerd thing, or something you just did as a kid that not many people know about you?
AC: I'm always twisting my hair around my finger. Anyone who spends time with me will notice that I'm always playing with my hair. From the time my hair grew in as a child I've been touching my hair. Even through this whole interview. I can tie knots in my hair with one finger.
CL: If you could do a photo shoot with one celebrity, who would it be and why?
AC: I actually do photograph this famous family in California every couple of months and they're a dream. They're so fun to work with, and they're super easy 'cause they know what they're doing. I honestly would just want to keep shooting them.
CL: Can you think of any movie that, every time you watch it, it prompts an emotional response?
AC: My absolute favorite movie in the whole world is Heavyweights. It's this old Disney movie that I don't think a lot of people know about and I don't think they play on the Disney Channel any more because it's not the greatest movie. It's about these fat kids who go to fat camp and it's absolutely hilarious and it makes me laugh every time. I hate watching any movie more than once, and I've seen that one over 50 times easily.
CL: Final thought. If you could say anything to someone like you and was in that time when you got really discouraged, what would you say?
AC: I would first try to help them remember why they're really passionate about it, so hopefully they can recognize that that flame is still in them. Also, not to compare themselves to others, but to look to others that inspire them so that you're always working towards a goal. For example I'd find a photographer and think "I want to achieve that look" and as soon as I achieved it I would find a different one that I liked even more and work towards that goal. Instead of sitting and comparing yourself, finding out what you're not, find out what you are and what you hope to be then work to become that person you hope to be.
CL: What's the best way for people to get in touch with you for people who may want to work with you?
AC: The best way to get in touch with me is by email and it's super easy because it's just firstname.lastname@example.org
CL: So, I actually totally forgot to ask, what's your last name?
AC: I actually just got married, so my maiden name is Canon, ironically enough, so I'm really having a hard time parting with it.
CL: And your new married is Nikon? (laughs)
AC: (laughs) Right, but no, it's Parkinson. My name is Alice Parkinson, but on Instagram I'll probably keep it as Alice Canon cause that's what people know me as.
CL: If you just got married, did you guys do a wedding dance?
AC: We actually did not do a wedding dance because I'm an extreme introvert and I hate being the center of attention. I didn't even want a reception at all. We did the traditional first dance: dance with his dad, dance with his mom. We didn't do necessarily anything out of the ordinary as far as the structure, but we decided to make our decorations different than anything we've seen before.
CL: Maybe that's something we could set up for an anniversary party in the future.
Want to catch more of Alice Cannon's work? Make sure you check out her website www.aliceshootspeople.com.
Want to listen to more episodes of Off the Floor? Make sure to check out https://soundcloud.com/off-the-floor-podcast for more interesting interviews and insights from outside the world of dancing, but with connections to your hobby.
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