Ann He

Tell us about yourself. 
I’m an 18 year old from Dallas, Texas. I got into fashion photography almost accidentally. I was 15 at the time and had all this imagery, all these storylines in my head. Getting involved in mutually beneficial collaborations with aspiring models and makeup artists was the perfect way to effectualize those ideas. And then I found myself in love with the excitement of fashion shoots.

What is beauty to you and how do you define beauty?
Something is beautiful when it moves you. The power of an image to transport you whether it be escapism, fantasy, nostalgia, or brutal confrontation with reality.

What is the story behind your first camera?
It was gift from my parents—a Canon Rebel XTi, the classic gateway amateur SLR. I think the first camera I really fell in love with, though, was a Rebel 2000 I snagged off eBay for 20 bucks. It was one of those battery powered 35-mm film cameras popular in the late-90s early-00s, but the mount took the same lens as my digital camera. I basically wore it like a necklace for the good sixteen months I refused to touch digital equipment. It was a full-frame alternative to my 1.6 crop digital sensor, and discovering the multiple exposure capability was like man chancing on fire. I have boxes and boxes of New York City photos and summertime snapshots spawned from that camera.

What role does nature and your environment play on your work? Where have been some locations that truly inspired you?
About environment, it’s the novelty that’s inspiring. For example, seeing the Pacific west coast for the first time. During my L.A. trip a couple years back, I drove down to Malibu and we hiked to the beach before daybreak. There was a mountain, verdant with burrow’s tail and succulent cacti, at my back, icy water lapping my toes, and California sunrise to the east. As a photographer, many things catch your eye: melting ice, an open drawer, surfboards lined up.

What inspires you to click your shutter and capture an image?
Outside of planned shoots, I occasionally get into these moods where everything in front of me suddenly becomes very…cinematic. And before I know it I’m snapping away before the moment disappears. I’m not really sure what prompts it.

You shot for America’s Next Top Model and were even in one episode. Tell us about that experience.
November of 2011, I flew to L.A. to shoot the Hello Kitty themed episode for Cycle 18 of ANTM. It was like a little glimpse into the machinery of industry; there were so many people performing so many little tasks. You had the lighting guy, and the set guys, art direction, the designers (who’d created some wonderfully kitschy pieces—lunch box skirts and pez bras and all), the people who put the models in the designs, makeup, hair, etc etc etc. It was very strange for me, because I’d always done everything (everything related to set and art direction, at least) myself. And I really enjoy that, you know? Figuring out the technical subtleties of light painting or deducing a way to emulate that David Bellemere-esque film glow or pulling off the curtain-of-glitter-fairy-shadow effect in the photo with the girl and book. I suddenly become very engineer-minded; the pictures in my head become problems to solve, things to effectuate from mind to reality—and it’s a very rewarding process.

What are some of your favorite photographs? Why?
1. This image was from the Jazz Age shoot. The left side of the light halo looked really cool so I mirrored it in post and wound up with a neat monkey-crown. It was one of those happy accidents—I don’t think I’d planned for the shot to turn out any particular way. I just messed around with a flashlight.
2. Two summers ago Lauren Withrow and I planned a Pan’s Labyrinth inspired shoot; this is the only image that’s been released from it. We trekked across waist-high grass to an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. I remember this particular room was home to seven wasp nests. We spent a good three or four hours up there, holding our breaths, deathly still, every time a wasp would graze past our cheeks.
3. I was really bored one afternoon so I chalked a heart onto my driveway. Realizing it would make a cool photo, I grabbed the roof ladder, strapped my camera to the top, and took a few selfies. Three years later in photo class, searching desperately for a photo with lots of black to use for a mordancage, I pull out this negative. This is probably one of the photos I’ve put the most effort in; I remember endless test strips, filters, making little cardboard contraptions to dodge with in the darkroom.
4. This was the first time I shot with someone from Model Mayhem slash had-a-legitimate-fashion-shoot-where-things-were-actually-discussed-and-planned-out. I was hilariously nervous and self-conscious but Teresa made the shoot so much fun. I wasn’t sure if fashion photography was something I’d like, but that experience convinced me

As a photographer who regularly works with models and stylists, how has your perception of beauty evolved?
I actually just read an essay yesterday called “Afternoon of the Sex Children” which discussed how youth sexualization went hand in hand with liberalization and commercialization. How once sex merged into the public sphere industry didn’t blink twice to seize what was natural and chop it up, repackage, and spoon feed back with a side of prescriptions. The fashion industry is probably perpetrator number one. I’m talking about how 35-24-35, thigh gaps, and youth have become buzz words; a laundry list of things-you-must-possess-to-be-beautiful-and-desired. Though I don’t think most people take those standards seriously, we can’t help that the Vogue-propagated feminine standard has settled like white noise in the background of our conscious. That is, working with models and stylists has probably inclined me to see beauty in young, waif-like girls much more readily than any other physical archetype. But that kind of beauty is no more than an archetype; it does not encompass all that is beautiful.

What is your opinion on nudity in photography? Do you think the human body is most beautiful clothed or bare?

Thus far I haven’t shot any nudes, but some of my favorite works—those of Ryan McGinley and Sally Mann, are nudes. But they’re not nudes in the sense that the human body is the focus of the piece. Both McGinley’s surreal road-trip photos and Mann’s family portraits are interactions of human and landscape. The absence of clothing is more a quittance of something artificial and distracting from that interaction.

You’re very young, and yet you’ve accomplished so much –shooting for Vogue Girl Korea, DisFunkshion Magazine, etc. What have been some of the most memorable moments in your career so far?
The most memorable *career*moments have been the features on online platforms like Ben Trovato Blog and Fashion Gone Rogue. So much of what I’ve done has roots in the internet, and the audience for photographers like myself is virtual. It’s also just really cool being plugged by a website you’ve always looked at for inspiration.

What role does color play in your work?
I’m a huge fan of vivid hues. Looking back I realize that I tend to juxtapose (complementary or near-complementary) colors in my images as a way to create contrast and balance.

Digital or film? Why?
Classic. I think I just go through sinusoidal phases of preferring one orthe other. Film appeals to romantics—there’s just something in the way light falls on the negative that’s very distinct from anything you’d get digitally, even when comparing digital and analog pictures using the same lens and sensor size. (Trust me, I’ve trialed between the Mark II and the Rebel 2000.) With film you don’t really have to do much post-processing at all to get an image that is dynamic in range, colored correctly, and differentiates depth between foreground and back. Plus there’s the excitement of not knowing exactly what you’ll get. (I’m also fascinated by how the optics of analog systems other than 35mm, like medium and large format, create different qualities of depth of field and dynamic range, and how processes like collodion can impart a signature balmy luminescence.) Digital is great for experimentation and perfecting, since you’re presented with a real-time feedback loop. I don’t think I could have pulled off the lightpainting shoots otherwise.

Congratulations on being accepted to MIT! How do you intend to balance your artist lifestyle with your academic (and more mathematics-heavy) coursework in the coming years?
Thanks! I’ll be attending Stanford in the fall. Not completely sure at the moment, but I do plan to take some photography classes there to learn large format technique and color darkroom printing. I also want to turn my lens to conceptual and documentary work and hopefully take advantage of the study abroad opportunities.

In addition to photography, what other career paths have you considered pursuing?

So I thought for the longest time I’d become a doctor but I’m not so sure anymore. Imagine a three-circle Venn diagram filled respectively: neuropsychiatry, artificial intelligence, autism. I want to do something in the intersection.

You were selected as one of five finalists of the 2011 Seventeen Magazine “Pretty Amazing” contest. How did you get involved with the contest?
As a post-script to an email asking permission to print one of my photos in an earlier issue, one of the editors suggested that I enter the contest.

How was the experience with “Pretty Amazing“? What were the greatest lessons you’ve taken away from the experience?
Being around four other girls who’d pursued what they were passionate about and succeeded to a substantial degree was very encouraging and energizing in general. I guess just the message of focusing on what’s important and forgetting about the petty things.

Most of your models and subjects tend to be girls. Why do you find yourself drawn to the female form?

A lot of it is the nature of most of my work, fashion photography. The industry tends to be dominated by girls, since, well, the industry sells mainly to girls. I just haven’t been afforded the opportunity to photograph boys as much.

In addition to photography, you wrote three blog posts for Huffington Post. Why did you decide to take on the role of columnist? What inspired you to write about the topics you selected, ranging from politics and grades, to running?
I actually have to thank photography for landing me that opportunity! As I’ve mentioned, and as anyone who’s reading this has probably discerned, I really enjoy rambling. Article-writing is simply structured rambling. They told me to write about “anything and everything,” so I touched on whatever was pressing or important to me at the time.

Tell us about the inspiration behind “Jazz Age“.
I’ve been obsessed with Paolo Roversi’s work for as long as I’ve had a camera in my hand — especially his large-format Polaroid era. I read somewhere that he shot those in near-total darkness with some flashlights so I wanted to try the technique out.

Who are the subjects in your photographs?

Friends and agency models.

Who and what inspire you?

Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami, Eminem, Sally Mann, Regina Spektor, David Foster Wallace, Noam Chomsky, Andrea Gibson, Hayao Miyazaki.

What songs are on your personal playlist?
Reclusion / Anberlin
At Home / Crystal Fighters
Symphony in H / Eminem
Shake That / Eminem
Tell Me a Lie / The Fratellis
Clase de Amor / Juanes
Ni**as in Paris / Kanye West & Jay-Z
Lips Like Morphine / Kill Hannah
Goldie / A$AP Rocky
Lazy Eye / Silversun Pickups
I’ve Been Delivered / The Wallflowers
We Looked Like Giants / Death Cab for Cutie
Mad World / Donnie Darko
…But Home is Nowhere / AFI
Stars / The xx
Between the Bars / Elliott Smith

What are three things most people don’t know about you?

I have:
1. A very erratic eating schedule.
2. An unhealthy fascination with the Byronic hero archetype.
3. And terrible balance.


For more of Ann’s photos, check out her website.