Filmmaker and photographer ALEXA KING captures the best America has to offer and presents it to us all on a silver screen platter. Alexa’s body of work pays faithful homage to the cinema that has shaped her vision, boldly bringing each of her characters to life through art.
Tell us a little about yourself …
Okay, I’m 25. I live in Nashville, Tennessee. I grew up in Maryland and I just finished a feature film, Fishbowl, with my brother and filmmaking partner Stephen, in our hometown. Let’s see, I absolutely love old films, the wild west, and anything beautiful with character. When I shoot, I have must haves, Elvis, Patsy Cline, or Chris Isaak playing at all times, and cigarettes for mood.
How did your route into photography start?
I went to NYU Tisch for film, but actually hated any camera work which is ironic. Eventually I dropped out and moved to work in film in the prop department in New Orleans. But about 5 years in, I got injured on the job. To pass the time I started taking photos of strangers and friends. Very quickly I became obsessed and would do a shoot every weekend while holding down a job on a CBS TV show during the week days. I eventually packed up my bags, quit the show, and moved to Nashville to shoot full time and am very happy doing so.
Your photography looks heavily cinematic in places – are films and narratives something that you try to emulate, or do you prefer to employ a more impromptu approach?
I am very much inspired by film, I grew up on set (my mother works in film) and I also went to film school. I hate a flash and have vowed not to use one. I am much more interested in creating a tone or a mood using larger movie lights and/or on location/natural light. Since, I originally came from movies, I like my subjects to feel like characters. But sometimes my subjects are characters themselves already, my sweet rodeo clown, Lecile, and his other cowboys, fall into that category. No art direction and styling needed there.
What is it about Americana that compels you to capture it?
When I was young, all I wanted was to be in the Big Apple or a city in Europe. I did not appreciate the beauty of small town, rural, and suburban America. It took me not digging New York and my move to the South to completely fall in love with it. Now, my dreams and inspirations are so different. I want a ranch or a farm with a bunch of babies and chickens running around 🙂 What compels me the most about Americana, is the kindness of the people – how unassuming and accepting they are. My love came from going to the rodeos in Mississippi on the weekends. The people, the fun, the adventure, the kindness in everyone’s eyes.
We bet you’ve seen some sights whilst on your photography expeditions – do you have any interesting anecdotes to share?
I sure have. For my Girls in Motels series, people called the police on me numerous times (they thought we were hookers). I’ve been in huge trucks, rodeos, dingy motels, arenas, pretty amazing shit I feel very blessed to have experienced. Shooting the rodeos is pretty incredible, being on the dirt when they are performing, that’s a rush you can’t describe.
Whilst your photographs are visually captivating, the authenticity behind them calls even louder – can you tell us about how you choose your subjects?
Most of the models I shoot that become characters are friends first – they have to be women that inspire me and aren’t afraid to come on the journey with me. I usually challenge them, I like to shoot like I’m directing them in a scene. So sometimes it can get uncomfortable, but if you’re not uncomfortable you ain’t living. Other subjects can be people I meet on the road, at the rodeo, or even at the local diner I’m having breakfast at. I usually ask for a portrait, but in some cases (actually, a lot of cases) I like to ask for forgiveness hahaha, instead of permission. People get uneasy, but I’m photographing them because I think they’re beautiful no matter what. So sometimes all it takes is a smile for them to relax and let you capture them.
In addition to American culture, are there any other cultures that specifically interest you?
So many cultures influence me; I have an obsession with Chinese and Japanese films. They have the most beautiful lighting and I think it heavily influences my work. I also love the neon lights, so Tokyo interests me a lot. I hope to plan an amazing trip there one day. Dream shoot in Japan.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
Really so much influences me. Music, to film … to people. I find music so sexy, especially scores, old western ones. So, I like to listen to those and get ideas from that. Strong woman in film inspire me, as well as my grandmother and mother. They have such beautiful taste and have influenced my work a lot. Lastly, artists like David Lynch and Nan Goldin; from a young age, I was exposed to their work and have never looked back.
From your photography collection, do you have a personal favourite?
My personal favorite has to be the portrait I took of Lecile Harris a few months ago. He is my dearest friend and he happens to be an 81-year-old rodeo legend. It was before he went out in the arena to do his piano act. We were filming a scene for our documentary about him, I never have him pose, but this time I did. Then he gave me a big ol’ kiss on the cheek after, said, “Lex, I got an act to do” and went out in front of hundreds of happy fans and families, he killed it.
What advice would you give to other photographers who set out to shoot in a natural environment?
I would say to shoot without fear. Every little weird miracle or element that has worked in my favor for my shoots has come from me simply asking, “Hey, I love that car … anyway we could borrow it for an hour …” Anything special in life I believe comes from putting yourself out there, going after it. So, get out there, be wild, break the rules, have fun, don’t be so serious, and always be careful trespassing for that great light mwah 🙂