As siblings, they may bicker and fight a lot, but behind the cameras, it’s an entirely different story. Meet sisters and professional photographers Amber and Ashlie Chavez.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an album review on The Raveonettes’ Into the Night EP. I was pleased to learn that the cover photo was shot on film by Los Angeles based photographers Amber and Ashlie Chavez.
Amber and Ashlie are sisters, and twins at that. Their collaboration has produced over a decade’s worth of distinct and characteristically analogue images that have made it to fashion spreads, album covers, and even on Spin and Rolling Stone.
You heard that right. Despite the proliferation of everything digital, Amber and Ashlie Chavez prefer to do things the analogue way. They shoot exclusively on film.
I was fortunate enough to get in touch with these two absolutely talented and lovely ladies and stage an interview, and they were very happy to share snippets of their life and experience as siblings and professional photographers.
Tell us about yourselves and your symbiotic career as photographers.
We are twins and 26 years old. We’re not sure whether we’re identical or not. Both of us have a BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in Creative Photography. We took all our classes together and worked in the darkroom together. During one critique, our projects were hung salon style next to each other. Our professor critiqued that our aesthetic was too similar to be differentiated as two separate artists but that our content was too different to be seen as one artist. She urged us to either “separate or collaborate” in order to reach our potential. We decided to collaborate and have been doing so since. Our first successful body of work Symbiotic delineates our abnormally close relationship. Some have called us an “inescapable unit”.
How did you get started with photography, and what was the driving force that encouraged you to pursue photography as a profession?
Our mother was a professional photographer specializing in family portraiture. She solely shot analog and did amazing domestic “Olan Mills” style portraits in peoples homes and in her own studio. Her business was called A Moment in Time. She was our main inspiration. We were handed down all of her equipment and are still using it today.
How is it working with your twin? Could you describe the process of how you conceptualize and conduct a shoot together?
We are a perfect team. Where one of us lacks, the other excels. A symbiotic relationship.
How is your working relationship different from your bond as sisters? How do you think does being sisters help with your work?
To be one hundred percent honest ,as sisters, we fight a lot. Always bickering about this or that, getting on each other’s nerves, we know each other too well to not irritate one another. Completely out of love though, of course. So when we work, we have to completely hide all that. It’s an art within itself. Being sisters helps shooting because the trust is there, if I’m not on my game shooting, I know she can pick up the slack and whip me into shape.
What do you love about analogue photography? And why do you choose to stick with film despite the fact that many people in your profession have gone digital?
Plain and simple digital is flat, film is real.
How would your (photographic) style differ from your sister’s?
Ashlie: I tend to be a little more reserved. Both of us veer towards captivating sincere images in actual domestic/private settings- making our images sometimes dark and a bit revealing. But I tend to use caution when choosing what I choose to show. I don’t want to in any way exploit my subjects, even if it’s in an artistic or conceptual way- solely because a general audience does not translate images in an artistic and conceptual way.
Amber: I tend to be a little more fearless, in a mature way though, I definitely steer away from any type of shock value.
Do you follow a particular code or set of rules when you shoot?
Of course. One of us directs the shoot, both of us shoot, one of us edits. So in third person, Amber usually heads each shoot, while both of us rotate a number of cameras, and Ashlie edits and puts the project together.
Any there subjects that you’re particularly fond of shooting? Indoor or outdoor?
We prefer natural light so afternoon is the best, indoor or outdoor. Window light is our all time favorite.
Can you name photographers or artists whom you particularly admire? Why?
Eleanor Carucci, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Egon Shiele, Alec Soth, Joseph Cornell, Hannah Wilke, Mark Rauschenberg, Christophe Kutner, Christopher Anderson, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Just to name a few. Why do we admire them? Because they are exceptionally talented!
I have to admit I’m a Raveonettes fan. How were you able to land the project with them?
One day in 2011 The Raveonettes were in LA in need of a press kit and they simply reached out to us because they’d seen and liked our work. We got our way into the Alexandria and shot all day. A photograph we took ended up being the cover for their EP and then a year later we shot for their album cover of Observator and have been working with them since. Sune and Sharon are lovely to work with and we always have a good time.
Could you share with us some of your other notable clients and memorable projects?
We are big fans of the band Port O’ Brien. They dissolved in 2011 and the singer Van Pierszalowski started his solo band Waters shortly thereafter. Waters label Capitol Records contacted us and we’ve been shooting with them regularly. One night we borrowed a German shepherd and shot at the Hollywood bowl only using the headlights from our car. The next week we shot in front of a house once owned by Kurt Cobain that was still empty.
Any cool projects you’re currently working on or perhaps upcoming projects?
Recently we became WeSC activists and are shooting their Spring 2014 campaign. This is our focus as of now.
What would be your dream project?
Our dream project – shooting for a living.
Could you share advice to aspiring photographers out there?
School isn’t everything, experience isn’t everything, and the people you know aren’t everything. It’s all this that’s everything, don’t focus too much on one thing.
Any last words?
Only do things for a reason. Whether it’s shooting in black and white or framing something in golden oak stain, do it for a reason. As laborious and thoughtful as analogue photography is, you can’t afford not to.
What did I say? Aren’t these ladies amazing? Girl power doesn’t get any cooler than this. And what’s cooler than being in a collaborative creative profession with your twin, anyway? As the cliche goes, “two heads are better than one,” and I would have to say that this rings true especially in the case of Amber and Ashlie Chavez.