I promise, it gets better: a Q+A with Allee Ilyse

Tell us about your photography.

I started getting into photography about 11 years ago. It all started when I took a picture of my cousin Michelle who had this beautiful red hair that matched the red leaves on our Japanese Maple Tree.

I took a picture of her in the leaves and fell in love. Looking back, the photo was not that great, but it is what got me started.

Since then, I have focused on capturing the essence of the people I photograph. I try to get to know them a bit before we shoot so I can show who they are in a single photo.

Richard Avedon is one of my main inspirations for how I shoot: I tell people to do something and I photograph them as they are doing it. It really helps to showcase their personality in an image.

What do we get wrong about sexuality?

I know that a lot of people have heard that sexuality is spectrum, but do they truly understand it? It often feels like people are so stuck in the binary of what society tells us that they cannot comprehend anything else.

I think you put it well in one of your posts about sexuality being like ROYGBIV in the sense that it’s like a spectrum. If more people could visualize it that way, I think it’d be easier to understand.

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Photo x Allee IIyse Photography

What do you love about your body?

My senior year of college, I had just gotten out of a long term relationship and I was truly on my own for the first time. I spent the year photographing myself so I could understand who I was without this other person who was such a big part of my life.

As an art major, it was not uncommon for me to photograph myself (and others) nude for projects. I began to become more comfortable in my own skin and embraced my body.

All of the scars, wrinkles, bruises, scabs, etc. tell a story and make up who I am. I may not always like how I look, but since this project, I’ve worked really hard on loving all of myself.

What do you love to shoot?

I love to photograph people in nature. I love playing off of nature’s beauty with the beauty of the people in my photographs.

As corny as it sounds, there is beauty in everything, no matter where you look. Sometimes you just need to open your eyes as if you’re seeing things for the first time. I promise you’ll have a whole new outlook on life if you do this. – Allee Ilyse

What do you still want to shoot?  

Everything! I honestly wish my eyes could work like a camera and take pictures of everything I see. I’m fortunate enough to have a cell phone with a decent camera that is usually glued to my hip so I can capture most things I see, but wouldn’t it be cool if you blinked and snapped a picture?

I wish everyone could look at the world as if they’re seeing it for the first time, and that’s what I try to do with my photos.

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My favorite part of photographing is being able to tell a story about the people in the photos. @sinclair_ceasar and I met in May at an advising conference. We started talking about what we do outside of student affairs and I was excited to hear about all of the great work he has been doing. Dismantling stigmas around mental health (especially within black men), speaking out on injustices, and being unapologetically himself are just a few of the things that he does. Thank you, Sinclair, for a wonderful day in DC and letting me capture who you are! . . . . . #HypeBeast #vscoportrait #ig_mood #discoverportrait #portraitphotography #profile_vision #bleachmyfilm #LibraryogCongress #BusBoysandPoets #creative_architecture #tv_architectural #archimasters #excellent_structure #arquitecturamx #diagonal_symmetry #lookingup_architecture #washingtondc #exposeddc #igdc #mydccool #acreativedc #canonphotos #canoneos #canon6d #canonphotographer #DCPhotographer #focalmarked

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What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self?

It gets better. It’s okay that you don’t fully understand who you are yet. Honestly, it’s going to take you a long time before you feel comfortable in your skin, but that’s okay.

You have wonderful friends and family who will support you every step of the way. Your mental health and sexuality are two big things that will help make you who you are.

Use your art to explore these things. I promise, it gets better.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

My best friend, Tess, is always there for me, even when she is miles away in the Great White North (Maine). My mother is also great for support and guidance.

We don’t always see eye to eye, but she will always give it to me straight.

When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Any time that I have a large gap between paying shoots, I doubt my ability to do good work. I wonder if I am not being booked because I am not talented enough, but then I look back at my body of work and remember that I am wonderfully talented and am just in a rut.

I usually remedy this by asking a friend if they want a photo shoot and we go explore a new location. This always boosts my morale.

Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

As corny as it sounds, there is beauty in everything, no matter where you look. Sometimes you just need to open your eyes as if you’re seeing things for the first time. I promise you’ll have a whole new outlook on life if you do this.

Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?

Bria Spivey is one of my former colleagues from City Year and is an amazing woman. She blogs about her journey through life and provides words of wisdom. 

What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

I’m always working on unlearning all the hatred I’ve had for myself over the years. I never felt like I belonged in my own skin because I always felt like something was wrong with me.

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type II) and I hated myself (and my family) for this. When I was 16, I came out as bi-sexual and never truly felt like the shoe fit. I spent years and years of my life trying to understand who I am and I could never get it right.

I hated everything about myself for so long because I didn’t take the time to listen to the things I was saying. I have days where I am still hard on myself, but I am actively learning to love myself more and more.

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Allee is a Philly transplant living in the DC Metro area. Through her personal work, Allee hopes to inspire confidence in others to speak up about mental illness and to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Follow Allee and connect: Instagram + Website + Blog