Danielle DeGrasse-Alston speaks on working with creative visionaries, committing to an artistic career, and her recent project "Shy Girls '18"
Danielle DeGrasse Alston is a Los Angeles based photographer from Chicago. She started taking photos and making music videos in high school, but it wasn’t until Danielle enrolled in business school that she decided to commit to the artist movement and develop her craft. Her work, rooted in Chicago influences, now focuses on globally recognized artists including rapper Lil Yachty and art director Bloody Osiris. She also is one of three female co-founders of print magazine and contemporary collective, Verluxe.
ALL PHOTOS BY DANIELLE DEGRASSE-ALSTON
FEMALE HERCULES: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
DANIELLE: My work describes who I am as an artist. I can only express my true self through photo & video.
What is Shy Girls ‘18? Can you explain the significance of this title for your latest photo series?
Shy Girls '18 is me. It's everything I represent right now. I am challenging the idea of "sexy". There's so much female empowerment and individualism these days, which is great, but I want to balance it with reality.
Not every picture needs to be a power photo. I'm absolutely in love with the honest moments of insecurity. It shows we are still humans! Not avatars!
Which has been your favorite moment that you were able to capture on film/in a photo?
One of my favorite moments was directing a music video for Common. He's a legend, especially in Chicago, so to work with him was a victory moment. Up until that point I was constantly questioning my decision to leave [Boston University]. I dropped out of one of the best business schools in the country.
Although they were supportive, I knew my parents were really worried about my decision. They couldn't understood why. But when I directed that video for Common my parents were able to understand my potential and my vision.
My dad even came to the shoot with me. He, Common and I all took a picture together. After that day my dad said to me, "You're a college drop out, but you must be doing something right."
What was it like working with Danielle ‘Bhadbhabie’ Bregoli (a.k.a. the 'Cash Me Outside' Girl)? What was the idea behind that shoot?
Danielle and I were both on set for another project but found time to collaborate between takes. When you put a bunch of artists in the same place we are bound to create. I would see a beautiful image and Danielle was able to play into a role that made for an honest photo.
I was really impressed by how professional she was, considering her age. It's pretty intimidating to be a woman in the film / music industry, let alone a young one. If you don't look out for yourself you will get neglected, especially when you are working with new people. She was quiet and patient, but also knew when to speak up if something felt wrong.
The photo of Bloody Osiris ‘in space’ is one of my favorite photos in your work. What was the idea behind this shoot?
Bloody and I happened to be in the right place at the right time when we collaborated. Again we were working on set for something completely different. He had a really outgoing personality and so it was easy for us to initiate a collaboration. We started shooting before we even knew each other's name.
Since he's a stylist he had a very specific vision of how he wanted to be captured "Is it a full body pic?" he was always ask. I took his direction and then added some of my own, which he liked. It was at then that we realized we are both artists, different vision, but at least we had vision. It's rare to get such good pictures the first time you meet someone because it's kind of like going on a blind date. As I'm taking the pictures, we are getting to know each other. They start to realize your vision and hopefully want to play along.
Do you feel it is difficult to maintain an unrestricted artistic license when working with highly successful artists and creative directors who might have a different vision to your own?
It's difficult when you feel like you have something to lose. You have to be okay with some people not liking you. It can be tough when you have this pre-meditative idea in your head of how you and your idols will work together, then when you finally do, the vibe is all wrong or they just don't get you.
Again, these situations are like blind dating, it's all about vibes. If the chemistry isn't there you have to walk away. BUT, you also have to know when to be humble and sit down. You may think your in the room with great people because you are great too, but there are times when God just wants to inspire and remind you that you still have a long way to go.
What are some of your summer 2018 goals?
My goal is for more people to see my photography. I have a message and the more people that see it the greater my legacy.
ALL PHOTOS BY DANIELLE DEGRASSE-ALSTON