Ally Schmaling, Empowerment Through Photography
Long before I interviewed Ally, I knew of her pictures and stalked her Instagram. Vibrant photos featuring empowered, diverse subjects kept popping up on my social media. Ally's photography is a testament to her skill and her radiant personality. She's dynamic, reflective, and she's guaranteed to make you think. Check out this week's #WCW feature, Ally Schmaling!
BWM: We like to start by giving our features a chance to talk about themselves, their passions, what makes them tick.... whatever you'd like to share!
AS: Humans, in short, make me tick. I’ve got to say that I consider myself a humanist first and a photographer second. I am deeply moved by the power and beauty of all bodies and aim to celebrate them. Quite recently, I discovered a love for creative editorial portraiture. I took the plunge a couple of months ago and haven’t looked back once. My hope is that this work lives and breathes at the crux of creative storytelling and social justice.
For the past four years, I’ve been working as a wedding photographer in Boston. Working in the wedding industry has been eye-opening for me, notably from witnessing the saturation of predominantly white, predominantly heterosexual imagery. I’ve found that what really interests me is telling the stories of underrepresented humans, specifically queer and nonbinary bodies and relationships, which is something that is SORELY lacking visibility in the industry.
I’m actually in the process of launching a new family and wedding photography brand aimed at giving visibility to ALL the incredible, wonderful ways that love can look. Specifically, I’m looking into building out a nonprofit structure of fiscal sponsorship so that I can offer photography services to families and folks who may not otherwise be able to afford them (any nonprofit tax lawyers out there, holler at me!). I have been working hard to assemble a team of kickass womxn wedding vendors and will be orchestrating and photographing a styled wedding shoot to highlight and elevate non-traditional relationships. It’s my hope to get this work published not only in queer specific publications, but also on more mainstream platforms.
BWM: People seriously love you and it's really clear you have a circle of close relationships. And I say that in the least weird way. Every time your name is mentioned, someone goes "oh my gosh, Ally is amazing." Can you speak to the importance of having a strong female community around you?
AS: First of all, holy moly, I can’t tell you how flattered I am.
To be honest, I credit photography for a large part of my own experience of social expansion. It forces me to engage with my subject in a truly candid and vulnerable way. In an increasingly isolating digital age, I so deeply value the tangible intimacy that you can only achieve through the process of creatively collaborating with another person. Through photography, I can literally feel my circle, both creatively and socially, expanding.
The community of womxn that I’ve cultivated is truly my greatest asset, personally but also professionally. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived with a kind of resignation that because of my deeply midwestern (read: exceedingly affable) personality I was just never going to excel at business. That kind of natural assertion and self-aggrandizement just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Recently, I had a kind of watershed moment where I realized that I had the power to refine my personal definition of what ‘business’ is. If I redefined ‘business’ as this process of cultivating and nurturing these mutually nourishing relationships, then, all of the sudden I was an excellent businessperson. The more positive energy I pour into my community, the more I get in return. It’s all about perspective.
BWM: Whenever I see your photography, I’m always awed by how empowered and strong your subjects look, especially photos of womxn. What do you think the relationship between photography and empowerment is, if any?
AS: Representation, particularly powerful self-representation, is a privilege. It is a tool. Placed in the right hands, representation can quite literally build and shape communities. At the beginning of the year, I sat down and laid out a kind of manifesto for what I wanted my work to be. The main tenets were dynamism and radical inclusivity. I am so consistently awed by the power of everyone around me. I never want to use a subject as a prop or a player in creating my own work. Instead, I aim to hold up a mirror and let my subjects see their own power. I want to represent people, specifically womxn, exactly as they wish to be seen. A dear friend recently gave me the ultimate compliment in noting that subjects of my photographs seemed to always convey this sense of “compelling and unapologetic ‘themness’”. That’s my deepest goal.
BWM: How do you keep yourself energized, fresh, and positive? Or, taken another way, how do you cope with fear or self-doubt?
AS: So here’s the thing. I used to be shy. Like, painfully, heartbreakingly shy. I’ve also struggled with clinical depression for the past four years, and honestly I feel like photography has played a huge role in helping me dig myself out of that hole. Now, meeting and exchanging energy with new people, particularly with powerful and dynamic womxn, invigorates me. It has become a potent form of self-care. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
I’m still occasionally plagued with self doubt (hey, thanks depression!!!!), but opening up a dialogue with creatives and activists across all disciplines has done wonders. The more I learn of others’ lived experiences, the more I’ve realized that there truly is no blueprint for success– especially in the creative industry. We’re all in the same boat here. Sometimes catching the wind. Sometimes rowing in circles.
BWM: In the name of celebrating other women, who inspires you? (could be personal or professional)
AS: Mu-Chieh Yun and Iliana Panameno of We Ceremony are huge inspirations to me! They founded We, Ceremony as a platform that uses storytelling to share and celebrate the unique voices of womxn of color. I also want to give a shout out to creative inspiration and all around badass, Kate Bartel. She’s a documentary filmmaker and founder of @angryasiangirls, a collective dedicated to empowering femme and non binary folks through art and activism. Kate is also the directory of an original documentary series called (RE)ORIENT, highlighting the stories of Asian Pacific Islander-American artists and activists. AND, finally. To all the powerful womxn, movers, makers and shakers I have yet to encounter - I’m inspired by you. I cannot wait to meet you.