She’s one of the most wanted and demanded photographers on the New York City scene, a throwback to the era of the Andy Warhol and his Factory friends. And I sat down and recently chatted with her about how she got her foot in this big glittery pond, as well as her advice for newcomers and her affinity for the “Big Apple.” Her name, which you won’t surely forget anytime soon, is Ashley Brody Schoonover.
“There are some really truly amazing photographers in NYC, Mike Ruiz is phenomenal. He’s shot a lot of celebrities, including Amanda Lepore, Kathy Griffin, RuPaul, etc,” she said of the people she shares her profession with. “I also really love Marco Ovando, he’s never taken a bad photo of me, he does a lot of music videos as well. Jeremy Kost is brilliant and an absolute genius. He pays homage to Warhol by using a Polaroid camera to do his shots, much like Warhol did in his “photo diary.”
Just a sample of the wild world Schnoover is witness to: “Kost’s book launch party was even in Italian Vogue. One of my favourite parties is the SPANK party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – because it’s probably the closest thing to the Factory parties Andy Warhol used to throw -A mix of music and visual art, performances, singers, videos, etc…This party is thrown by DJ Will Automagic. Also, Malik So Chic’s party at The Box is great too, it’s a smaller venue, but it has great atmosphere and insane performances by Rosewood or Narcissister (who was on America’s Got Talent).”
Here, the Q and A, as follows:
Question: How did you get involved with photography?
Answer: When I was in High School, I was very outspoken, and have always had a tremendous love for the arts; music, fine arts, makeup, fashion, photography, etc. I had a lot of acquaintances, a lot of people knew who I was, although there wasn’t anyone I was particularly close with. I knew from an early age that I was not meant to work a 9-to-5 job, and whether that meant being an artist or a rock star, the one place you would never see me in was a cubicle – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but its just not for me… I’ve always felt like I was a city girl that I was a sort of “big fish in a small pond” so to speak.
Question: Why New York City? What makes it so special?
Answer: As long as I could remember I’ve had this affinity towards New York City. In high school, I used to drive to the city with my dad on weekends to photographs bands at CBGB’s, cause I was really into punk rock at the time and I remember being absolutely enamoured with the city, seeing the skyline when approaching the tunnel to this day still gives me butterflies in my stomach. At this time, I started seeing New York in a totally different light. There was this sort of sub-culture that emerged out of the dark of club-kids, punk rockers, and drag queens that had its own norms, separate from normal society. It was in this nightlife culture of downtown NYC that I learned to celebrate my body, instead of being ashamed of it for being a larger, more full-figured female. Only in (NYC) nightlife is it completely acceptable to walk around in little-to-no clothing and one would be considered not only normal, but applauded for their daring “fashion” choices. Now, had I done so in the town of New Jersey in which I grew up in, I would have been chased out with pitchforks and torches or verbally harassed over social networking sites, but because I’m involved in New York nightlife, it is some how acceptable, even to those in my conservative rural neighbourhood. Maybe the gay community is more accepting of these things because of people like Adele or Beth Ditto of the Gossip (whom I was repeatedly mistaken for at least a dozen times a night when I first started doing nightlife) or other big boned celebrities, or maybe its because the LGBT community knows what its like to be ostracized, so therefore they celebrate others while celebrating their sexuality, or maybe it’s just New York?
Question: How did you break into the industry, per se?
Answer: I don’t remember exactly how I first heard about Amanda Lepore, but I knew about her before ever going to the city. I have always admired her, long before I ever met her. She, like me, was a fellow Jersey girl, but she took the hand that she was dealt, and she turned it into something positive and creating a career out of being herself, she was a muse to one of my artistic idols (David LaChapelle -who in his younger years worked for Warhol, my personal favourite artist of all times), and has done a lot of great things for LGBT awareness. I guess you could say my idols weren’t typical. I don’t remember how it came about, but around early April of 2010, I started googling Amanda and came across her Facebook page. I saw there was a banner for a new party she was starting called “Big Top” at a place named Carnival in the city.
Since I’m very big into photography, I wanted to be like an Andy Warhol type and take photographs of all these fabulous “celebutantes” and club-people, so I convinced myself that I was going to go. In my mind it was a one-shot deal.
That first night I wound up going to breakfast with Amanda and a few others and I don’t remember saying much, for once in my life I was shy, or at least quiet. She was sweet and surprisingly normal and real despite the life she leads and her artificial appearances. She told one of the guys that were with us, who later turned out to be one of my best friends, to give me her phone number as she got into a cab. The drive home was very surreal. Had I not taken photos as evidence I would have never believed what had happened that night. Despite being painfully nervous, I had been a success. The more I went out, the more people approached me, and the more involved in the scene I became, and it was obvious to me that this was where I needed to be. It was Amanda Lepore and Richie Rich (of Heatherette – also a former club-kid) who had pushed me to pursue doing makeup, and people like them who had encouraged me to go into nightlife. This was the one place where I felt challenged intellectually and creatively and I was free to express myself and be whatever I wanted to be and I never had to compromise who I was in the least.
Question: What’s your advice for a beginner?
Answer: I did want to add, just to set the record straight, I consider myself not only a freelance photographer, but also a makeup artist and a nightlife personality. All three occupations are intertwined within each other because of my being in New York nightlife. For someone starting out in the art/photography scene in NYC, they may find it to be very intimidating and overwhelming, because the scene is male dominant, and the photographers are all hungry and experienced. You have to have a good sense of self and know who you are and embrace it in order to succeed here. there are many photographers out there that have phenomenal talent but go undiscovered because they didn’t stand out of the crowd on another level, were “forgettable” in the personality department. Being a photographer in the city is like having the “golden ticket” so to speak, in the sense that you are almost guaranteed entry to any party, and get the red carpet treatment by cutting the line and having the velvet rope opened up for you. Everybody knows who the photographers and they all know each other.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was if you want to get into a field such as art, whether you are an actor or painter, or makeup artist – Take Risks – GO OUT! BE SEEN! MEET NEW PEOPLE! Even if nobody has ever seen your work before, if you’ve made the connections with people, they will hire you the next time they need someone for a job. For me, I am more known in the city for my personality, but because of this it has helped my career.
Like most fields, it’s about who you know, and if you learn to embrace your eccentricities, your faults, all your quirks and be yourself. It is far better to stand out then to be a wallflower and miss out on great opportunities. If going out doesn’t gain you some new career opportunities, at least you’ll gain some new friends. It’s all about taking chances and putting yourself out there.
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