Carly Secrest is a photographer based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Secrest tells timeless stories through the lens of a camera. Using a Nikon D750 and a Canon 5D Mark IV for her work, the Indianapolis-based artist captures feelings and emotions.
“I don’t want to take pretty pictures, I want to make my viewers FEEL something. I want them to put a story into the image or throw their own emotions into it. I want it to evoke something deep and guttural or exciting and joyful,” explains Secrest.
Carly Secrest is a traveller, an explorer, an artist, a curious mind that creates beauty and authenticity in the world.
Introduce yourself - what’s your story?
Hey everyone! I’m a small town girl from the Midwest who always felt like there was something bigger and better out there for me. The art world has always been something I have emerged myself in ever since I was a tiny girl. I’m a traveller, an explorer of abandoned places, and I’m surprised curiosity hasn’t struck me down yet! You can find me snooping around in places I probably shouldn’t, roaming the Earth with Oliver, and refreshing Instagram a lot more than the average person.
Could you describe us your childhood? What were you passionate about?
My childhood was filled with so much love and support. My parents really helped me figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. Anything that I wanted to pursue, they were always there. I wanted to be a vet, a dancer, an actress… I even wanted to go dig up dinosaurs and find hidden crypts in Ancient Egypt at one point. They allowed my brain to learn about the things I was interested in and stood next to me every step of they way. I remember being really passionate about The Holocaust once I hit the 6th grade mark and they went as far as to take me to one of the top museums so I could learn more. You don’t find many parents who would do that for a budding mind.
When did your love for photography begin?
My love for photography didn’t really hit me until I was around 16, amazingly enough. I was always interested in it, don’t get me wrong. I’m an only child so my dad was constantly taking photos of me. He would have me wear my Easter Sunday best and sit in the office in front of a backdrop, then we would run around outside and he would take photos of me smelling the flowers my mom planted in the backyard. I think that’s when it really began, I just had no idea yet.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I remember being in either Yellowstone National Park and we were standing in a picture perfect spot. Our family trip out West is still my favorite to this day so it’s no wonder that’s when it hit me. I used to scrapbook and I had taken a photo of the rolling rocks and caverns in the exact spot that took my breath away. Once I had all my photos printed out and I was scrapbooking away, I put that one down and wrote, “I should be a photographer!” I know I laughed and thought that was a silly idea, but somewhere deep down in my subconscious I knew that’s where I would end up.
How old were you when you got your first camera?
I was bitty! It was a Barbie film camera. I’m pretty sure it was called “Barbie for girls Hollywood Star Camera” and that came out in the 90’s. I was probably 8 by the time I got one. I remember walking around taking photos of EVERYTHING and I mean everything! My little curious brain even took photos of Lizzy McGuire on the tv because I wanted to see if it would come out, and if it did, if it was even visible.
Do you remember the first photo you’ve ever taken?
Unfortunately I don’t… but I can narrow it down to two things: my childhood dog, Samson, or a flower! I liked to take photos of those two living creatures a lot.
Could you tell us about your first project as a photographer?
Oh man… back in 2013. It was my Editorial class midterm project. My roommate had moved out of our two bedroom apartment in Castleton so I had an empty room to do whatever I wanted with. We were given topics and I chose Anorexia. I called it, “A Dance With The Devil” and wrapped my head with a slick black cardigan. I threw on a bandeau and dancing shorts. I remember waking up that morning and specifically only drinking some coffee so I could really get the look I wanted. I didn’t want any detail to go in the trash. I bought a bunch of food for one image and laid it all around me. For the other images to make the set complete I posed in a “dance” fashion and made sure to keep my face covered for the most part. I remember wanting to portray it as something that you don’t personally know. It could affect anyone and never has a face. By the end of the set it was kind of like the subject was overcoming it. This project was my first time trying to composite another element into the image. Looking back there’s so many things I would do differently but at the time it was perfect. I did get an A on it and my schoolmates really enjoyed the set, so that was cool.
Which type of camera(s) are you using now?
For my personal work I used a Nikon D750 then for my full time job I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark IV. I also just recently started shooting film again with my Dad’s old Minolta Maxxum 7000.
To those who don't know much about photoshoots and photography in general. How would you describe a shooting day?
I’ll stick to my personal work for this one because it’s a bit more interesting. There are two ways I can go about this. Apologies for this being so long everyone!
If I’m shooting a personal project: I will sit down way beforehand and sketch out the idea I have going on in my head. I’ll write down the emotion I’m wanting to portray, a specific line from a song that I’m inspired by, or a concept that I’m really into at the time. I’ll figure out what props I need and where I want to shoot. If I don’t know where, then I go out and explore. Once I have all that down and have all my props, I grab my model and we chat about what I’m looking for and what they need to wear. I shoot in a lot of abandoned places so there’s always that element of fear and wonder that I feed off of. It seems so easy when you’re writing it down on paper but there have been so many concepts that I just threw in the trash. That’s where it becomes hard to be an artist. You may have an idea, but that idea may not be what you need at the time or you may go back and think “why the hell did I think that would be a solid thing?!” I think that’s important though, keeps you on your toes.
If I’m shooting a client: I get to know my subject decently well before I even have them step foot in front of my camera. I ask them the tough questions and really dig into what they’re needing and what they envision the final product will be. They’ll be talking and my brain is already thinking of ideas. I sometimes wonder if they think I just black out while they’re saying stuff because I have to immediately write it down! I’ve become really well versed in writing and listening at the same time to say the least. From there on, it’s basically the same execution as when I’m shooting personal projects. These days can be really long depending on what you’re wanting to get done and where you have to go. Then editing can take hours. It’s not easy! There have been many long nights where I get lost in what I’m doing or setting everything up just right. I try really hard to take my time so I can get everything perfect.
Could you tell us about your editing process? Which software do you usually use?
My editing process varies from image to image, project to project. Sometimes I don’t have to do a lot but other times I have a very specific look I’m going for so I have to figure out how to get there. I use Photoshop for basically everything. The only time I ever use Lightroom is when I’m narrowing down a big batch of photos. Throwing 80 something images into Photoshop is a recipe for disaster!
You’ve done a lot of photoshoots. Any favorite memories?
Hahaha, it was during my college days. I had my first big showcase, RAW Artists, and I was so nervous! I wanted to do some more shoots for that and I had a concept of color and mood running through my brain. I grabbed one of my gal pals, had her wear all black and go heavy on her eye makeup. We drove to a gas station in Fountain Square that was adjacent to a beautiful blue wall. I had two big jugs of water and I just poured it all over her! There were people driving by just watching us. We had so much fun that day and it was cool to see strangers in their cars getting curious and stopping. I’m sure it was because we looked line loons but it was still neat. A couple others were from two internships I did. One in college and one right after. I met so many amazing people and I got to work with some of my idols. I’ve always been a go-getter so it was amazing to experience what hard work and persistence gets you.
What’s the hardest part about being a photographer? And what’s the best part?
The hardest part is when you’re in a rut creatively. Everything you’re doing just isn’t up to your standards but you can’t seem to get over the hump. I’ve learned two things about that: it either just takes time and you have to sit back and let it run its course, or you can focus on a different project and pour your soul into it to get your groove back.
The best part is when one of two things happen: 1.) When you finish something and you’re looking at it thinking, “Damn… I am so proud of this and it came out exactly how I wanted it to and/or better than I could have ever imagined. 2.) When people tell you how much they love your work. At the end of the day that’s all any artist really wants to hear. We put everything into our work, no matter the medium, and we just want someone else to enjoy it as much as we do.
What do you like the most about photography? What does that make you feel?
Feeling. Simple as that! I don’t want to take pretty pictures, I want to make my viewers FEEL something. I want them to put a story into the image or throw their own emotions into it. I want it to evoke something deep and guttural or exciting and joyful. The fact that someone can create something and a random person on the street can look, listen, read, even touch the art and feel a specific emotion is just…awe inspiring.
How would you define photography?
Photography is an outlet. It is a way of conveying an idea or an emotion. Photography is important. It shows you beautiful places you may not get the chance to view in real life. It brings awareness to things going on around you. It tells stories and holds loved ones in a special moment. It is the history book we will always need.
Is there a particular photograph that had a huge impact in your life?
It’s actually a photograph that one of the amazing photographers I had my college internship under created! It’s titled “The Mind is a Battlefield”, by Rob Woodcox. I remember seeing this particular image in 2013 and thinking, “Wow…I feel so much with this.” It’s beautiful and breathtaking. In college I was going through so many emotions constantly and trying to really find myself. This image just really resonated with me at that moment in time and I knew that style would become one I still admire to this day.
What advices would you give to young photographers?
KEEP GOING! No matter what, just keep trucking through. Never give up. You’re going to hit hard patches and then you’re going to hit really hard patches. But at the end of those hard patches is such an overwhelming excitement and happiness that you never knew you could feel. It’s not easy and it never will be..but it’s so incredibly fulfilling. If being a photographer is your true passion, you’ll know and you’ll never give up. It’s okay to take a break from a certain project, but don’t let it slip through the cracks until you know in your heart that you’re ready to let it go and move on to bigger and better projects. Ask questions. Spend hours watching tutorials. Reach out to your favorite artists and they’ll probably get back to you. Keep the spark alive because it will keep you alive. It will hug you and warm you in the darkest times and it will always be there for you.
What do you want to accomplish in 2019?
I would like to accomplish more personal projects and connect more with the other artists around me. I took a step back last year to focus on my full time photography job, but I’m comfortable enough with where I’m at there that I’d like to marry the two this year.
In your opinion, what would make the world a better place?
I may be biased, but I’ll say it anyway. Art. Not just art though, all the stems that come from art: acceptance, generosity, love, and understanding. If people would take the time to breathe and stop for just a few minutes I truly feel like things would be much better for everyone. We all need a creative outlet to help us push out the stress and anger.
What biggest lessons have you learned as a human being and as a photographer?
Letting go and slowing down. Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, push all the bad out, take a step back, and just be. It will help you in your personal life and your artistic life. There’s nothing better than leaning into something you’re passionate about with a full heart and an open mind. Good things will come and you will create something beautiful. xx
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