“Don’t sell yourself short. Know your value.. Learn how to self-love. Do it the hard way. Do your inner work. Learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s how you grow.”
The art of photography invokes a sense of nostalgia in photographer Alexa Harkness. The Tallahassee, Florida native recalls the beginning of her artistic journey — which began in her early childhood after picking up a digital point-and-shoot camera that had once belonged to her parents. She would photograph anything that caught her eye.
Alexa found further inspiration from her cousin, who would showcase his photo & video work whenever she visited her family in Colorado. Her passion for the camera would slightly dim as she grew older and focused her attention on her high school course load. She struggled to determine her direction in life after attempting a semester at her local community college; but all hope was restored once she picked up her camera again and made the decision to enroll in the Commercial Photography Technology program at Lively Technical College.
Alexa’s portfolio consists of magical works of art, authentic photographs, and visual mementos that convey an atmospheric quality and essence of raw emotion. Read on to learn more about this inspiring artist’s creative journey, the advice she has for other women who are just breaking out into the industry, and more.
Tell me about yourself.
Well, I just recently graduated from Lively Technical College in spring of this year, with a degree in Commercial Photography. I am planning to start a business sometime in the future, but for now, I just want some more customer service experience in order to hone those skills.
I am also an artist, and participate at many local shows and galleries. Just trying to get my work out in the world a little bit. I mainly do composite artwork which involves combining my digital images and distorting them to make an entirely new and interesting image.
I have two sweet cats, Slump and Maxx. I love music and the outdoors, biking, camping, and hiking. Those are just a few of my interests, but my main hobbies lie within the realm of art.
How did you get started in this industry?
I’ve always loved photography from a young age. I learned with a digital point-and-shoot camera that my parents had. I would photograph my family members, my dog, anything that sparked my interest. This also involved a lot of nature-related things. I believe my initial interest in picking up a camera stemmed from my older cousin, Ari. My mom’s sister’s son. My mom’s side of the family lives out in Colorado.. I was obsessed with Colorado as a kid because I loved my family that lived there, and I wanted to be just like them —- including my cousin.
He would show me pictures and videos that he created when I visited them, and I think seeing that set my heart in that direction. My childhood was spent taking thousands upon thousands of photos, and making countless videos, ranging from artistic “music videos” to comedic skits to mini horror flicks.
As I came of age, my passion for the camera still remained but was cast aside in order to make more time for homework and social life. I still did plenty of photography but never did I think that I would actually pursue it as a career. Flash forward to high school graduation — I was at a very low point mentally. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I felt that I had no true skills… I didn’t even consider myself an artist.
After attempting a grueling semester at Tallahassee Community College, I was lost. I was just about to lose hope when I remembered my forgotten talent in photography. Next thing I knew, I was getting a commercial photography technology degree at Lively Technical College. Ever since beginning that program, I’ve been doing photography professionally.
What excites you to create? What helps you in the moments whenever you are feeling uninspired and stagnant?
I think there are a few things that inspire me the most to create. The love I receive from my amazing friends and family, the beauty of nature, and the artistic endeavors of my favorite visual and music artists. To sum it up, I’m mostly inspired by the love and beauty that exists around me all the time. I feel the most creative when surrounded by loving people, good music, and some humbling natural scenery. When I feel stagnant and in a creative rut, I try going outside, taking a break, hanging out with friends, or even working on something else. Change of environment is what helps get the creative juices flowing again.
Who are some female artists that have inspired you and your work?
One female artist that I find so divine is this photographer that I found on Instagram named Sarah Heisman (@sarah.heisman). She’s a photographer based in Los Angeles/New York City and does primarily film. Her work is like an abstract dream. It is absolutely immersive, visceral, and full of the feeling of a fleeting moment. It’s beyond psychedelic, moving to a realm of cinematic phantasmagoria. Her double exposure images often having similar elements such as flowers, women, and trees or clouds, speak volumes to a resilient wonder that has always existed inside of me. I just love her work so so much and find that looking at her art genuinely makes me want to create something similar and express what I’ve always considered to be the most real thing in the world — that sense of wonder and love for the unknown.
Another amazing female artist that has inspired my artistic direction would be “Squid Licker” (@squid.licker) on Instagram. I believe their real name is Lauren. They are a badass non-binary/Asian artist living in LA. They do painting and illustration, and one could argue that they themself are a walking piece of art. Their personal aesthetic and style of dress is pretty similar to mine, which is so awesome. Their art style is super alien and gothic, yet seems to encapsulate femininity as well. The intricacy and complexity of their work is astounding, and they never fail to have amazing and unique subject matter. Lauren brings an authentic take on oriental styles of art to the table as they incorporate psychedelic themes, colors, and patterns. Lauren is so clever and creative, and has really found an aesthetic of their own. I have found myself being sparked creatively by Lauren’s art time and time again, incorporating elements of her style into my photography and fashion.
Women face so many challenges in our workforce today, and are often misrepresented or underrepresented in the music industry. Inequality still remains a serious injustice. What changes do you think should be made to the industry so it becomes more inclusive? What are some small things everyone can do to help promote equality in our scene?
Honestly, I think it’s up to the individual to just eradicate any forms of gender biases they may have, and that would in turn, change the industry for the better. Generally not having sexist attitudes, and not promoting any sort of sexism or gender intolerance would be a good start. Respect women and non-binary individuals, and most importantly respect yourself.
What do you think is the most challenging part of being an artist today? What do you find the most rewarding?
One of the things I find most challenging about being an artist in today’s world is the fact that the market is so fucking saturated. Like there’s so much out there.. where do you fit into that bigger picture? More importantly, how do you stand out? But, it’s exactly that aspect that is the most rewarding as well because it forces artists to really bring themselves to the table.
In every artist, there is something unique, even if their ideas are takes on the ideas of others. Everyone takes inspiration from somewhere. But you really have to bring that authenticity out and find a way to profit off of it. Which, not to mention, is even harder now due to the pandemic. I think a lot of artists have been struggling with a lack of inspiration, including myself. But I know that as soon as we can come out of this period of creative rest, that the work artists will make will be heavily inspired.
When you’re not creating art, what are you doing? Are there other ways in which you get creative or reset yourself so you can return to your work with a relaxed mind?
Whenever I’m not making or creating art, you can find me reading, writing in my journal, taking walks outside, staring up at trees and the sky, biking, hanging out with friends, eating yummy foods, and straight-up relaxing. I put a lot of value and importance on relaxation and recharging. I’m not sure if that’s just the millennial in me, but I love to have free time to relax! And relaxing can include any of the above mentioned activities. I do sometimes create in ways unrelated to photography, and that helps me whenever I need a break.
Writing is one of those things. I just like to write stream-of-consciousness poetry trying to reflect my innermost thoughts. Which is really hard. But that’s what’s great about it. It’s a challenge. I also will occasionally do some drawing or painting, usually abstract freehanded stuff. I also print photos on t-shirts using UV reactive dye and film negatives.
What advice would you offer other women who are new to the industry and just starting out?
Don’t sell yourself short. Know your worth. Try not to let others take advantage of you and ask you to do things for them for free. I’ve made that mistake plenty. Just value yourself and your time. Just like in all aspects of life, really. Also, use a contract!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Well, on top of not selling myself short, and having contracts and copyright protection, I’d say the best advice I’ve been given is to “fake it until you make it.” I’ve heard this gem from countless successful professional photographers. No one’s gonna start off being the best, but you’ve gotta act like you’re better in order to get there.
Describe your biggest dream.
I’ll speak in terms of goals, because dreams and goals are synonymous. My goals in life basically all revolve around being happy, content, and financially stable. I’m not even sure if I necessarily know exactly what I want to do yet. I’ll probably do a lot of things in my life and all I want is happiness for myself and the ones I love.
What are your future plans?
Again, I don’t have exact “future plans” right now. I tend not to think too far ahead because it creates unnecessary stress for me. As of now, I have plans to move to New Jersey some time over the summer with my boyfriend. We will be very close to NYC, and I have a friend who lives there and goes to FIT. So hopefully there will be lots of photography opportunities there.
One last message for our readers would be…
Learn how to self-love. Do it the hard way. Do your inner work — if there is pain, learn about it. Accept your pain, and you can accept yourself. I guess that I just want to remind everyone that there is darkness and that it is important to understand. And that being uncomfortable is okay. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s how you can grow. I’m speaking primarily to women since I know the experience of being one, but men can take from this too. Anyone can. Anyway, much love to everyone out there. That’s all I got. *laughs*