Showcase: Vanessa Prestage
A few months ago, we did an interview with Vanessa Prestage, a photographer turned business woman extraordinaire. Below you’ll find a short version of the interview, as well as Vanessa’s work. We’re not going to spoil the excitement of the interview for you. Before you leave to listen to the podcast, take a read and take a look at the amazing work of this artist.
The Business Magazine for Women [TBM4W]: Let’s start with the biggest question of today. Who’s Vanessa Prestage?
I am a lady from Atlanta, Georgia, originally just South of Atlanta, a small town called Griffin. I have lived in Atlanta for several years but I’ve moved around quite a bit. I traveled the world a lot, for several years at a time and then I came back here in 2007. I took a little hiatus and moved out west for a while and then returned to Atlanta with my husband who I met up West, back in September.
TBM4W: You picked up a souvenir on the way, Vanessa.
I did. The best kind of souvenir, a lifelong souvenir hopefully. I take pictures, my husband and I actually are. I have my fine art side of my photography but my husband and I work together on projects sharing events and weddings and things like that and then we both have side project outside of photography as well which we work on. I stay very busy. That’s me in a nutshell.
TBM4W: How did you end up doing photography?
I worked in the cruise industry for several years and was traveling to all these amazing places. Right when photography started to make that leap into digital, I went out and got a little point and shoot camera just to really be able to document my travels more than anything. But then once I actually started taking pictures I realized how much I enjoyed it and it just kind of snowballed into a desire to learn more and do more and make it more of a career, rather than a hobby. That’s really how it just started and it’s been a progression since then. As digital photography has kind of made photography accessible to everyone, now everyone’s a photographer so it becomes increasingly more difficult to find your niche, to find your voice as an artist, to even really determine whether or not it is something that you even want to pursue full time. It is a challenge with so many people out there taking pictures. And more than that I think it’s really important to kind of hone in on the area of photography that you’re good at and to stick with that. A lot of people want to do a little bit of everything, you know whatever pays the bill’s and that’s great but sometimes the work suffers as a result and it could be difficult being pulled in multiple directions. So for me, it’s been kind of making a decision to pursue this area and this area only even though I can make money doing this, in this area so it’s always kind of a challenge what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re willing to do.
TBM4W: The South leaves a stamp on everybody. How did that affect you? What part of the Southern culture influenced you the most?
2008. The financial crash had just happened and I have just been accepted to a photography school in Paris. Because of the circumstances with how it would have been a personal loan vs a student loan I wasn’t able to secure funding to go to school. So I had to really kind of decide if I want to pursue photography, it was gonna have to be on my own, and what is the best way of doing that. I really hit the books! You can learn anything on the Internet. I just started to pour over any information that I could get my hands on and then just went out shooting. To kinda tie and end to your question, my hometown I always had a lot of negative emotions attached to my hometown. I found myself going down there a lot and being incredibly drawn to these old abandoned textile mills that they dot my hometown. It’s a town with a very industrial history. I was able to gain access to a lot of these old buildings. I started to look at the history of my hometown and the hometown itself in a different way because of these incredible structures that were there. This also kind of opened the door to the history that I really had no knowledge of up until that point. So it just kind of shifted things for me and it gave value to a place that I had always had a negative association with. And for me emotionally it shifted because I had a new found sense of pride from where I came from. So that for me, as an artist, shaped the way I was doing things. I mean my first series that I showed, the “Resilience” series, all these pictures were taken in these abandoned mills in Griffin, GA and it just became a very special place for me it was a totally different way of experiencing where I was from.
TBM4W: Yes. That entire series to me, it really smells of dead leaves and rain and woods. And I was wondering how you got from that to the series that I am most in love with, the “Signs of Live” series? There are such huge transitions and such huge perspective changes from one series to the other. What is perspective to you and how do you see the world? How do you go from seeing one place as that and one place as completely alien?
It is all about feeling for me. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are influenced by our surroundings. You drew the comparison between the two series that “Resilience” series and the “Signs of Life” series. So you’re going from the dank, musty, abandoned, kind of creepy environment that has its own feel, to someplace that is completely inhospitable to human life, it is barren it is incredibly gorgeous but in a very stark and hostile way. Each one of those places just invoked a certain feeling for me and fortunately, I had my camera with me and I was able to take the pictures. With photography it’s not just about taking the pictures it’s the editing of those pictures. With “signs of life” as an example, because Death Valley is where those pictures were taken, is such an otherworldly place I really felt like I have been dropped onto another planet and so…
TBM4W: That’s what it feels like!
…and exactly what I was trying to convey in those pictures.
TBM4W: How do you think that the feelings you had in your hometown, the gloominess and dampness, do you think that had more to do with the location or had something to do with your feeling about the location as well?
Probably a little bit of both. When I was shooting at the Griffin Mills, there are 2 mills in particular that I had access to. When I say access: in one case it was literally just trespassing on this piece of property and gaining entrance to a structure that has been falling apart for many many years. And in other situation, it’s this giant mill on about 30 acres of land and there’s a central person who is kind of like the keeper of the mill. It turns out that I went to high school with his son and so I was trying to get him to let me inside to take pictures. He has his own incredible backstory! Actually, I would love to do a series or make a book about this guy and this mill one day.
So it’s this massive mill that shut down in the late 90s when all of the industrial work started going overseas and all these men lost their jobs. The keeper, whose name is Ronny, he was born in the parking lot, he started working at the mill when he was 16, his father had worked there his whole life, and then when the mill shut down he was basically kept on as the superintendent and he has been there ever since. Now the mill, they either use if for storage when they run out of space, they have movies that go down there and film sometimes, but it’s basically just this huge massive amazing decrepit building that I go into and it’s like I’m going into another dimension. I’m alone. It’s creepy. It’s dark. It’s dank. You hear noises you have no idea if a mass murderer is gonna jump out at you. And I just kind of just lose myself in that space and I will go in there for hours and then I’ll come back out and it’s like I’m stepping back into this dimension. That’s kind of where I allow myself to just do my thing when I find an environment where I can lose myself. I feel like that’s where my work is at its strongest. And in a different way, the Death Valley series was that, because I was in a completely alien environment and able to just kind of do my thing. It’s all about the environment and the feeling.
TBM4W: How long were you in Death Valley for?
When I moved out West I took a two-week road trip and drove out there and so I was only there for three days two nights. Honestly, I could have stayed there for 3 weeks. It’s just that, it’s a huge place and I only scratched the surface. Because I was in the process of moving, I had a finite amount of time that I could spend there. So just 3 days but I would love to go back.
TBM4W: In one of your recent interviews, you were talking about how you want to be Thomas Kinkade, the Thomas Kinkade of modern art specifically. You don’t want to necessarily paint like him but you wanted to be influential like him & as well known as he is. Would you elaborate on that?
[laugh] I feel it’s necessary to reference this statement with, I actually do not care for his work at all, but what I meant by that was that I do admire what he was able to accomplish from a business perspective. He essentially flooded the market with his work and now it is completely recognizable to a broad spectrum of people and so for me it’s not to say that this will happen, but it would be great if my work was ever to become as recognizable as that. Obviously, that would be my ideal goal if I was ever to become that successful. Everybody wants to be that successful, right? On some level! I want my work to be not just in people’s homes, but hotels and restaurants and hospitals and every place so that’s really what I meant. Not advocating that people should go out and fill their homes with Kinkade artwork but I do admire what he was able to accomplish as an artist in a business sense.
TBM4W: If you can’t bring your art in front of people, you are going to starve. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about something, if you don’t know how to translate it into a business, well, it’s not really going to help you much. It will help you emotionally. It’s going to help your soul. But to be Thomas Kinkade or aspire to be Thomas Kinkade in today’s age, it’s a way of survival it’s a way to enjoying your work. And why not inspire the next generation? He inspired you in this way.
Well, it’s hard. It almost seems like it’s counter-intuitive, or an oxymoron to lump artists with a business person. For artists, it is really hard to self-promote. I hate, I hate self-promotion! I always get great ideas for other people but then trying to turn that lens onto my own business and think about a different way to spread my work to the masses? It is hard because it’s a very personal thing. A lot of times issues of self-doubt and insecurities and all those old demons that I think everybody struggles with, they start to nibble at you when it comes to putting yourself out there. It’s a difficult thing.
TBM4W: You’re doing it well.
Well, I’m trying. Thank you.
TBM4W: You mentioned self-doubt and how it always creeps in. But when you look at the work that you do day-to-day, you cannot doubt yourself anymore because you own that work! You are that work! The reason for self-doubt can disappear as you dedicate yourself to your craft. Whatever craft it is, the doubt can kind of go away.
Not all of them! They will never go away because we are human beings and that’s what we do. Especially girls! We totally doubt ourselves. Guys have less of a hard time with this than we do, even though they do experience it but not to the same extent that we do. It’s not a constant wheel spinning in their heads. For girls, it’s a lot harder to stick with something and we give up easier because of the doubts, that internal monologue that’s destroying us. I’m trying to show that sticking with something, whatever that is, sticking with it just washes away some of that doubt. But apparently not that much, as you are still dealing with it. It is always there, it’s kind of a journey and I feel like I go through phases where I feel frustrated because maybe things aren’t happening as quickly as I would like or in the way that I initially envisioned them. But then time goes by and I’ll get inspired by something else, you find encouragement somewhere else that gives you that push to keep going and to keep doing it, and ultimately for me I had to make the decision: Why am I doing this? Is it because I want to be successful under the definition that society has made for me? Or do I want to keep doing this because it was something that I enjoy doing? And that is what has happened. Now, along the way it has required that I have other jobs because there isn’t such a thing as a starving artist and if you do rely fully on your work, in the beginning, it is going to be really hard. There has always been that balancing act that I have had to do until I got into a place where I’m getting more income from my artwork. But it’s not something that happens overnight. I think that initially because it’s not something that happens overnight for most people, a lot of people to give up and they do feel hopeless and they do feel that their work isn’t good enough just because it doesn’t immediately catch on. If you look at a lot of the great artists or great photographers throughout history there is a whole hell of a lot of them that did not get discovered until they were dead. I know it sucks to say but, it’s true. It doesn’t always happen right away and it doesn’t always catch on at first and a lot of times people are ahead of their time and people don’t get it initially. Really, I think that the main thing is to determine why you do what you do! And if you are willing to do it just for the love of doing it and not just for the love of money.
TBM4W: If you’re doing it for the love of it, it comes through and you can see it in your art, it’s there. It’s obvious. What is your new series about, do you have something in the works?
I have not been working on a new series per say. Series work for me is not something I can force. It has to just kind of come. Generally, it’s about one every year, maybe even less than that. I’ll get inspired and work on a particular series but what I have been working on is producing my work in a different way using already existing images and a lot of these images are things from years ago, but just showcasing them in a different way. I’m getting a lot of inspiration from that. It’s basically a new way of producing my work.
TBM4W: What are you working on Vanessa?
[laugh] So my work is very textural. A lot of it is abstract. A lot of it is very colorful. Throughout the years I’ve had people tell me that “your work would be really great on fabric” and I just said “ok”. I just started to cut and mock some different products up, using my own imagery and so I started creating mockups of leggings and silk scarves and now kimono robes and things like that and I’m really really excited about the way that they look because, again, the work is textural and colorful and it feels like it really lends itself well to clothing. I know my work isn’t going to appeal to everyone because not everybody wants very bright colorful crazy abstract things on their walls, but I know the ladies like to branch out and make bold fashion choices in a lot of cases. Whereas a woman might not want to put a bright purple, pink and blues or greens on their walls, they might put it on their butt. [laugh] That is kind of my new jam these days. I’m working on rolling out a line of apparel so, stay tuned.
TBM4W: It looks like you are using a lot of the stuff from the “Resilience” series.
Yes, lots of those. For the leggings, I use a lot of the Death Valley stuff. And then for the robes, a lot of my older floral & botanical prints have been working really well for the mockups for the robes and for the scarves actually. Well, I ordered myself a pair from the printers so I’ll try those on for size. I have ordered several swatches of fabric so that I can see what the different materials are and how they work with the different color schemes and then I hope to be rolling out with them in the next month or two.
TBM4W: It sounds really good and we’re very excited to see all of those products. When can we be expecting the leggings? When is the proposed date?
I should be expecting my leggings to get here any day now and as long as I put them on and I’m happy with the way that they look and I am happy with the way that they are made, I am going to go ahead and roll out immediately. As far as the scarfs and the robes go, once I am able to determine what fabrics are going to work best for each product, [I’ll release those as well]. The leggings will be rolling out this month [August] but again barring any major malfunction with the production of the leggings as long as I’m happy with them, I’m gonna go live in the next couple of weeks.
TBM4W: Vanessa, any closing thoughts?
I would say let’s talk more about women in business and what that means because I think more and more women are stepping into the business world which has historically always been a man’s world. I think a lot of women are stepping into that role and they’re doing it really well but I think that unfortunately in a lot of cases, because they are stepping into a man’s world, a lot of women tend to do things the man’s way and lose a part of their feminine aspect or their feminine essence, I should say in the process. You see a lot of women who you know they’re doing their thing and they are on the grind, and they spend their 20s in their 30s really pursuing their business, and then they wake up one day and they feel like something is missing. I really do truly believe that a part of that comes from trying to fit into somebody else’s model or way of doing things. I think that women are badasses and we can do whatever the hell we want and we can do it our way! We can still be feminine! We can do whatever we want! We don’t have to fit society’s model! I just feel like it’s really important for women to, in the process of discovering their own voice and their own desires and their own dreams, to not compromise on any of those things and to just be themselves and to be ok and secure in the fact that they are being themselves and that they are doing it on their own terms. Yes, there you go. That’s your answer. [laugh]
TBM4W: That’s how you end a good interview, like a pro! With a quotable. We are not men. We think differently. We approach a business issue differently. We approach issues in life differently. We don’t have to fit into this pre-given model. It’s perfectly all right to be exactly who you are and it’s perfectly alright to run our businesses how we see fit.
For all our readers: Vanessa was so amamzing to provide us with a 10% discount when we purchase an item from her shop at
Esty.com/Shop/VanessaPrestage, so go use it.
Use code: TBMFW
Stay tuned for the upcoming podcast page. We’re getting ready to release 20 podcasts with amazing women in business, tech, art, STEM, sports, and politics. TheBusinessMagazineforWomen.com/Podcast
Text: Monica Antohi with TBM4W and Vanessa Prestage
Pictures: Vanessa Prestage