Visual Interviews are conducted long-distance, via disposable camera and a box of ephemera. I’m pleased to introduce you to Courtney Coles, a photographer from Los Angeles, California.
Who is Courtney Coles?
Courtney Coles is a 5’3″ force to be reckoned with.
I am soft yet strong. I am a film photographer. I am the mom of all my friend groups. I love female friendships. I am a Christian. I am in love with music, photography, the journey and dancing. I was born and raised in the San Fernando valley in a small town called Sylmar, but I didn’t grow up until I moved to portland in 2010, when I was 20 turning 21. I am a lover and a fighter.
What is your process to get over, or maybe, past something?
I like to listen to the same songs and albums on repeat. Text my friends. Remind myself that in due time, the pain will go away. I obsess over it. I brunch about it. I cry and cry and cry and cry.
You’ve caught me at a beautifully weird time, Babe Vibes. I’m trying my best to let go of control and letting the universe do its thing and the song that stays on repeat during times like this is Paramore’s “Last Hope”. It applies to both relationships and my career:
“I don’t even know myself at all. I thought that I’d be happy by now. The more I try to push it I realize I gotta let go of control. Gotta let it happen.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself?
The fire in me. My sensitivity. My desire to be the person teenage me needed.
You have a really enthusiastic approach to photography and working as an artist, has that come naturally, or is it something you have cultivated? How do you see your work in the context of the industry or artform?
I romanticize my life. I know that can be dangerous, but I try my best to live the life that 13-year-old me dreamt about while blogging on Xanga and Myspace.
If anyone takes anything away from my work, I want it to be the fact that I wholeheartedly love my friends and family and my way of showing my love is by photographing them.
I think that’s something that took me a while to own up to. I went to art school and my first few semesters were spent being this intense! serious! artist! and I kept the photographs I’d make of my friends and I hanging out separate from the work I was creating for school. It wasn’t until my second to last semester did I own up to the fact that I find joy in documenting my everyday and that my loving my friends can still be considered art. I am so, so sorry for making them “art”, but I am eternally grateful they trust me enough to photograph them.
Don’t get me wrong. There are moments where I’m too sad to make anything. But I try so, so hard to stay excited about making work.
I use film and I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel or anything, but I’m definitely more aware of the work I’m putting out, who wants to work with me and where that puts me in the contemporary art world. I see my work acting as a visual diary and celebration of the lives around me. In a world that so badly wants to break me, I try to remain positive. Even when documenting pain, I try to not let it break me.
It’s difficult navigating through the industry and branding myself while holding onto exclusively using film, but it’s a challenge I’m ready to win.
What draws you to bedrooms and homes?
Growing up I spent a great deal of time reading books and falling in love with music all within the 4 walls I called my room. I decorated the walls with posters of my favorite pop stars and musicians. My room reflected the things that interested me and, in turn, who I thought I was: a pop culture fanatic who loved music.
I would go to my friends’ houses and would be drawn to the things they had on display in their room. I learned more about my friends by being in their bedroom than I did talking to them at school. At a young age I came to the conclusion that a bedroom best represented someone’s true character and I carried that theory with me all throughout college.
As for why i’m drawn to homes, I feel that a home is the foundation to what makes us who we are. Though a home is a town, building and the people around you, I believe a home is also a feeling we get when we are with the people we love and the places that make us feel accepted. And I’m drawn to all of this because I genuinely like knowing why people are the way they are.
Who, or what, do you think is underrated?
I think doing absolutely nothing on your to-do list is underrated. Sometimes you need to not overexert yourself and take a day off to watch Netflix or your favorite movie or whathaveyou.
Have you recently learned something that has caused you to recontextualize your understand of the world?
I have learned a while ago that I’m not where I want to be because I’ve been playing by the rules. I have never been one to follow the rules. Sure, I’ll learn them, but in time I break them because at the end of the day, it’s my life, my story, and it’ll be a damn cold day in hell if I let someone write my biography for me. I’ve learned that if I let go of my rebellion, I’m giving up a huge part of who I am and I may get what I want in life, but at the cost of denying my truth. And I don’t want that. No one should want that.
Tell me something great.
You are a strong and beautiful human and don’t you dare let anyone say you don’t deserve everything you want and more.
Interviewed January 2016. Find Courtney and her work on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.