interview: anna wolf

Apostrophe Reps commissioned me to write an interview with the newest addition to their roster, photographer/director Anna Wolf. The piece was published on the agency's blog and promoted on social media. 

 

We’re thrilled to welcome fashion, lifestyle, and advertising photographer and director Anna Wolf to Apostrophe. Anna is a lot like her work: effortlessly stylish, super engaging, and that hard-to-find balance of elevated and approachable. She’s also incredibly driven. Not only does Anna shoot and direct campaigns for clients like Target, Levi’s, and Steven Alan; she also publishes a magazine called Tidal that showcases her and her colleagues’ original work and has featured cool-kid celebs like Alia Shawkat of Search Party, Natalie Morales (Parks & Recreation), Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, and Zoe Kravitz (Big Little Lies). “The magazine is a beast, and fitting that in with everything else I have going on is at times sort of insane,” says Anna, whose work you can see here, “but at the end of the day I just love working.”

You know those creative people you read about who live that awesome bicoastal life, splitting their time between New York City and Los Angeles and soaking up the best of both cities? Anna is one of them. She travels to LA often for shoots and is based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, designer and animator Mike Perry, and their dog, Bass. The couple, who have been featured on the Steven Alan blog and in a short film, often collaborate on projects. Mike is the design director of Anna’s magazine, in fact. “Mike constantly inspires me to follow my gut and to never doubt my creative vision,” says Anna. "I feel that the one of the hardest things about being an artist is the tendency to talk yourself out of something you’re scared to do. He is a constant reminder to ignore that nagging voice of self doubt.” 

Yet it’s hard to imagine anything stopping Anna, least of all self doubt. She followed up her graduation from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, with a year in Mexico City because she wanted to learn Spanish, live somewhere new, and challenge herself. “It was the best and worst time of my life,” she told online magazine The Great Discontent in an interview. “I didn’t know anybody and didn’t speak Spanish; it was challenging and lonely. I cried for two weeks when I got there and it was pretty gnarly to say the least, but totally amazing.” 

Having developed a portfolio of editorial and advertising work in Mexico, Anna moved to New York and paid her dues the old-fashioned way: assisting other photographers, waiting tables, and doing odd jobs. It was around this time that she got her first big break. But we’ll let Anna tell you about that herself. Below, she discusses career turning points, current obsessions, her approach to directing talent, her quest to develop a playlist that can span five shoot days without a repeat, her fave places in NYC and LA, and much more. 

You’ve described your work as being an intersection of fashion and lifestyle—“a mix between fashion that is approachable and low-key and lifestyle with really good taste.” How did you develop that style, and why does it appeal to you? 

I think it’s just who I am as a person. I believe that an artist’s work is a reflection of who they are and what they value. On a surface level, I have an appreciation for beautiful, well-made things, but at the end of the day what I really want is a realness and trueness that make life meaningful.

Some photographers create elaborate mood boards and make detailed sketches as they analyze how they’ll approach a project. What’s your process? 

I don’t want to give away my secrets! But what I can say is that mood boards and treatments are the foundation of my creative process. So much of my creative vision gets fleshed out during this phase of a project, as well as many of the problems that need to be solved. Since this stage really lays the groundwork for a project, I approach it with the same level of detail that I give when I am on set.

When you’re on set, how do you work with talent to capture the images you need? Communication is everything for me in directing talent. I believe in a balanced approach, giving enough direction so the talent understand what we are trying to achieve, but not giving so much that they feel their actions are being prescribed. I always start with a rundown of who the client is and what our overall vibe is. And then when we get into more specific scenarios, I like to give my talent little random stories so they can get into character—“You’re on a new boat that your boyfriend just bought for you because he proposed and you said no and he’s trying to convince you. But now you’re just partying with your friends… And go!” I like to just be silly and get people to let down their guard and joke and laugh with me. I have no problem making a fool of myself so people feel comfortable following my lead. 

Tell us about a major turning point in your career. 
There have been two really large moments in my life that have shaped my career:

In 2005, I shot the holiday catalog for Urban Outfitters. I had been doing editorial and smaller jobs up until that point, and that 11-day catalog shoot was like a door opening to the space my career inhabits now. 

Almost 10 years later, in 2014, I started Tidal magazine, a biannual print magazine that allows me to realize all of my creative ideas as well as satisfying my desire to take on complex production projects. Tidal really pushed me into a realm of “making” that took me from being just a photographer into being a creative director with a larger vision.

Tidal combines fashion, culture, and lifestyle stories from both coasts and features your work and that of other photographers. Publishing a magazine is a huge endeavor. What have you learned in the years since Tidal launched? 

Haha, yes, it is a HUGE endeavor, and sometimes I think I’m crazy for doing it. But at the end of the day, it’s so fulfilling and is worth every bit of blood, sweat, and tears. The magazine not only gives me a platform to shoot whatever I want, whenever I want, but my network of creatives, producers, and writers has grown in an amazing way since starting the magazine. I’ve learned so much about being a manager and a creative director, changing the way I approach my own photography projects.

If you could show a prospective new client only three of your shoots, which three would you pick, and why? That really depends on who the client is! If it were a retail client, I would show work that I’ve done for Tidal, since it’s the work that represents my own creative vision. The three I’d show would be my most recent shoot with Abrielle Stedman in Holbox, Mexico, called “Abrielle.” It’s a bit beauty and a bit fashion and just feels really fresh. I’d also show “Family Affair,” which is a chic view on multigenerational women lounging around their Brooklyn brownstone. I’ve increasingly been interested in shooting different ages and not just models in their 20s. And the third would be “Blue Jean Baby,” a denim story I shot in LA that I feel really sums up the way I mix my fashion with lifestyle vibes. 

You’re also a director. That title is used very casually these days. What does it mean to you? And why is directing important to you? 
I’ve always loved a challenge. Directing is a natural extension of what I am already doing and is in many ways the future of photography. I’ve found over the years that when something becomes easy for me, I get the itch for the next thing that’s going to turn me upside down. It’s been so fun to explore all the other dimensions that make up a moving image, like a more complex storyline, sound design, and editing. 

You’re originally from Southern California, and you divide your time between New York City and Los Angeles. How does each city influence you? 
New York keeps me driven, and LA is my creative soul. I am in love with the energy and passion that reverberate through New York. I am drawn to people who have the same insane desire and need to work as I do. They inspire me, and they make me want to work harder. LA is where I grew up and is what, consciously and unconsciously, shapes my vision: the light, the prehistoric succulents, the colors, and its eternal summer. 

What are five must-visit places in LA and NYC? 

Los Angeles:

  • The beach. Any beach, really. But El Matador in Malibu is pretty fucking great.
  • Tacos por Favor on Olympic in Santa Monica. This is the first spot I hit every time I get off the plane from NYC.
  • Topanga Canyon for a cruise around “town” and a hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
  • A little shopping at American Rag on La Brea and then next door for a Niçoise salad and an Arnold Palmer outside in front of the home goods store. Such chill LA vibes, and the people watching is amazing.
  • Olympic Spa, an all-ladies nude spa that has amazing baths, scrubs, massages, an off-the-hook Korean restaurant, and heated floors for meditating, sleeping, or reading the New York Times on your phone. 

New York:

  • Dog walk during off-leash hours (before 9 AM) in Prospect Park, followed by a visit to Lincoln Station for a cappuccino and what might just be the best breakfast sandwich in all of NYC.
  • Il Buco.
  • The Dia Beacon.
  • A walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, even though it’s a shit show.
  • I secretly love the double-decker bus tours that drive around NYC where you sit in the open-air top level and listen to historical facts about the city. It’s so fun to watch New Yorkers going about their daily life.

Any current obsessions, creative or otherwise? 
My husband’s homemade harissa. Grilled pizza. Aperol spritz in a gigantic wine glass. My dog, Bass, currently and always. Looking at properties for sale that I’m probably never going to buy. Planning my next vacation. Old shows—Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder She Wrote, The West Wing.

What are some of the songs/albums you play on set? 
I’m super serious about my music and playlists on set. I’m currently working on a five-day-shoot playlist, so if I’m in studio for five days the idea is that I can listen to it all the way through without repeats. That’s way harder than it sounds because by the time I get past adding songs that get me up to, like, day three, I have to start deleting stuff because I’m so sick of hearing the songs that have been on there a while. So I’m sort of stuck in a never-ending holding pattern! But to answer your question, a good mix of old and new stuff that runs the genre gamut (skipping anything that has too many guitars), like Blood Orange, SBTRKT, Whitney Houston, Lion Babe, Talking Heads, Aaliyah, Diplo, Diana Ross, Glass Animals, Toro y Moi… 

Just a few “last” questions: Last song that got stuck in your head? 
Last time I was in a Forever 21 Mariah Carey was blasting and when I got home and sat down to meditate basically my entire 20-minute meditation was “Fantasy” over and over again on repeat.

Last thing you binged on Netflix? 
Game of Thrones.

Last great meal you had? 
My husband just made his infamous mushroom broth for dinner. Tonight was with fresh ramen noodles, sautéed carrots, and broccoli. 

Last great adventure? 
I’m currently on it.