Please introduce yourself
My name is Sarah Allegra and I’m a fine art photographer and self portrait artist from Los Angeles. I am self-taught and I’ve been shooting for just over five years.
How did you get interested in photography?
My background is in painting and illustration. About six years ago, I started becoming ill with what would turn out to be myalgic encephalomyelitis (or ME, sometimes also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or fibromyalgia) which, in addition to causing a lot of other problems, makes your muscles and tendons unreasonably painful and easy to injure. An afternoon of drawing might render my right arm virtually useless for days or weeks.
I was getting sicker and sicker, with more need for a creative outlet than ever, but my usual sources were becoming less and less available to me. It was also at this time that I was dating the man who would become my husband, who is a very talented photographer himself. I sat him down one afternoon and made him teach me the basics of photography; his instructions helped me get off auto settings and I went from there! I was thrilled to have an art form in my life again which I could use to channel away all the frustration, anger and sadness I was feeling.
Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I’m self-taught in photography, but growing up, I tried just about every art form there is. My parents were very encouraging of my creativity, which I am very thankful for. Everyone in my immediate family is creative in some way, but there was little other visual creativity from them as I grew up.
Since I picked up photography, the internet has been an enormous help; there are free tutorials for just about anything you could imagine! Phlearn.com taught me so much; I can’t even begin to describe how much they helped my work!
Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
So many! Brooke Shaden was one of the firsts along with Miss Aniela and Kirsty Mitchell. More recently I’ve discovered Robert Cornelius and Handy Andy Pandy, and of course there’s my mentor, Unsinn Image!
How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?
It varies some from image to image, but there can be months of work that go into a single image! My DreamWorld series in particular focuses more on handmade props and costumes, often created on a non-existent budget.
My image The Court Of the Dryad Queen took several months to create as I made the branch crown and dress on my own (including about a hundred leaves of different sizes, hand-cut from lace, stiffened and painted to make up the collar and cuffs) making up how to do it as I went along. Other images however are much less labor-intensive! All of my images have at least a lot of mental preparation involved and are usually roughly sketched out with notes for myself and the model(s).
Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
As hard as it can be sometimes, I really do love making the crazy props and costumes, especially when I get to show people the finished images along with the actual pieces. A lot of times, people don’t believe they really exist and aren’t simply a Photoshop creation until they see it for themselves! Sketching my ideas out ahead of time and letting the concepts really soak into my brain helps me a lot. I develop tunnel-vision the closer I get to finishing a project, with little attention left over for anything else in the mundane real world. Eventually I’ll realize I’m hungry or exhausted and take a break though!
At the same time, I also do enjoy creating things which could not possibly exist in real life through the magic of Photoshop. With hard work, there’s an awful lot that you can make happen in camera, but some things are beyond it, or at least beyond my budget! Layer masks are heaven-sent, along with online tutorials! I’ve also found that tweaking the colors, even slightly, can have a profound effect on an image. I’ll often use a combination of Selective Color, Curves adjustments and sometimes tinkering in LAB color mode to achieve the desired effect.
What do you do in your life besides photography?
The ME makes me unable to work a regular job with set hours and needing a body you can rely on every day, so art is a huge part of my life. I have a wonderful, extremely supportive and understanding husband (who will often allow himself to be either a human mannequin for me to test costume pieces on, as well as a human tripod, especially helpful for self-portraits!) along with two cats and a dog. People always ask about my dog, so I’ll include that info here; she is a Silken Windhound, which is a rarer American breed. All the animals are very sweet and get along well with each other and they all get into at least a little bit of mischief!
My other big hobby is reading. So many of my images are inspired by my favorite books! My two favorite authors are Peter S. Beagle and Robin McKinley; I will read absolutely anything they put out!
What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I have some plans that are slowly making their way toward being realized, but I’ll keep the lid mostly clamped on them for now. I can say that some of it involves Conlan Press, who publishes Peter S. Beagle’s works! This year I’m hoping to photograph some of the major characters in my DreamWorld series, which is an ongoing series chronicling the people and creatures who inhabit the land we visit in sleep. I’m very passionate about that series!
Animal rights are something else I’m very ardent about. I have a series of images planned to explore the concept. Look for those photographs in the next few months!
And of course, I’m always trying to raise awareness about ME. It’s a disease very people have even heard of (including many of my own doctors, it’s poorly funded and very misunderstood. It can be absolutely devastating, leaving its victims bed-bound, completely helpless and unable to care for themselves in any way. Yet male pattern baldness receives more than four times the funding from the government than ME does. I have nothing against men with luscious heads of hair, but there needs to be a bit more balance! My series Enchanted Sleep works to portray what living with ME is like for those who have never experienced it themselves. There’s nothing like a powerful image to get across what words can’t express!