ACE FANNING UNRAVELED: AN INTERVIEW
Words by and interview with Ace Fanning
Sitting down to write a quick blurb about yourself is probably one of the hardest tasks a person can do. Do I write this like a dating app, where I list the things I like and the things I don’t, but kinda lie so I don’t seem like a complete hermit who doesn’t enjoy exercise and has a body built on carbs and sugar? I could. Or do I try to sum up everything that has ever happened to me in my life and apply meaning whenever possible? I could. I won’t bore you with either. I think I will hit the parts you, as a creative, need to know.
I was 14 the first time I attempted suicide (sheesh, hit the ground running— but this is REALLY where my story starts). I struggled so much trying to fit in and trying to be something that I wasn’t— and failing miserably along the way. I was always targeted at being the boy who was always playing with the girls, the boy whose voice was always a little too high (puberty didn’t me until I was almost 16) and the boy who didn’t care for sports. I was reminded constantly that the person I was was not the person I should be. I struggle the majority of my childhood with depression— before I even knew what depression was— and I spent so long hating myself and the person I was. Don’t worry, this story gets better, A LOT better.
My life changed drastically TWO times in my life. The first, when I met my now wife, a year after my suicide attempt. She became my best friend and the absolute best person to ever walk into my life. She mended a lot of wounds I carried around. And the second, when I found photography. It sounds so “dramatic,” and call it that if you want, but photography did something for me that I never knew could happen. Photography taught me to love myself. It taught me to love the real me: the guy who has always been surrounded by girls, the guy who doesn’t care for sports, the guy whose voice is still too high— I love that guy, a lot. And I think thats why I am here— I think thats why I care so much about meeting and connecting with other creatives— because more often than not, we have been broken, we have struggled, and we have forgotten to love ourselves— and if I can push just once person to explore their creative side and learn to love themselves the same way I do now, then I could die tomorrow the happiest man. I can’t wait to meet all of you…. And not the dating profile version of you, the real you.
What inspires your art? There was a really long period of time when my art was inspired by nothing but LIKES. I used to want to be featured by Free People SOOO bad-- so I would look at what they used to feature and try to recreate it in what I was doing. And every single time I would fall short, because trying to be something you aren't will always lead to failure. And then finally I realized that Free People didn't give a shit about my work and I would never be featured... and even if I was, what did that mean? 5 minutes of Instagram Fame where your followers sky rocket and then slowly drop off over the next few days, because you aren't who they thought you were. It's so sad looking back and seeing my own way of thinking.
So I stopped that. And now I just shoot straight from my heart. I recently did a shoot where my model was on a white background in a white dress and covered in white paint all over her dark skin and it got the least amount of LIKES on my Instagram that I had gotten in awhile. When it was featured on LooksLikeFilms Instagram, it also got some of their lowest likes... and despite all the likes it didn't get, you couldn't pull me down from my high. If I could have taken my heart out of my chest and placed it into a frame-- it was those pictures. And if other people didn't love it, that was okay... because I know I created something I loved. I created something that spoke to me and it told people who I was as an artist-- and if they got that or they didn't, that didn't matter to me. I don't let things like 'likes' or 'features' inspire me-- I just follow my heart. And I have never been happier.
What do you shoot with? Camera body and favorite lens? I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and 95% of the time my Canon 35mm 1.4 is on there... BUT given the right situation, I really do love what the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 has to offer... but the stars have to align just right for me to whip that bad boy out.
What other ways do you express your creativity? So heres the deal and I tell people this all time... photography is my job, but it is also my passion. So when I have the opportunity to really create with photography, without any boundaries or expectations, and just do it because I love it-- THAT is when I get to truly express my creativity. And for the longest time that was it. But recently I have started writing songs. I've always been drawn to songs that my wife calls, "depressing," (coming from someone who loves the song 'Redneck Woman') and not shockingly, those are the songs that come out of me. I turn on my MusicBed app (because I can't play an instrument to save my life) with only instrumental songs selected and I just pour my heart out. Right now I am trying to find the perfect track for this song I have stuck in my head called, "Straw House," -- its about a person who builds themselves up to be your safety, your brick house, but then this storm comes rolling in and you see that this person is nothing but a straw house, gone at the first sight of trouble. There is just something so therapeutic about taking your feelings (even if they are past feelings) and putting them into words and then into a song.
How do you de-stress at the end of the day? I wish I could be one of those people who sits here and tells you I unwind with a nice yoga session, followed by a deep meditation... but I am not. I de-stress at the end of the day watching middle-aged women with a ton of money fight it out on national television. My wife and I are reality television junkies and my love language is when my wife says to me on Wednesday at noon, "Real Housewives of New York tonight!" I could marry her again in that moment. I've always been that way about TV... I can remember once in 7th grade a bunch of my friends were going to Desert Ridge (because aimlessly walking around an outdoor mall is what kids do) and I told them I didn't feel good, but I just really wanted to get home and watch the newest episode of Newlyweds: Nick + Jessica. I will always choose a night in over a night around people.
What kind of music do you listen to while editing? I don't... at least for the most part. My wife and I work together in the same office, so between our computers we will set up my laptop and binge entire shows. In our busy season (that time when we only leave the house to do more shoots) we watched the entire series of Nurse Jackie in a week. Currently, we are watching Nashville and pretty obsessed with it. If my wife has to run an errand and I can't watch the show without her, I will quickly turn on Hoarders. She says that show makes her sick-- but I live for it.
What is your favorite book? A few years ago I probably would have answered this question how I thought I was suppose to answer it, naming some business book I read part of that was intended to be inspiring, but I got bored and never picked it back up. But, I would rather be real. "A Stolen Life," by Jaycee Dugard. I have never REALLY connected with books-- I've read tons of them, but I always feel like theres something in the way that keeps me from getting connected on a deeper level. But this book had me crying constantly-- I would stay up late to read more and just end up crying in bed. So often, we all think that what we are going through is so tough (and because of our life experience-- it is) but none of us have ever been kidnapped for 20 years and forced to have two children with our captor. And seeing how Jaycee takes everything that has happened to her and still manages to be the most optimistic (but real) person, it just puts so much into perspective for you.
Name one movie that inspires you. Juno. A movie about a girl who gets knocked up at 16 doesn't exactly sound like the most inspiring movie for some people-- but I have seen it more times than I can count and it always leaves me feeling inspired. There is nothing I love more than an "underdog" story-- but thats not even what inspires me about this movie. This movie teaches so much about unconditional love-- about loving someone even though they've royally screwed up and being there for them no matter what. I can feel myself tearing up just writing about it. And there's a scene in that movie that was totally intended to just be funny when Juno is getting an ultrasound and the ultrasound technician discovers that Juno is giving her baby up for adoption (sorry for the spoiler) and replies, "Thank Goodness for that!" And then goes on to say that she sees too many girls like Juno getting pregnant who shouldn't be having kids, and then Bren (Juno's stepmom who she is always bickering with) steps in and says, "Oh, you think you're so special because you get to play Picture Pages up there? Well, my five year old daughter could do that and let me tell you, she's not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed. So why don't you go back to night school in Mantino and learn a real trade." And I sob every time. I don't even laugh. Despite all their fights, Bren is there for Juno, to protect her and love her. And tears just stream down my face.
How do you handle self-doubt or creative slumps? How do I get through the day-to-day's of life? That's basically what you're asking me. I struggle with self-doubt a ton. I always have. However, I used to allow self-doubt to consume me and eat me alive. In the past year or so, I have tried to flip my way of thinking about my self-doubt. First, instead of trying to pretend I wasn't struggling with self-doubt-- I have openly embraced it. Which sounds weird-- but by accepting it, I am in charge of it. If you try to run from something, eventually you're going to run out of breath (and trust me, I am not one for exercise) and it will catch up to you. And then you have to try and deal with it face on while being completely depleted from running for so long. Now, when self-doubt shows up, I lean into it... I might as well be making-out with it... I just start creating. If I can feel it slowly creeping up, I start planning a styled session... but I have also been in a place when it just popped up out of nowhere and I called my best friend, my muse (Cydni-- if you've seen my work, you've seen her) and I just said, "Can you meet me in 15 minutes?" and we created some of the best images I have ever created. When those moments used to happen, I would lay on the couch and cry (very Lifetime movie of me) and just sit in a big pile of "poor me" shit. I can't do that anymore. So now, when self-doubt creeps up and taps me on the shoulder, instead of trying to ignore it, I whip out my "creative balls" and show it everything I've got.
**DISCLAIMER: If you've somehow come across this interview without being a creative and just read all that and labeled me "emotionally unstable" or a "complete nut case" -- I don't blame you and I am not unaware of how odd it all sounds, and I could try to sit here and explain what it feels like to pour every ounce of your heart into your creativity, but you have to feel it to know it.
What has been the most difficult part of your creative journey? Finding my place. I started photography when I was 20 years old and I came into this local community that was filled primarily with moms. So here I am, a 20 year old guy who wants to photograph families and (in my local community) a lot of the other photographers didn't like that. I wasn't a mom-tog, I wasn't a wedding photographer, and I wasn't shooting fashion-- I loved photographing families. It was weird-- but I always felt like I didn't belong. And I had no friends in the industry for the longest time-- so I had to just figure out everything on my own. And it sucked. My community gets me now, they accept the heck out of me, and I have made so many photographer friends over the years-- so its all good. But I would still say I struggle to find my place. There are tons of guys in this industry, probably even more guys than girls, but I don't primarily shoot weddings, and I am not an "adventurer" who wants to travel the world, and I am not a photographer who is so cool that more of my portfolio is of myself than others... I am just a chubby guy who shoots an occasional wedding, loves to be home and behind the camera, and who expresses himself through his photos. And coming from someone who ate his lunch in the library his entire freshman year of high school because I didn't have any friends-- I know... I know I don't need to fit in anywhere. But I would say thats my biggest struggle-- just trying to see where I go.
Who is one of your favorite photographers? Allegra Messina of Messina Photos. She is a Fashion Photographer based out of Seattle, WA-- and she is probably the coolest person I know... but without even trying. I was lucky enough to meet her recently and tag along for one of her sessions while I was in Seattle and it was one of the best experiences I could have had as a photographer. Just getting to see how another photographer works is so eye-opening, but Allegra is the exact opposite of me in every single way and I love her so much for it. She inspires me on the daily.