Today’s Feature, April 27-28, 2007: Ali Skye Bennet

January 18, 2008 at 5:49 pm (Today's Feature)

Photographer and actress, Ali Skye BennetAli Skye Bennet received her first camera at age five. “It was pink and had one of those detachable, 12-time-use, disposable flashes.” Almost 20 years later Bennet finds herself using a bit more sophisticated equipment. However, it was that early fascination with photography that led her to where she is today; professional, published and award-winning. Living in New York she gets a chance to see and discover people, who are so comfortable with their surroundings that they rarely notice she is there. Often, what makes a great photographer is one who can blend into a crowd – watching, observing and listening to their subjects and to their own intuition. As an actress, Bennet’s relationship with the theatre gives her an advantage over other photographers. She’s aware of what people want to see and knows how to bring out the real impression in someone who may not know they had it in them.

Photographers work in the split second of the present. You blink, turn your head, look away or even sneeze and you lost the shot. From there Bennet moves on. After all, in a city like New York, there is always something to see. Something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot more of Ali Skye Bennet in the future. Read her XXQs to find out why…

XXQs: Ali Skye Bennet (PEV): How and why did you get involved with photography?

Ali Skye Bennet (ASB): I bought my first digital camera three years ago before a two-and-a-half month trip across Europe. I really had no idea at the time that that would be the single most influential purchase of my life! When I returned home and showed my pictures to people, they were extremely complimentary and encouraged me to pursue photography further. It wasn’t difficult to persuade me! I immediately fell in love with photography; I am always observing, always looking deeper than what you might see on the surface, and I felt like I finally found a way to SHARE those fleeting moments!

PEV: Any professional training or was it just learn as you go?

ASB: It was pretty much learn as you go. As soon as I got home from Europe, I started buying tons of photography magazines and books and training myself how to use my equipment better, how to see differently, how to make the most of any situation I found myself in.

PEV: You received your first camera at age five, which you say, “It was pink and had one of those detachable, 12-time-use, disposable flashes”. Technology has changed quite a bit since then. What do you now use?

ASB: My baby is the Canon 20D, which I use with a Sigma 55-200mm zoom and a standard EFS 18-55mm. However, it is way too much to carry around everyday — and I MUST have a camera with me at all times! — So I use a Casio EX-P600 or Casio EX-Z57

PEV: There is a standard debate of photographers using film versus digital. What is your opinion?

ASB: Ahhh yes, that age-old debate of film vs. digital…personally, I prefer to shoot on digital for a number of reasons. It allows the photographer to see the image and adjust the exposure and various levels BEFORE the development process. What if you shoot an entire event on film and then find that nothing turned out the way you hoped because of poor lighting, or a scratch on the lens, or some other unforeseen problem?? With digital, you know immediately how the shot will look and can make adjustments on the spot. You can shoot hundreds of pictures and only print a handful, if you wish. I respect the process of developing film and definitely understand its appeal; it’s more hands on and gives the photographer complete control in the darkroom. However, technology is improving by the day and I think that the quality of digital photos are just as good as film, and that film will be completely gone 50 years from now.

PEV: Describe the feeling of capturing a great shot?

ASB: Nothing compares! When you know that you’ve got the shot, you feel like you’re walking on air.

PEV: You have done a good share of traveling. What is the best city to shoot?

ASB: Hmmm, this is a tough one. The best city to shoot may be your own! I love shooting in New York because I feel comfortable here and I know that the people don’t care. There are always artists around and people are really open-minded about that. I love traveling and exploring new territory with my camera, but you have to be careful because every culture is different and people might not be as accepting as you are used to.

PEV: You have racked up quite an impressive resume of awards. What was is like to win the first one? Validation? Pride? Determination?

ASB: All of the above! It was only after winning that first award and being published in PhotoLife Magazine that I began to call myself a photographer. It made me realize that this was something I could do for my entire life and be happy, make money, travel — it all goes hand in hand — rather than just as a hobby.

PEV: What is the best part about living in New York?

ASB: Definitely the people! New York is soooooo diverse and it’s really amazing to see so many different kinds of people all sharing such a small space! It is also a city with lots of art and culture and it is nice to feel like a part of all that; I think art is the bloodline of New York.

PEV: Where is the best place to take pictures in New York City?

ASB: I think that any place you can just sit and observe is a goldmine. I love Washington Square Park because you can sit there for hours and see something new every minute. You’ve got the college hipsters, the drug dealers, the chess-hustlers, the families, the musicians…. there is just so much life!

PEV: Some photographers prefer black and white to color photos, or vise verse. Any preference?

ASB: It depends on the photo. I OFTEN shoot in black and white and love to do so (and only bought my Canon over the Nikon D70 because Nikon doesn’t have a monochrome feature), but sometimes the colors are part of the story the photo is telling.

PEV: Tell us about the photo, “Beautiful Ignorance”?

ASB: “Beautiful Ignorance” is a photograph of one of the girls I baby-sit for, Naomi. She was three years old and we were playing in her backyard (a brownstone w/ garden in the West Village) with her older sister. Being young and in a private setting, they would frequently take their clothes off and just run around and play and let me photograph them. Even though I loved how uninhibited they were, it struck me how ignorant they were to society’s ideas of pornography and body image and self-awareness… and I found it absolutely wonderful.

PEV: For those that don’t know, who is Athena the cat?

ASB: Athena is my baby! She has really been though it though! On my way back to New York from Baltimore after Thanksgiving, she escaped from her bag while I was asleep. Even though she was wearing tags (with a NY phone number!) the bus driver thought she was a stray and let her out of the bus! She was missing for three weeks, during which time, her story had been published in various newspapers across the country. The people in the community where she was lost were distributing flyers, leaving out food, and donating cat traps to help us find her. Finally, I went to Baltimore to see what I could do and three weeks to the day after she was lost, my dad and I found her!

PEV: Athena’s story sounds like a movie. Ever think of pitching it?

ASB: I have a feeling that Disney has covered the lost-cat-in-the-big-wide-world thing in a number of different movies 🙂

PEV: You said that working with children has inspired you. How?

ASB: Kids are so incredibly free-spirited and uninhibited. They haven’t been taught to be self-conscious yet, so they are always very open to being photographed and are ALWAYS “themselves.” Thanks to them, I have learned how to communicate openly with my subjects and have been able to feel at ease while doing so.

PEV: Which magazine do you think has the best display of quality photography?

ASB: I am a huge fan of PhotoLife Magazine. They always have such amazing work and are extremely open to readers sending in their work to be published. I dream of working for National Geographic, though the opportunities to do so are not quite as plentiful.

PEV: How does your theatrical background play into your photography?

ASB: Being an actor, I have grown up observing people and how they interact with others. I find it extremely interesting to see how people behave in their own environment versus a foreign one, and how their behavior might change depending on who they are interacting with. I used to dream of a way to share these observations with people! Now I feel as though I have found one.

PEV: There are many famous celebrity/musician photos, who would be your favorite celebrity to photo? Why?

ASB: Wow, what a question! I would absolutely love to photograph Philip Seymour Hoffman; I think he is an incredible actor and even though he has played SO many different kinds of roles, we don’t really know much about him as a person. I would love to be able to see him as he normally is, day to day, in New York City, with his son, with his theatre company (Labyrinth), etc. I feel like he possesses a very real, “unhollywood” quality and that is very appealing to me.

PEV: What is your take on the paparazzi?

ASB: I think the obsession with celebrity in our culture is completely out of control. I think the paparazzi sometimes go way too far and I have some serious moral issues with what they do. But they are working for a paycheck just like all the rest of us. It’s all supply and demand; the public wants to see it, the media gives it, and the paparazzi are cast as the bad guys. But I think it’s really the fault of the ragmags for making this celebrity stalking okay.

PEV: The saying, “a picture never lies” has been around forever. Why is that so true?

ASB: Well, one cannot deny what is captured on film. However, most photos are examined out of context and everyone has a different interpretation, so what is true for one may not be true for the next.

PEV: So, what is next for Ali Skye Bennet?

ASB: I will be in New York pursuing acting and taking small photography jobs until the beginning of the summer, at which time I will be traveling to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and spending two months in Greece. While there, I hope to become more familiar with Greek culture and when I return to New York in the fall, I will have a photography show, of course! Stay tuned for details….And that’s that! 🙂

For more information on Ali Sky Bennet, check out her photography:
To see Ali’s acting work:
(NOTE: NO www!)


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