Ashley Joncas is a photographer, and artist, and editor, and model, and stylist, and…is there anything Joncas can’t do, or hasn’t tried to do? It sure doesn’t seem that way. Her photos appear to come from another world, one that is fantastic and dangerous and tantalizingly dark. Dear Darkling had the chance to talk with her on how she creates her stunning photos, and the future of fashion publishing.
What artists and photographers are inspiring you right now?
As for photographers, I’ve always been drawn to Steven Klein. He’s focused on every tiny detail, and is someone who crafts an entire alternate world within his work, which is something I try to do as well. I’m drawn to things that evoke power instead of sorrow, which has been such a common theme lately in the creative photography scene, so I admire provocatively strong visionaries. I’m also forever obsessed with Hieronymous Bosch. I think I’ll always be fascinated with trying to understand how his mind worked. Music plays a huge role in my creative process as well, and I’m in love with everything Amon Tobin and Ramin Djawadi produce. They’re constantly playing in the background while I edit work.
Your work pulls from so many different concepts, sometimes evoking anime, folklore, or even high end fashion photo shoots. How do you decide what direction to take a given shoot?
Most of my shoots are based on scenes I see in my head or sparked from a random visual element of a movie, a tv show, or a place I stumble on. I try to never be too predictable with the themes in my work, so it allows endless possibility. About 90% of my work is all directed and executed by myself as well, meaning hair, make-up, styling, creating one-off garments, photographing, and all editing. I look at each image as a work of art so my hand needs to touch all corners of the process in one way or another.
You’re a real jack of all trades with art, modeling, shooting, and editing all your work. You’ve even started your own magazine, CXIII. What drives you to do all this yourself?
I think I was born to have my hands in everything. Not in a greedy “I want it all” kind of way, but in the way that I’m constantly craving to learn more. The key to being a great artist, in my opinion, is to always soak up the world around you; not from pricey workshops, but from trying new things, failing, trying again, and becoming stronger. It doesn’t cost much money, and the value you gain from understanding the process of developing your own ideas is priceless. Go online, go out on an adventure, and strive to be a continuously growing human. You have to become comfortable with experiment and knowing there’s a 50/50 chance of either kicking ass or messing up.
Your witchy photos always have this ethereal, dreamlike quality in these amazing, fairy tale-esque settings. Do you find the Pacific Northwest bountiful for these kinds of scenes? How do you scout these gorgeous locations?
When I moved to Seattle, I just started driving to the beaches or parks and walked aimlessly. The beautiful thing about this town is that I can live smack dab in the middle of the city, but drive for 20 minutes in any direction and be in the forest or a secluded rocky beach. The environment and landscape are literally perfect for the work that I do, and despite much of the industry being in Los Angeles, I’ve grown to realize I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but the PNW. It’s the first place I’ve felt at home, and the most diversely inspiring habitat I could ask for to push me artistically. My locations are happy accidents, much like my move to Seattle.
All your photos have this edgy vibe to them, that’s balanced out by a softer, almost supernatural light. Without giving any secrets away, how do you get that dreamy “Ashley Joncas look”?
Oh, I’m taking those tricks to the grave with me! BUT, what I can say, is that the dreamy dark vibes that I’ve become known for are a product of teaching myself Photoshop and playing the whole “trial and error” game for years. I get most of my techniques from being a traditional artist first and foremost, so I treat editing photos like painting. It’s a lethal combo of years of practice and being a closet paint-a-holic.
You’ve said you started CXIII as a way to bypass your frustration with the publishing industry. What frustrates you about mainstream fashion publishing, and what do you think needs to change?
The publishing industry obviously makes money from advertisements, from placing high profile names on covers, and giving us a taste of “the life we want.” I remember growing up looking at Elle Magazine and Vogue, racing through 100+ pages of beauty adverts to get to the content that would jolt my brain artistically. After a while I found nothing. Editorials felt stale and I felt myself losing my vision to an industry that just gave the people what they want and what they “need” based on pop culture. I wanted to give people something they’ve never seen before; something that makes them uncomfortable but evokes feeling. That was when I decided to launch an ad-free, almost entirely visual magazine. It’s not driven by profit, but instead substance. It gained a pretty substantial reader base after 2 years so despite it not turning out any major excess income, I hope that it inspires people to crave more visual substance in their life instead of following trends based off of what a celebrity likes.
Do you see yourself as operating completely outside of “the establishment” of art and fashion as a conscious, dare I say, political choice? Or do you think you would join the industry ranks under the right circumstances?
My rebellious nature would lean towards being a force of nature on my own, but it’s important to collaborate with others to build fellow creatives up professionally and artistically. I’ve always wanted to work entirely in production design and art directing, so working with a team to build the worlds we see in movies and television is my eventual dream.
Do you think of your art as way to escape our world, or a way to enhance it?
It’s a bit of both! I have days where I want to design a new world, and others where I see the beauty of its existing terrain. Much of my early work started with a want to escape traumatic experiences in life and escape my hometown. I dreamt of the world that lived beyond the small state I knew, and I would fabricate alternate realities that felt indicative of who I was and what I wanted to see. As time went on, and once I finally moved away, I felt at peace with my surroundings, and now I work more fluidly with what the world has given me. I like to build upon the grounds we know, but twist it in a way we aren’t familiar with.
I’ve read you’re a big Star Wars fan, if you were to do a photo shoot on one planet or place in the Star Wars universe, what one would it be?
Tatooine for sure! I like the harsh desert climate, and the idea of creating some weird post-apocalyptic shoot on the endless desert sands with its two suns glistening in the background. It also reminds me of Mars, and since that’s where I believe humanity will make its next mark, I like the idea of seeing what’s possible in such a vast desolate area.
All photos are property of Ashley Joncas and are not to be used without her permission.