Word of Mouth: Nashville Conversations—Aña Monique, Photographer & Branding Consultant

Recently I had the pleasure of putting together an interview series called “Girl Crush” for a new women’s app, Uplevyl, which debuted this month. The app is geared towards professional women and features content to help them during different milestones in their life like career transitions and childbirth. I was brought on board by one of my very first editors, Judy Sutton who is dear to my heart. I met Judy many moons ago while interning at Time Out Chicago, and was thrilled to work with her again to provide women with helpful guidance delivered through my favorite medium: the Q&A interview. There is something about learning a lesson through someone’s real-life story that I have always thought makes the information stick a little better in your brain. Perhaps it feels less preachy and is easier to digest as opposed to say, a self-help book. 

One of the women that immediately came to mind when deciding on who I wanted to interview was portrait and fashion photographer Aña Monique. I had met Aña Monique, a native Hawaiian who splits her time between Los Angeles and Nashville, through a mutual friend. Immediately, I found myself fascinated by her journey of transitioning from a model to a photographer. While this is definitely a common, practical pivot, it was fascinating to hear about her perspective firsthand. In particular, I liked hearing about how she wants to hit people over the head with the truth: most of what we see isn’t real so it’s better to rock what you got. As I’ve read more and more articles about how social media and high fashion magazines affect women’s mental health I thought it was so important to talk to someone who has participated in the airbrushing process. Like Aña Monique, who has photographed top models and actors, says “Beauty is subjective and what is truly sexy is confidence and self-love.” 

As someone who has been photographed by her when I needed new headshots, I have experienced her gift for getting you to not take yourself so seriously. Below she provides some great tips on how to be at ease in front of the camera—and in real life— by not putting on any airs and having faith that you’ll attract the right clients, fanbase, or even friends from there. As someone who knows how awkward it is to try and be natural in the most contrived setting possible, she wants to make the process more pleasurable.

In our image-focused world, how can women be less self-conscious?

Be okay with yourself and know that what you see is fake. Work on the inside, and what you can uniquely bring to the world, your family, friends, and community. Allow that to radiate through.

Did being in front of the camera help you empathize with your subjects?

Absolutely. I loved runway shows because I felt like a rock star however, photoshoots were always nerve-wracking. We don’t have a mirror in front of our face 24/7 so I consider it my job to find the right angles and sparks of life in my subjects. It’s also why I enjoy doing my own hair and makeup because the process breaks down walls. Touching someone’s face allows them to let go.

Do you have a specific tactic that you use to capture each subject as a unique entity?

I look at people for who they are, rather than what they do. I would photograph the Pope the same way that I’d photograph you because I’m just naturally curious. I just want to know what makes someone tick. That probably goes back to growing up in Hawaii. We’re too chill to let someone’s status determine how we act. We’ll invite a celebrity to go surfing. (Laughs)

As a branding consultant, what advice do you have about visual representation?

Know who you are and what your brand is, and then mesh the two together. As an actor would, decide what role you want to play and brand yourself through imagery in that way. It should be organic. People can spot inauthenticity.

Since photography is your second career, what has been most rewarding about it?

I feel so blessed to get a lot of positive feedback from my clients. It could be a card that says I helped them see themselves differently or a text that tells me a headshot got them more work. To know that I added to someone’s life, or made it better in some way, makes me feel like I am contributing.

How can people have more fun in the photoshoot process so they aren’t nervous wrecks?

Honesty, just don’t take yourself so seriously. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and if you need to take a shot of alcohol then by all means have one. I might even have something in my closet. (Laughs)

Learn more about Aña Monique here

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Lily Clayton Hansen

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