Ashleigh Kane

For Viewfinder

Being present with your moments.

 
Ashleigh_PORT.JPG
 

Working at Dazed as Arts & Culture editor since 2014, Ashleigh Kane has a keen eye for new talent and is a great support to many emerging artists, photographers and creatives. From helping launch Dazed+Labs alongside Red Hook Lab’s founder, Jimmy Moffatt, and Dazed founder, Jefferson Hack, to recently joining Thursday’s Child as a curator and art buyer, Ashleigh encourages young people to explore their world through photography.

Unlike some editors who prefer to stay behind the scenes, Ashleigh demonstrates direct interest and consideration for each individual’s story, which makes her such an important voice in the community. She also curates exhibitions with unsigned talent. The respect she has for each artist is why I am privileged to count her as one of my closest friends—and why I asked her to write the introduction to a zine that went alongside my final university project, a multi sensory video installation, earlier this year.

Her genuine love of the arts makes her a key pillar in the community. She gives much appreciated advice whenever she can, which is one of the reasons why so many are thankful for Ashleigh. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Rhea Dillon

Visual Artist
 
 
Rhea.jpg
 
 

By Mo Mfinanga

August 23, 2019

Estimated 22 minute read

Mo: For those who don't know, mind explaining when you moved from Melbourne to London?

Ashleigh: I came here a few weeks before I turned 21 and wanted to see a band named Babyshambles who were playing on my birthday. I had about £1,300 and lived with my ex boyfriend for a little while. He ended up moving out of the apartment and I stayed [laughing] which was helpful because I didn't really understand how to find my own place. I moved because I had a British passport and I was fed up with my prospects in Melbourne. 

Ashleigh: I remember applying for Melbourne Fashion Week to be a volunteer, where I'd probably seat people or stand at the door and check tickets. But back then, I wanted to focus on things more fashion oriented. I never got any of those volunteer jobs. My ex-boyfriend and his friend both worked at restaurants in London so they got me a trial shift which ended up me getting the job. So that's how I got my feet with money and such, but this is me simplifying it because there were definitely a lot of stress and tests. I definitely knew I wanted to be a journalist but I didn't know how to find my way into it, and it took me about five years to do so.

Mo: Did anyone in your family indicate that you could work in a creative field?

Ashleigh: No, there's no one in my family that's creative at all. My mom is a secretary for my dad who has a business where he tiles bathrooms. My sister is a mom who had kids early. Even my friends in high school, as far as I know, never got into creative industries. So I looked to the internet for inspiration. I would follow fashion bloggers when I was 18 and found communities where you could talk about Alexander Wang or whoever was cool at the time. I think that led me more into a community where I could see outside of the parameters of my suburb in Melbourne.

Mo: How did you explain to your parents the path you were going to take?

Ashleigh: I think they thought I was just going to be here for a few months. I remember someone at my leaving party said something like, "See you at Christmas!" [both laughing] I didn't go back for three years. I don't think there was a discussion of me coming here to do this. Even now, my mom told me that if she knew I was going to come here for ten years, she would have never allowed me to get my British passport. [both laughing]

 
 
 
 


Mo: One thing we should talk about is how transparency solves a lot assumptions. I mean, the world of assumptions has never been as big as it is now.

Ashleigh: Yeah, I never realized people were in debt and that it was a natural thing to have debt. When I came back from LA, I had a £1,000 on my credit card and was freaking out, like, Is my life over? [laughing] My friend told me they had all this debt on their credit card and that's a normal way of life. I was like, wow that's really depressing. [both laughing] I think the financial aspects of things and knowing what people are getting paid helps. I always try to be transparent with women with as much, especially when it comes to valuing themselves.

Ashleigh: I was interviewing Tyler [Mitchell] for AnOther Magazine, which is a part of our [Dazed] family, and he said that when he was shooting the Beyoncé cover, that he was naive in a sense. He knew his ideas and what he wanted to shoot, but he didn't really know what he was getting into bed with, in terms of that moment and magazine. And he wants to say that because he wants young kids to know he doesn't have everything together, but he has his bag of tricks and he's working it out. I think those conversations are nice.

Mo: I've talked to people who've done really remarkable work and one of the consistent threads I've noticed in how they feel about working is number of nerves involved. At the end of the day, if you're photographing x for x, especially if there's cultural significance to it, no sane person is going to go, No big deal

Ashleigh: We're all freaking out! The thing that I'm concerned about is that everyone exists in a weird vacuum and then everyone is undervaluing themselves so we're creating a benchmark that's way too low for anyone to excel through.

Mo: Benchmark in terms of?

Ashleigh: Like, money that you're asking to get paid. Say you have a client where the brand is big and then you're going to do this job for this or free. I'm like, don't do anything for free unless you are truly investing in someone's practice. Like, I write for some friends' magazine for free because I really believe in them, and I'm investing myself with that magazine because I see potential for it. But yeah, if people are doing stuff for free or really cheap and throwing away their labor, then that creates a problem within the creative community itself where people aren't being paid what they're worth.

 
Ashleigh Kane interviews Tyler Mitchell for  AnOther Magazine .  Read the full article .

Ashleigh Kane interviews Tyler Mitchell for AnOther Magazine. Read the full article.

 


Mo: Speaking of the creative community, what are some things that you find people should be more aware of?

Ashleigh: I definitely think it's what we’ve talked about before in terms of people not coming in with a complete idea of what they're doing or where they're going or how to do that. I think it's about understanding that you're probably in the same position as that person that you're looking at and admiring, whether they were in that position three years ago or just two weeks ago. You're freaking out because you think everyone has their shit together but it's not true. I wish I had realized that a few years ago when I would think I wasn't worthy of certain situations or jobs. 

Ashleigh: A few years ago, me and my friend Grace Miceli did our first joint exhibition where we got all these photographers like Campbell Addy, Nadine Ijewere, and others who were on the come up. We curated their work on a wall, invited people down to have free beer, see the art, and put some music on. But it was like, “Oh, I can do this.” I'm allowed to do something like that! No one had to say that I was a curator in order to do a show. 

Ashleigh: I did a show that Melissa sponsored which was with Ruth Ossai, Shon Faye, and Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee. They just asked me to curate a show. Again, no one asked for my credentials. Like, I don't have a degree in journalism and didn't finish university. But there are certain things I've said no to because I'm not qualified, but that's a key thing. It makes sense to do something that on paper you're not qualified for, but your head and heart tells you to do it, and someone believes in you. I think I believed in myself more in terms of those things. We're all making it up as we go, which is basically Dazed's tagline.

Ashleigh: We're so worried about what other people think. I think as you get older you think you have so much more to lose. I'm not going to get any younger so I should probably stop thinking that. [both laughing]

Mo: Before we possibly get existential, are there any new or upcoming pursuits in your career?

Ashleigh: Yeah, over the past two months I’ve begun working with Thursday’s Child. It’s a curated platform featuring unsigned and unrepresented photographers and filmmakers from all over the globe. It’s parent company is Shoot Europe, founded by Jess Bradbury, and so we have the support of that. 

Ashleigh: We scout out people or put them on based on submissions and then we take them to major brands such as Nike or Converse and present them for campaigns. We offer a full production service for photographers, which is invaluable in a world where people are often just plucked from Instagram and things such as fees or usage are totally new areas. Everyone’s had such a hugely positive response to it so it’s an exciting time in my career. It’s nice to do something new.

 
Sit with the success of a project. Even if it was a failure, sit with that moment, feel it, and appreciate it.
— Ashleigh Kane
 

Figuring It Out

 
 

Mo: What are some things you thought you'd probably have the answer to a couple years down your career that you still haven't gotten answered yet?

Ashleigh: I did a panel recently where someone asked if I could have it all. For me, when do you define when that happens? What is all? Is it when I'm 90 and about to die? This idea of having figured everything out... I think when I was starting out, my parents would say they're proud of something and say it like I've achieved this massive thing, but I'm just getting started in what I'm trying to do. Dazed is such a good place to figure that all out because they give you the freedom to curate your own show or write for something else or whatever. I'm a virgo so I have to make everything perfect.

Mo: I'm one, too. It's horrible.

Ashleigh: I hate it! I'd rather be anything else.

Mo: Do you feel like you're always thinking about the end result to a damaging degree? I'm still learning to enjoy the process of making things rather than being fixated on the finished product. 

Ashleigh: I definitely am like that. With Dazed, I'm only on the online side of things, so the turnarounds are quick. But some of the trips I've done, I'll be in my head about needing to get this or that done, but you wish you could enjoy the process of being at that interview or meeting that person. In my freelance projects, like that show I curated with Melissa, I think we produced it in two months from scratch and I was doing my full time job at Dazed as well. 

Ashleigh: So, I'm sure I did appreciate the process like being on set with the artists, but the other things, I look back on it and notice how towards the end I was looking at things and wanted to just open the show and have it done. But you're also wondering, What if no one comes? So you don't actually want to finish it. You just want to stay suspended! [both laughing] 

Ashleigh: I need to not look at how successful something is going to be, especially as a journalist online. You're looking at the stats of articles and seeing what gets people engaged and talking, but we don't measure the success of a piece by that.

Mo: The temporary band-aid fix I've found is to just keep working and not look at the rear view mirror, but it's not sustainable because you start to forget to check in with yourself and see what you’ve done.

Ashleigh: When I opened the show, I don't think I remembered the opening. I was super tired; I wasn't drinking or eating. I was overwhelmed by everything. I needed to process that instead of just moving on. You have to count your moments and know that you did a good job on something. 

Ashleigh: I always tell my friends to sit with the success of a project. Even if it was a failure, sit with that moment, feel it, and appreciate it. Don't forget it because you've worked really hard on it. So many people are quick to discount everything they do. Maybe you need that advice because you're skipping along too fast!

Mo: This is a great therapy session. [both laughing] Sometimes I honestly believe that but I've set this arbitrary defense mechanism where I don't want to love my work that much. There’s the ongoing balance of serving what I do justice but not getting too invested in the justice of it all.

Ashleigh: It's a protective thing. We're trying to protect ourselves from saying I'm great, because then if something goes wrong and you're like, “Oh, I'm not as great as I thought I was.” But if you're constantly at a level of, “I'm okay,” then you can't really get too low down or fall too much. I love the people who walk into a place and are like, “I'm fucking amazing and I'm god.” And I'm like, give me some of that! [both laughing] Because I'm out here thinking okay is good. Kanye West is problematic but his confidence...

Mo: Him thinking he’s god is crazy, but he did that.

Ashleigh: He's still doing it! [both laughing]

 
 

Interviews

 
 

Mo: What do you find are some of the most important things you're cognizant of before or during an interview?

Ashleigh: I always approach it as a conversation, like what you're doing with me. I always want to make that person to know I'm engaged in what they're saying. Obviously you have things you want to check off as you're interviewing somebody. You have an angle you're trying to hit or fulfill and that could also change.

Ashleigh: Whenever I interview someone I don't think that's the only time I'm going to interview them. I'm hoping I can interview them time and time throughout their career, so I want to build that trust and collaborate with them; getting them to say what they want to say and putting my input there. I think that's what I'm most aware of.

Mo: What inspires you to approach it as a conversation?

Ashleigh: I think it’s from noticing people who would say at the end of an interview that they really enjoyed it because it was more like a chat or conversation. You want to create a friendliness that way, even with a stranger. I don't go and meet a friend with 20 questions that I’ve already written down. Nothing is more uncomfortable than someone firing questions and not interacting with what you're saying.

Ashleigh: But when I say conversational, I’m not putting my own self in there. You don't want to put yourself too much into that, especially if it's live or a panel since people aren't there to see me; they're there for the other person. You might want to draw more things out of them so you end up relating to them in order to get that empathy. 

Ashleigh: My whole thing is if you're pretty much nice to people they'll do what you want them to do. If you go in awkward or not warm then people won't give that back to you. Kindness is the best approach and that happens by coming across as a friend. Also, it's more comfortable for me to do it in that way—to pretend that they're a friend and find something we can relate to one another.

Mo: It's kind of like going on a first date. You don't go into those with that list of 20 questions.

Ashleigh: Yeah, and the things you normally have to ask that person comes under your research, unless you've had conversations with them before. But things can get translated wrong through past interviews where something was taken out of context. Sometimes I've said things to people where they're like, that's not true

Mo: Do you feel like you set a boundary on the research and information that you consume of a person before you talk to them?

Ashleigh: I like knowing everything! I'm such a sucker for information. My dad would tell me that I would ask so many questions as a kid so I think that stuck with me as an adult. I have that deep idea that I have to fully know someone or a subject.

 
Ashleigh Kane interviews Marina Abramović for  Dazed .  Read the full article .

Ashleigh Kane interviews Marina Abramović for Dazed. Read the full article.

 


Mo: It's interesting because of the different approaches people take. One of my favorite podcasts is The Turnaround where Jesse Thorn interviews people who do interviews, like Werner Herzog and Terry Gross. Unfortunately it was only for one season but you get to learn how these individuals approach interviews.

Mo: For instance, Larry King doesn't prepare for interviews. He just talks to the guest. It's funny when you parlay that idea into how photographers make images of prolific figures. Some want to be fully informed about who they're photographing, and some go into the shoot with minimal to no assumptions.

Ashleigh: Yeah, because there's no bias there. I love research even if it isn't utilized in that interview. For someone like Larry King it makes sense because you're on TV and once it's done, it's done. You don't have to really formulate a structure or narrative to create a written piece too, and the celebrities can be PR-trained to say interesting things about themselves. 

Ashleigh: For artists, sometimes they don't want to articulate their ideas as much even though they'll agree to an interview. They can even be snobbish if you misinterpret the work or don't understand their work fully. So I think the research is necessary to fully respect the time that person has put into their artistic piece. As an art journalist, it's the least I can do—to come prepared. But also, I'm so scared of people screaming at me, telling me I know nothing! [laughing]

Mo: For me, it's a mix. Most times I don’t do any formal research. But there are times I'll talk to someone who I absolutely have to know as much as possible. There's this one famous photographer I just talked to and they were surprised at one of the questions I asked because it was a deep cut.

Ashleigh: Yeah! I love when people say that. When I had to call John Baldessari and he was like, "Hello?" And I was like, "Hi, John Baldessari! I'm Ashleigh calling from Dazed, I'm here to speak to you about this show that you're doing." I said the show and what the work was, and he was like, "That's not the show I'm showing," and I knew I was 100-percent right, but he wouldn’t agree on it being the show. So I asked him a few questions and he'd say that he's already spoken about this or that before. So I thanked him for speaking and wished him a lovely day. [laughing]

Ashleigh: I emailed his PR and told them that he didn't know that, that was the exhibition currently going on. I mean, he has so many exhibitions, work, and he's in his 80s. [laughing] I was mortified, even though I was right!

 
People want success really quickly and sometimes don’t realize how long it took past generations to build up their name.
— Ashleigh Kane
Ashleigh Kane interviews Kelsey Lu for  Crack Magazine .  Read the full article .

Ashleigh Kane interviews Kelsey Lu for Crack Magazine. Read the full article.

 


Mo: Is there anything you see in photography that worries you?

Ashleigh: When I started writing for Dazed five years ago, we used to write a lot more than what we write now. I think we're more selective in terms of what we write, and that was coming out of this realization of how powerful the platform is. You want to make sure you're careful with the climate that you're populating. People have come up to me and mentioned an article I posted about their photography and how they got a job to shoot a lookbook because of that. 

Ashleigh: I'm aware of who's looking at the site and the authority and power behind the site, so I became worried about the amount of people we were putting forward for things when maybe they weren't ready. I realized that maybe some people weren't necessarily ready when people would email me about an article I did three years ago because their work doesn't look like that anymore and that's not what they're about. And that's kind of interesting because it's natural in some things, but there are a lot of people who were clearly featured well before their time when they were exploring their style, and now they want all of that deleted because they weren’t fully formed.

Ashleigh: When Instagram started to become a huge platform for photographers, the amount of people who copied photographers increased. When brands can't get the person who's actually honed a style, like Harley Weir, then they'll get someone who just shoots like her. And then that person might be accepted or celebrated for a style that isn’t original. That worried me. It's amazing that the world has democratized and that you don't have to have an agent as much, but the watered down quality of art and photography was often questionable.

Mo: Do you have any ideas on how people can make things that are more long-term based?

Ashleigh: Yeah, I mean, kids can blow up and not be able to move forward in an organic way. I don't know, really. Brands and magazines need to be responsible and respectful, especially brands because they have the money. A lot of people are being exploited because they feel like they need to do things for free in order to get success or get their name out there. 

Ashleigh: People want success really quickly and sometimes don't realize how long it took past generations to build up their name. This goes back to what I was saying about how everything isn't as it seems, so we have Instagram to look at go, "Oh my god, x got this campaign that I wanted," and there's now this pressure to say ‘yes’ to jobs that might not be right for you in order to get that campaign. It's a mess to be honest, but just be aware. If you're in a position where you're going to commission someone, ask yourself, “What would I be like if someone was approaching me?”

Mo: Let’s end off with talking about the purpose of your work.

Ashleigh: When I started as a journalist, people would thank me for putting their work on the site, and I'd instead want to thank them for making it—otherwise what would my job be? My work is based on people creating their own work. The purpose of that role is to highlight the work that people are doing and to make sure that lesser known voices are heard.

 
 

Ashleigh: It's to bring people onto a platform that I've gotten on myself and ensure that their story is being told how they want it to be told.

 

Further Reading

  • Jason Nocito
  • “It’s more what situation excites me. What situation can the subject allow?”