KARYA SCHANILEC

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of creativity. You have a gorgeous photography site. Is that your main passion?

I grew up in a creative family – my mom trained to be an actress, my aunt is a painter, and both of my maternal grandparents were musicians. I was exposed to every art form from fencing to flute, but photography and dance were the ones that stuck. For a while I was equally passionate about photography and dance, but now I am currently focusing more on developing my photography and arts administration careers and haven’t taken a dance class or choreographed in over a year, although you can often find me dancing in the kitchen. It’s a really sad fact, but I honestly don’t have a lot of time for it in my life anymore with all of the other creative endeavors I’m doing.

 
 

How did you get started with photography?

My parents got a digital camera for a trip we took when I was 9 years old and I immediately fell in love with it. Looking back at the pictures I took on that trip I actually followed a lot of photography composition rules and accidentally figured out how to do panning technique, so I guess it came naturally.

 
 

You also danced in college. Tell us a little bit about that. In your mind, is there a relationship between photography and dance? Does your history with dance influence your photography, or vice versa?

I’ve been dancing since I was 8, first doing hip hop and jazz then adding on ballet, pointe, contemporary, modern, and improv/choreography. My dance family in high school was immensely important to me and influenced how I built my relationships in college. My dance career in college started out a bit rocky with a concussion (from doing aerial silks) the second week of my freshman year, but I didn’t let that get me down and once I recovered I quickly became completely immersed in the campus dance culture. By my senior year, I had choreographed a piece for the theatre department’s dance showcase and was president of the student-run dance company. 

Combining photography and dance has been my main mission as an artist since I started seriously studying photography. My senior thesis for my BA in Studio Art focused on breaking the norms of dance photography and I decided to create portraits of dance pieces rather than dancers. When I choreograph dance pieces, I think in pictures – storyboarding a piece and imagining what it would look like in a photograph. Even now as I’m doing more fashion photography work, I find myself directing my models like they’re dancers. So sometimes it’s hard to separate the two in my mind.

I am currently pursuing a career in arts administration and my ultimate dream job would be to take photographs and run the social media for a major dance company.

 
 

You have all sorts of categories on your website - wedding, family, travel. What's your favorite thing to photograph?

Definitely dance and street photography, but lately I’ve been working in fashion photography which actually combines a lot of different photographic interests of mine – movement, portraiture, mood, framing, etc.


What's a recent "win" you experienced in terms of your creativity?

A recent win I experienced was selling my first print off of Etsy! (To one of my best friends but that doesn’t matter.)

 
 

How do you stay motivated? Is it hard for you to create all the time? What do you do to recharge if you find yourself needing a break?

Storytime: After I graduated from undergrad I didn’t create for about 6 months. At Willamette I was constantly surrounded by creative people, had dozens of dancers to photograph, and had more outlets to create than I had time for. Back in Seattle, I felt like I was starting at square negative 100. I found that it was hard to create outlets for myself and to get connected to the Seattle art scene when I only wanted to do fine art and dance photography and didn’t know any dancers. How I broke the rut was I just put myself out there and I started dipping my toes into other forms of photography that I didn’t think I could do or would like – fashion, family, engagement, lifestyle – and found that I actually enjoyed them! So that really expanded my mind in terms of photography and what I can create.

Since then I have found myself needing a break every once in awhile when I feel like I’m just taking the same photo over and over again and it doesn’t feel fun and exciting anymore. So I’ll take a breather, not book any clients for a week or two, gather up inspiration, talk things out with my creative friends, and eventually I’ll find myself bursting with ideas and itching to start shooting again.

 
 

Can you tell us a little bit about a time you failed? What did you learn from it? How did it influence your thinking going forward?

During my senior thesis process, I knew I wanted to focus on dance and photography and started taking my (then) typical posed portraits of dancers. I plastered my studio space for a critique with these portraits I thought were beautiful and I was incredibly jazzed about. However, during the next critique, a professor told me they looked like “JCPenny studio portraits” and I was “being too safe.” I was crushed to say the least. But it kicked my ass into gear, made me explore new things, and my next critique went 100 times better. And in the end, I was so satisfied and fulfilled by how my thesis turned out, so I am grateful for the clarity that moment of defeat brought me.

 
 

What makes you feel the most inspired? What circumstances need to be in place for you to feel like a shoot went successfully, and just flowed?

As you can probably guess, I am most inspired by performance and urban settings. I love the feeling of being backstage or in the audience, and I get the same rush of excitement when I walk down a busy city street. So when I do fashion shoots, I gravitate towards doing street style because that just feels right to me. I also love to incorporate drama and movement which makes my work feel closer to performance work. And I know a shoot went successfully when my client and I vibe together and we both feel comfortable expressing what we have envisioned creatively.

 
 

Are you still going to school? If so, where? How has your education influenced your creative style in comparison to someone with no formal training?

I am currently pursuing my MFA in Arts Leadership at Seattle University. I found out early on that I have a passion for supporting artists as well as being one, and that lead me to pursue this degree. My photography training was indeed very formal – I studied both digital and film photography methods for three years in high school and declared my Studio Art major three weeks into my freshman year of college. The photography program at Willamette was entirely focused on darkroom techniques, which not many Studio Art programs at universities offer these days so I was extremely fortunate to have that resource. I still love to shoot film, but it’s not as feasible to use for all of the subjects I shoot, not to mention I don’t have 24/7 access to a darkroom anymore. I also minored in Art History, and I feel like a lot of my work is influenced heavily by this, from my love of Cindy Sherman and Brassai to Artemisia Gentileschi and Kandinsky.

 
 

Tell us a little bit about a creative long-term goal you have for yourself. Any big projects on the horizon?

I’ve had some trouble setting long term goals lately. I’m graduating from my masters program in less than a year and am not sure exactly what I want to do professionally after that – do I want to continue with straight marketing? Find a photography job with an arts organization? Or just go full-time photography freelance? There’s so much up in the air, I can’t think too far ahead sometimes.

I am traveling to London in the fall, which is where I studied abroad during undergrad. I’ve always felt inspired by cities, and when I studied in London, everything about the vibe of the city and everything about me just clicked. The pace, the mood, the fashion, the food (yes the food), the art, the people… everything. I have some shoots in the works for when I am there, from going out to do street photography on my own, to shooting with bloggers and models, to getting coffee/tea with local London photographers to pick their brains and get their perspectives.

 

Check Karya out on Instagram, Etsy, and her website.

And check out her Ten Facts feature here.