Emari Traffie | NIKE'S COLLAB WITH VSCO & THE STORY OF A LA PHOTOGRAPHER
Editors Notes: I've been following Emari for over a year now and her "in moment Los Angeles style" is inspiring. Thus when we wanted to feature a photographer that's showing Los Angeles in a new perspective she came to mind. We photographed her in three minimal and neutral color location that inspires her around West Hollywood.
Emari Traffie by Joel Bear
Motif: Tell us a bit about who you are, what your style is and your past clients?
Emari Traffie: Hey. I’m Emari Traffie. I live in LA and I make things with my friends. I’m 28. I’m from New Hampshire. I was a broadcast journalist in the Marines for four years and have a journalism degree from Emerson College. I’ve been in LA for three years. I currently shoot enough photos to dubbed a “photographer” which I’m down with. (Sidenote: My name is pronounced em-uh-REE, similar to memory.)
My style, photographic and personal, is a struggle for authenticity meets a romantic perfectionist currently posing as (in hopes of becoming) a zen oasis—for now. Off the bat, I love documentary photography. I have had and still have dreams of photojournalism. All of the photography icons on my pedestals are documentarians (I think it’s something about the sheer volume of work produced by journalists, it hones the eye). My notions are bred by lack of TV and a God-fearing bookworm mother—means I was raised on Christian romance novels and trips to Morning Star bookstores. Finally, the deepest well is the one within and my prayer is that I can remain true to that in word and deed.
My first clients were my family members, friends and local businesses in New Hampshire. I pray blessings on them for trusting me in my earliest stages. Next, I fell into shooting wedding films when no one else was doing it with a cinematic vibe at that rate. Weddings quickly proved more than I could handle alone, and I stopped taking clients as the work was backed up—a valuable lesson learned. Later, I worked with Instagram, Sweetgreen, and local coffee shops, live music events and artist promo/press photography. Recently, I’ve been shooting a commercial project here and there, various fashion influencers, lookbooks, commissioned features and fashion week coverage. A few 2017 clients include VSCO, NIKE, Adidas, Reebok, TiVo, Vanity Fair, Offcors, Vice, Tastemaker Collective, and The Line Hotel.
You stated that growing up with artistic mother inspired your photographic journey. How did that influence your journey to where you are now?
My mom really rocks, like really really rocks. Every since I could remember I’ve known Angela to be an invincible, creative beauty. My childhood was surrounded by her imaginative murals, from the hand-sponged (so 80s) cloud walls of my room to a Native American village on the ceiling of the bathroom. I look up to her for her positivity, love for others, self-discipline and organization skills. If she saw a problem she thoroughly researched and implemented a solution. That’s the type of creative I want to be.
That's amazing that your family upbring in New Hampshire so inspired you and your work, being a family business we completely understand where your coming from. So you’re now living in LA, in a city that is fast paced and constantly evolving, how do you stay inspired as a photographer?
I love that LA is constantly transforming itself. I live near several large studios in Hollywood and there are giant productions going on constantly. When I am always bumping into my heroes it’s sort of difficult to lose inspiration. I’m inspired by the weather, by the smells, the strange and the mundane here. I used to get restless easily and I think the relaxed atmosphere of LA combined with the ability to travel often is the perfect remedy to that—for now.
Being in LA, a fast paced and often animal of a city, the home is a sanctuary. What about your home allows you to create and move forward?
We just moved in two months ago so the home is such a work in progress. It’s a two bedroom that I share with my friend Mia. My hope for it is that it can be a space that fosters flow. I work from home and hope to do so for a long time because I really enjoy it. It’s important to me that my home is free of clutter or things that can be distracting. I probably spend too much time cleaning but I find it difficult to do quality work in a messy space. I like to have music on, mornings are piano and afternoons are something chill like Solange or Sza or Sampha (S artists only, Just Kidding.). There’s also a water fountain across the street from my balcony window and I think that might be the best part about this current spot.
What makes a place cause your creativity to bloom?
I am always inspired by the palm trees, all of the plants really. I grew up on the east coast so it all looks rad to me. I love the ocean and someday I want to live next to it and go for swims at sunrise every morning and fall asleep to the waves. The people here inspire me like crazy. Every crosswalk street corner is a photograph. The hustle inspires me. Everywhere I look people are giving their lives to their craft. I am also so curious. I want to know why everything happens the way it happens and LA has a lot of things to be curious about. I think a lot, about a lot, but I don’t think enough about enough.
How important has Los Angeles been on your work and do you believe that being in a big city has improved your skill and work?
Los Angeles has a huge influence on my work, it’s the canon through which my work happens. They always say the best of the best make it in LA. If you think about it, the best girl from her town is competing with the best girl from every town across the world. It’s where the best come to play. It’s made me think I am trash and also think that I am golden. I can see how LA can mess some people up and at the same time, how it can make dreams come true. I have back to back days in pajamas at my desk followed by back to back fashion weeks. See? It’s all about balance.
Lets talk about your photography style, its in the moment yet with a hint of art direction. How have you built your style?
Good description! I’ve built my style the only way I know how, by shooting what I like. I like images that show me something I’ve never seen before. I like images that make me stop scrolling for at least a second. I like images that feel like something. I would love to art direct every shot if I had the chance but I also know that something magic happens when you accept things in their natural state.
Do you feel that having a single style is important in the business of photography?
I think it’s a jack-of-all/master-of-none situation. One can be good at all aspects of photography and get hired for all kinds of jobs or you can choose one particular field or style and master that. For me, there are pros and cons of both. Particular styles may come in and out of style because they are just that, styles. Ultimately, I think the most important aspect of photography is to create quality work.
When I scroll through instagram, I often see less individual style and more people re-purposing other’s developed styles. I’m not mad about that, I think that’s a natural progression of art. However, having a single style is great for the individual. I imagine that if you just do you and it is something that no one else does then that’s what you will be paid to do (if it’s good/in-demand enough). Personal mantra: whatever you do, stay true to you.
Emari's work for Nike
Let’s talk about your incredible work, you just photographed with Nike on a collaboration with VSCO, what was that process like? How did you come up with the concept that photographed? (Feel free to elaborate)
Oh gosh, thank you. That process was really fun. I was able to produce, style and art direct that shoot and hire all my talented friends for it. VSCO and Nike gave us all the creative control and just asked us to shoot high fashion futuristic images inspired by the shoe. It was the most encouraging experience. The concept came together organically because I choose people who I trusted. I choose a makeup artist who knows her stuff, Celina Rodriguez. A stylist, Bukunmi Grace, whose personal style is an inspiration to me and very different from my own, resulting is something really new for us both. The models were also friends, I’d shot with Kimi Singer before and adore her and Ciarra was a recommendation from another photographer and is now a friend of mine. My producer Meagan Judkins came in on some faith and love and helped me create a high level shoot with a small budget and brought in the hairstylist.
Emari's work for Nike
You mentioned being a refined artist, what does that mean to you and how are you becoming more refined?
My goal is to be constantly refining, as an artist and as a being. Some days I refine harder and others I refine less but the goal is to keep going. I want to slow down and make sure that each movement I make is precise and intentional. Refining is about making the art less automatic and more manual.
Would you recommend collaboration and passion projects to new photographers? Why? What should they look out for?
This is actually harder to answer than I thought. On one hand I was quick to say yes! Of course. Chase your dreams, hone your vision, expand your horizons! On the other hand, I remembered that passion projects and collaborations are often paired with no budgets and no sleep. Passions and collabs take sacrifice and sometimes it’s a few weeks without checks and creative misunderstandings becuase doing business with friends can easily test your friendship. It’s worth it though, those are the things that build you as an artist, the things you do for the love, and how to make lasting creative relationships. Quality photography is a valuable skill, it’s okay to offer it as a valuable gift sometimes.