VANITAS: Janet Otobo, fully adorned.imagined with a touch of fantasy by Ashley Marié. Pictures: Ashley Marié Photography
VANITAS: Janet Otobo, fully adorned.imagined with a touch of fantasy by Ashley Marié. Pictures: Ashley Marié Photography
Christina Colson given her floral crown.
Christina Colson given her floral crown.
ENCHANTING: Michelle Allen reimagined with a touch of fantasy.
ENCHANTING: Michelle Allen reimagined with a touch of fantasy.
Artist and photographer Ashley Marié
Artist and photographer Ashley Marié
Tracy-Lee Rosslind crowned.
Tracy-Lee Rosslind crowned.
Fine art portraiture, beauty, and fashion  photographer Ashley Marié has an incredible way of framing her subjects with vibrant flowers. This evokes a sense of curiosity and mystery.

VANITAS: Janet Otobo, fully adorned.imagined with a touch of fantasy by Ashley Marié. Pictures: Ashley Marié Photography


Tell us about yourself?  I obtained my BA in fine art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, in 2008. Photography was never something I considered until our first photo project at university. It opened a whole new world of possibility for me. Since then, I’ve been working for a stock photo company as a retoucher and photographer, while still shooting my own work on the side.

What are the benefits and challenges of being a artist? The peace and joy that creating provides for the soul. What you’re doing, you are doing for yourself - it’s satisfying work, to create freely, and to attempt to add to the existing beauty of the world. It can be super-challenging too, especially the costs involved. Materials, printing and costs of doing business as an artist can be quite taxing without an outside income or generous sponsorship. This can stunt the “creating freely” thing.

Social media is beneficial and challenging. It is an absolutely wonderful way to network and get yourself out there, but with this culture of “immediate gratification” it can be difficult to keep up and stay relevant, especially if you are perhaps still trying to build your audience. It’s near impossible for me to always have new work to share when, ideally, art should be a longer creative process. Quality over quantity as they say.

When did you decide to pursue art as a career? I grew up surrounded by art. I knew from my earliest memory that it would be my vocation. My mom is an artist. If she wasn’t painting the house, she was painting on canvas, or crafting, or sewing, or teaching art. We had art books which I would page through before I could even read. Art classes at school were always my most looked forward to. Whether it is fine art or arts and crafts, there has always been someone in my life who was a creative influence on me.

Christina Colson given her floral crown.

With a portrait, do you find you’re more able to capture that essence of life with the subject in front of you? Well, they’re photos, so I will always have the subjectin front of me. For this series, I’ve been working with experienced models - partly because that’s how the project originated, and partly due to the meaning the work took on as the project grew. It was about capturing their beauty. I give very little direction or I ask that they give me their five best poses and I choose from those.

It’s sometimes better with regards to portraiture, to work with someone in real life, as it does provide a different dimension to the image when you are able to read your subject, and are able to engage with them. It becomes easier to gauge their personality in the hopes of then being able to capture them at their truest, or just to be able to make the right selection for the end work because you know how they like to see themselves.

Are portraits a window to the soul? No. I don’t think so. It can be argued I’m sure, but my view is that it’s more like a mirror. A window to the viewers’ soul. Everyone reads a photo or art piece in relation to themselves. As they are, in that moment. An accumulation of past and present experiences and beliefs. We might not always be able to explain the how or why, but we all have that one piece of art or style of art that just “speaks to us”.

Tracy-Lee Rosslind crowned. 

Do the flowershave special meaning or represent something we should be aware of? The flowers, in conjunction with the photo, are meant to emulate the old still life paintings from which they are derived. The collages have developed over time to become almost a “memento mori” or “vanitas” to the concept of beauty, but without the obvious symbolism of the skull.

It still speaks somewhat of the brevity and inevitable decay of beauty. In the beginning, it was an homage to beauty but it started taking on deeper meaning that I feel is developing over time.

We live in a world obsessed with the culture of beauty and youth, we see it every day in the products we are being sold which make bold claims of being able to beautify a woman and “stop ageing”. Beauty, as it’s considered commercially, is fickle and fleeting, and society will have you believe that once it all begins to fade, so do you and your implied self-worth. In much the same way that flowers wilt and lose value as a result. But women are not flowers, we are not objects. We are human beings with value and worth beyond measure at any age or time of our lives. And yet we still obsess over it. As photographer, I try to immortalise it through my work, perhaps in some obscure way of trying to possess it.

How do inspire and motivate yourself? Inspiration can come from almost anywhere if you’re open to it. Most of the time, it’s derived from just messing around and essentially doodling. Other times it’s a line from a song or a book or poem, or a location visited or spotted from the car as I drive past. It can come from the model’s face, or a dress I saw, or a group of colours that I think work well together. Inspiration comes from seeing what isn’t visible and then trying to make it so. A conversation overheard or a story I’ve randomly made up as a result of something I’m reading or watching.

Who are your influences? They are from all over, and maybe not all direct influences either but inspiring all the same. I love the Surrealists, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists. I like to study the lighting techniques and composition of the old masters. Photographic influences include Duane Michals, Annie Leibovitz, Tim Walker, Kirsty Mitchell (specifically her Wonderland series), Miss Aniela, and Zhang Jingna. Collage artists Eugenia Loli and Maria Rivans, illustrators like Alan Lee, and authors and writers like JRR Tolkien and Shakespeare.

What are your short-term and long-term artistic goals? Short-term - shoot the last few faces for my Flower Portraits and find a gallery to host an exhibition of the prints. I plan to open up the portraits for commissions, as many people have expressed interest in having their own done. Mid to longer-term goals involve a similar project I hope to shoot on film and hold a second exhibition with the release of a photo book from that.


* Connect with Ashley: Instagram: @ashleymariefoto and Twitter: @AshleyMarie_1