SAINT JOHN – When Allie Beckwith took her first really good photograph, she cried.
“It was of a rose and a wine bottle with a Christmas tree in the background and the background was bokeh. I’ve never done that before,” says Beckwith. “I didn’t realize I was doing it until I looked at it. I was like ‘Mom look!’ and I started crying.”
Beckwith discovered her passion for photography in middle school when her parents decided to invest in a digital camera. By high school, she was arranging photo shoots with friends, shooting weddings and events around the city.
“From there I just went with it,” she says. “I didn’t consider anything else.”
Beckwith has since had work published in Tiffany & Co’s online gallery; Vogue Italy’s Photo Vogue; BuzzFeed; MTV.COM; Fashion.com and more. She’s shot backstage with designers like Alexander Wang and done shoots with supermodels like Karlie Kloss and Jourdan Dunn. Her growing client list includes Allstate Insurance, Wear Your Label (who she joined at New York Fashion Week), Strong & Free Apparel, Ten Tree, Daniel Wellington, Howard Johnson, and many others.
Oh, and she’s only 22-years-old.
But Beckwith didn’t just wake up one morning backstage at an Alexander Wang show. Since her teens, she’s been constantly hustling, finding any assignment she could. It was through doing that that she discovered her niche.
“I started shooting families and babies and events and weddings. That was fine and it was fun. But then when I would do personal shoots just with my friends, they were really artsy and cool and fashion-oriented. Then I went into my internship [at L’Eloi Productions in Montreal] and someone said ‘oh hey you’re a fashion photographer,’ Beckwith says.
“It was just the style that I liked. Once I kind of nailed that down, I just went with that. I just really went with it.”
Went with it she did, whether it was approaching companies directly or stopping fashionable, quirky girls on the street and pitching the idea of working together on a photo shoot.
“I would make friendships with these girls and eventually I’d start submitting them to magazines and submitting them to websites and contests and I started to win them,” she says. “I started to get featured on a lot of stuff.”
This includes Vogue Italy’s Photo Vogue, which took many tries before its editors accepted any of her photos.
“It was really weird for me because I was like ‘I’m not good enough. They’re not accepting me,'” says Beckwith.
“But then I was like ‘Nope I’m going to do this. I have to do this.'”
Her journey may seem a little too picture perfect, but it hasn’t been. Beckwith had to face some of her toughest critics very early on– her peers.
“High school was awful. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew that since grade five, so here I am in grade nine going for it and organizing shoots with my friends. I would get made fun of a lot,” Beckwith says.
“This was when Facebook started to get big. I had a page and I would upload my photos to it, then people who didn’t like me would create them in a mean way and really make fun of them. It was actually awful.”
We’re super curious to know what those people are doing now.
“How was what I’m doing influencing them in any way? It was really confusing,” Beckwith says.
“That was one really big barrier I had to overcome and just be like ‘I want to do this. I know that. I don’t know what these people are doing, but it has nothing to do with what I’m doing.”
The second challenge may come as a surprise – post secondary. After high school, Beckwith went to study at NBCCD then transferred to NSCAD University. She went not because she wanted to, but because of external pressures. Since she already had a substantial, growing career in what she was studying, school kind of got in the way of her learning. The feeling was solidified when she spent a summer working as an intern for L’Eloi Productions in Montreal. Safe to say, going back to school that fall was brutal.
“I feel kind of awful saying that I hated school. I get emails from younger girls a lot and they’re like ‘oh should I go to school for it? What should I do?’ and I’m saying ‘If you’re serious about it, don’t go to school,'” Beckwith says.
But if you’re going to skip the school step, get ready to work hard to make up for it.
“Your credibility depends on your experience. Not on your photography diploma. If you read online and watch tutorials and everything, you will learn way more than you will in school, in my opinion,” Beckwith says. “Because you will be learning about the things you want to learn.”
Beckwith’s work in fashion photography has led her to dive more into the business side of things. Her current nine to five jobs involve doing photography, graphic design and social media for Saint John’s Handworks Gallery and clothing shop Exchange on Germain.
“Recently it hasn’t been just the art form and just photography, it’s been more business. That’s kind of a weird combination for an artist and I get that all the time,” she says. “Photography has kind of been my baby throughout everything. It’s given me so much experience, but at the same time it’s like ‘ok, I got that one handled, what else can I do?'”
Beckwith has also started her own business. She recently joined forces with her cousin Katie Bell to create AKA DÉCOR, a line of high-end cushions that combines art, photography, poetry and design. They just launched an exclusive line through Saint John’s Tuck Studio called “These Very Waters.” Since the launch, business has steadily been picking up, with more exclusives lines in the works with stores in Ottawa, Fredericton and Halifax.
“We try to be a bit selective on who we’re going to work with. But at the same time we want to combine our ideas with theirs and make a line that works for both of us,” Beckwith says. “I think that’s a really cool thing and people have been excited about that.”
Like most early twenty-somethings, Beckwith isn’t too sure what she’s going to be doing for the rest of her life. What is sure though is that she will finish whatever she starts.
“I’m finding a lot of people start ideas and don’t finish them and they get kind of lost and they don’t follow through,” she says. “That’s where I like to be different. I don’t want to just let them flop and when I believe in something I go for it all the way.”
Whether you’re an artist or entrepreneur, Beckwith doesn’t believe in half-assing it.
“I think that’s very important especially when you’re pursuing a career that has anything to do with art, because if you half do it, people won’t take you seriously. If you don’t value your work, people won’t take you seriously,” Beckwith says. “There’s a lot of things you need to have handled if you want to make a career and your art.”
One of those things is consistency.
“Consistency is key. I post every single day no matter what. If it’s the end of the day and I haven’t posted something on social media, I’ll go out and make a picture. I’ll figure out something,” she says. “I think that’s really made difference, because again, people take you seriously if you’re at it every day.”
Beckwith believes in making it work in New Brunswick. Yet it’s not a mindset everyone shares and for very valid reasons. However the “You can’t do nothin’ here” mentality isn’t something she can get behind.
“I think it’s really closed minded to think that, because to me, I’ve made it work here in an art field. I’ve also watched myself, my cousin and one of my best friends [launch a] startup,” she says. “If you don’t have a job or you can’t get a job, make your own job. Really do it. Work hard.”
She says with help from programs like Enterprise Saint John’s Vennture Garage (which helped her launch AKA), young New Brunswickers should explore the option of creating their own opportunity.
“I think instead of complaining about ‘Oh there’s not jobs. There’s no this, I need to go here.’ You can work for yourself if you really put that work in,” Beckwith says. “That’s where I’m going with my life, I think. Instead of putting all your work in your nine-to-five into someone else’s business, you can totally put it in your own.”