Today we’d like to introduce you to Claire Leahy.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Claire. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
My story started in Los Angeles, California on June 17th, 1990 when I was born to the two most wholesome, hardworking and amazing parents ever. Living in LA, I’ve always been surrounded by art, music and the entertainment industry, so it comes as no surprise that I’m working now as a photographer and an actor (and that I can play a mean piano). My dad is a great musician, and my mom worked at Disney for as long as I can remember (now she’s at NBCU).
My grandparents and a lot of my aunts and uncles are either artists or are involved in the industry in some way, so I guess you can say we have deep roots in the arts. My family is incredibly close, and they have all inspired me and helped cultivate my love for the arts. I grew up playing classical piano since the age of five, went on to graduate from UCLA for it and have been working in theater and tv/film professionally since high school.
Photography has been a part of my life for a long time, but I didn’t think to pursue it or think of it as a personal art form. I had always played around with point and shoots, documenting everything I could but I never thought more of it than recording memories.
The first camera I ever bought was a Canon PowerShot in my freshman year of high school that I purchased with my first paycheck from acting! It was VERY exciting times, and I took it everywhere. It wasn’t until the time I met my beloved Kurt Collins (yes, I must call him by his first and last name — what a good name) that I really started to see photography as another personal creative outlet.
About seven years ago, Kurt found an old Canon A1 film camera and started shooting with it all the time. I was so inspired by the art he made with it: it was unique, hand made, intentional, had a specific vision, had a cool vintage quality… His photos had a depth to them both literally and figuratively. It was really Kurt who inspired me to pick up a camera and not just lackidazically take a bunch of photos, but instead to take a thoughtful photo that captures a truly special, magical moment. That’s when it clicked.
Photography soon became a creative outlet and a form of art, because I put my heart and soul in it. I basically commandeered that camera and started shooting with it all the time. I guess people liked what I was creating because I started getting booked on jobs! I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, what to charge or if this could even be a ‘real’ job. I was certainly no expert, had never been trained in photography, and I knew so many incredible photographers that I felt, at times, like an imposter.
But with time, practice, patience and persistence I learned so much and started to grow a small, but steady roster of clients. I decided I needed to make the leap and trust that I was good enough and had something unique to offer. I bought my big girl camera about five years ago and have been working ever since. As of three years ago, I was working fully freelance as a photographer and an actor — knock on wood that the train keeps going, and I get to keep on creating cool art with awesome people!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
HA! NO! Someone once told me “If you can picture spending your life doing anything else and be happy, do that.” Being an artist, an actor, a photographer, a musician — whatever it may be — is devastating and crushing and heartbreaking. You wade through not only crippling self-doubt but mountains of rejection, judgment, critiques on your work (and therefore your entire heart)… It’s hard.
So, if there’s something else out there you can and want to be doing, do that. For me, I am an artist. There is no alternative. I want to make art, in whatever way I can, however, someone will let me, or hear me, or see me, or, if I’m lucky enough, pay me! At first, my struggle was purely convincing my parents that I CAN be an artist and be successful.
Then it was the financial struggle of having to get all my gear, take classes, juggle a million jobs, working for free, or convincing people you’re worth their time and money — and you know just trying to LIVE in LA! I think now, my biggest struggle is myself. I struggle a lot with self-doubt be it as an actor or as a photographer.
I know that I am inherently good enough, but believing that I am or that my work is (in the moment) is another story. Validation is hard to come by so I have to be in the practice of trusting myself and my work. I really focus on pursuing excellence. I want every project, every job, every audition to be excellent — and if I put in the work to prepare and do my absolute best, then it will be.
I am still working on the part where I trust myself and my hard work. The road has been frustrating, heartbreaking, terrifying, overwhelming but it has also been incredibly exciting, inspiring and rewarding.
We’d love to hear more about what you do.
My business is just me! I know it sounds kind of pretentious but I heard someone use the term ‘multidisciplinary artist’ a few years ago and I really think that just fits! I work in a lot of different creative fields: I am a photographer, I am an actor, and I am a pianist. It’s taken me a long time not to shy away from claiming all of those things as what I am and what I do!
My focus shifts from one to the other depending demand or season, so it’s been really rewarding to be able to work as an artist in so many fulfilling ways! For me, art inspires art. Acting inspires how I see the world and how I look through a lens — and how I look through a lens inspires how I see a character or how I feel the music. It’s all very connected for me, and when one job is having its moment in the sun, I know its part of the process of inspiring something else.
As a photographer, I focus mostly on fashion and portraiture. I provide specific branded digital assets that are immediately ready for campaign, advertisements, social and web implementation. Every shoot is specifically tailored to each brand or person. I don’t want two handbag companies to be getting the same exact images, because then their identity is lost. It’s important to me that they get imagery specific to who they are. My style is always in there, but I want the brand or entity to shine.
That being said, I’m proud of a lot of things! I’m proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist. I’m proud of getting published and booking acting work! I’m proud of being able to do campaigns for brands that I have always loved. I beam with pride each time I get an email from a client with pure happiness and excitement! I think my proudest moment might have been when I was able to let my random part-time jobs go, be okay with how terrifying it is to be freelance and really just GO FOR IT! It was hard to believe I could get to this point and trust the process, but I’m here!
With the help of an incredibly supportive and encouraging family and friends, I started my own business, and I’m actually flourishing! I know how supremely lucky I am to be able to live this creative life and have turned my various forms of art into a business. It’s a lot of work, sometimes overwhelming and frustrating, but I know how lucky I am. With that, I am especially proud of my work ethic. I have worked really hard to get to where I am, and there is a lot more hard work to come, but I’m really excited to see how life unfolds for me next!
What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Besides dropping into a faux Australian accent 90% of the time and being unapologetically (and insanely) positive and upbeat… the mindset of Creative Collaboration has, in my opinion, been the most pivotal to my success thus far.
For me, every job is an opportunity to create art, together. It is not about how much money you make or the accolades you get, it’s about how you make people feel and about the art you create. The teamwork element is so important to me because when everyone is participating and getting excited about the project, the energy shifts and the results are magical.
The energy you bring into each room plays such a pivotal role. My goal is always to make every set the most fun set anyone’s ever been a part of so that everyone leaves thinking WOW that was so amazing I can’t wait to see what we created. If you go in with *THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING*, you bring amazing, and you create amazing — but that can only happen when we’re all in it together, ready to create and play!
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/claireleahy