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Meet Downtown Photographer: Arden Ash

Today we’d like to introduce you to Arden Ash.

Arden, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I came to photography by walking two separate paths- one of art and one of science- and they both led to the same destination. I studied painting and drawing while pursuing my degree at UCLA in Cognitive Science with a Computer Science specialization. I made holograms on the weekends and hung out with scientists and engineers at JPL for nearly a decade. I was an adviser for the JPL Spaceset competition and served as the onsite authority for human factors. In my desire to learn Photoshop, I discovered the internet, stumbled into the dot-coms, and began a long career in technology. All of this study and exploration led me to a discovery I never would have had if not for my two separate paths: the perfect synthesis of art and science is the pixel.

Before the digital camera, I used layered plexiglass and acrylic paint to depict Koi fish and the shadows of light cast on them by the Doppler effect. My parents bought me my first digital camera as a graduation gift. I started by shooting in the music industry. I photographed the In Rainbows tour photo for Radiohead, as the West Coast Regional photographer for L-Acoustics, and was lucky enough to interview, write articles and photograph them in multiple cities. From then on, I focused my attention on fashion. I love the way that clothes sound, move, are affected by light, and become kinetic art on the human body. My love of fashion and technology has lead me to Munich for the first Wearable Technology conference, to NYC for the first Fashion Tech Forum, and back again for the Manus X Machina exhibit. Last fall I was asked to lecture to little girls about technology. It was an honor, and I hope I helped open their minds early in life to the idea that technology is a tool and not a world.

For years I have reallocated the money I earn designing user experiences in software for companies including Technicolor, MySpace, American Idol, and Toyota, and invested it in my passion for telling stories with pictures. My favorite of these was designing color correction software for Technicolor, with whom I am listed on 6 patents. I have been very fortunate. I learned how to work with celebrities, art direct, style and run a production through volunteering with the LA Times and photographing Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, David Hockney, Tom Ford, award-winning fashion shoots and also a Thanksgiving turkey.

At one point I had saved up enough money to put a small downpayment on a house… As a responsible, tax-paying adult with a career in software, it’s what I was taught to do. But I’m also an artist. And I’m stubborn. And I knew that I needed to prove both to myself and others what I am capable of creating. So instead of buying a piece of property, I invested in my future by spending the next year building a portfolio. That year defined me. I became a storyteller.

One of the best compliments I have ever received came from LA fashion designer Jen Awad. Going over my illustrations for an upcoming shoot where I was proposing featuring her clothes, she said that I was a very rare photographer because very few could show her drawings of what they planned to shoot and then have the final images actually look like those drawings. Coming from a corporate world where delivering what you pitch is the expectation and not the exception, this was an eye-opening moment for me. Where I once considered it a hindrance that I was making money in technology and spending it on photography, I now see it as a unique advantage, because BOTH are about taking the audience on a journey to where they want or need to go and knowing who that audience is. I’ve come to realize that simple and concise code is an art form just as simple and concise clothing is an art form. My art feeds my user experience and my user experience feeds my art.

Has it been a smooth road?
No road worth traveling is smooth. I’ve struggled with money, faith, time, resources and a sense of being trapped between two worlds. I was told that in order to make it in photography I would either have to be independently wealthy or my parents would have to be rich. I fit neither category. But I am determined and persistent. And each year I improve in decreasing the noise made by the naysayers who have held me to a standard of industry rather than art.

I’ve spent 19 years working in technology and 11 in photography. It’s taken me years to get the small, yet diverse body of work that I have created — because I supported it with a full-time career. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’ve gained perspective and built a talented and eccentric network that I never could have done otherwise. I know that I bring a truly unique set of eyes to every project I pursue.

I want to add beauty to the world. I want to tell stories that change how we think. And I want to tell those stories artistically with a palette of high fashion, production, and drama (juxtaposition). We all know what we “should” do in life. We should conserve water and energy, choose sustainable products, eat locally sourced foods, reduce our individual carbon footprints, and basically recalibrate our choices based on how it affects the cultures and parts of the earth from which they came. Making shoulds into wants is what a photographic storyteller with a background in science and art can do. I’m made for this.

Who, or what, deserves a lot of credit for where you are today?
Kirk McCoy and Yael Swerdlow: it’s one of those stories of being in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine was hosting a dinner party for his wife’s birthday and someone canceled last minute. He called and asked if I would like to fill the seat at the table. “Sure! Why not?!” And that evening I met an extraordinary photojournalist named Yael Swerdlow. I’d brought my portfolio, as it was, and she said it showed enough promise that she’d introduce me to her friend at the LA Times, senior photographer Kirk McCoy. We met over coffee and he offered to help. He said I could assist on the occasional shoot and in exchange, he’d answer all of my questions. After becoming quite the team for a time, we agreed that we would assist each other on shoots as needed. I learned so much! We are still friends and still support each other’s work.

My mom; who looked at a photo I took of partially covered railroad tracks and declared that this was my calling – photography.

The Bar Method Silverlake; full of the most inspiring women who believe and encourage me to not just work at my edge but live at my edge every single day – by example, encouragement, emotion – these women are the most supportive I’ve ever experienced.

And George Simian – a teacher of light and photography who has really believed in me when I didn’t.

What kind of work do you look forward to most?
I am interested in working with people who have a romantic vision and who want to communicate, through art, the advancement of our society and culture. I want to create Vanity Fair-style PSAs. I resonate with people like Vivienne Westwood, Grace Coddington, and Ian Falconer. I want to work with people who want to create “fantastical” realities with me.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing really – except for believing in myself more. Fear is a great limiter of art. It can paralyze the creative. Perhaps if I had believed in myself earlier, however, I wouldn’t be coming with my perspectives of technology, the world, gender politics, and an emotional maturity which took a long time to develop.

Seriously I’m sitting here thinking of what I could have done differently and if I had done anything differently then I wouldn’t be writing and you wouldn’t be reading this article of who I am right now – because I would be someone different. We all have choices. I was blessed with gifts and presented limitations.

Sure I could say I wish I’d gone to art school and built the network to pursue my career as a photographer earlier,…but I thought I wanted to design cars, not tell photographic stories. I could tell you that I wished I’d figured out sooner that my real gift is to create visual stories, but then I might not be surrounded by this incredible group of strong women from diverse fields. So as long, confusing, and hard as this path has been to get even to just this point, it could not be different because it’s brought me here, to this article. 🙂

Plus the internet has kept me young.


  • Hourly rate: $250/hr (production, assistant(s), H&MUA, stylists, models, etc. additional)
  • Project rate: $1,200 – $3,000 (production, assistant(s), stylists, models, etc. additional)

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