Aubrey Edwards is a Brooklyn and New Orleans-based portrait photographer and educator. But don’t try to pin her down!
She was an award-winning, primary music photographer for the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle from 2004-2008; her present client list includes the United Nations, Magnolia Pictures, Playboy, SPIN, XXL and Comedy Central. Aubrey teaches photography and videography in low-income NYC public schools as well as with continuing adult education, and is the founder of the Veterans Photo Project, providing therapeutic photo workshops to homeless veterans in Brooklyn. Her recent work in New Orleans includes guest lecturing with the University of New Orleans photo department, conducting workshops with the New Orleans Kid Camera Project, and completing an artist residency with Louisiana Artworks and most recently, one with Objectifs Centre for Photography & Filmmaking in Singapore.
Her photographs get up close and personal, and she’s not afraid to do so. We talk to Aubrey, whose pictures say a thousand words and tackle difficult subjects such as transgender communities, among others.
How would you describe your work?
Aubrey: I’m a portrait photographer by trade. I love photographing and documenting people, especially people who are members of particular subcultures that I find interesting. I photograph all my portraits with mobile studio lighting, and almost entirely on location.
How did you first begin?
A: I received my first camera at the age of 6 following my mother’s death. I began taking photo classes when I was 8 years old and decided to go to school for photography and journalism when I was 18. Through that process, I never really had a mentor or anyone that truly helped me become the photographer I am today. However, when I attended a lecture by the Louisiana photographer Deborah Luster at age 22, I knew that I should be a portrait photographer, and that was a major turning point in my life.
Tell us about Veterans Photo Project that you founded.
A: I partnered with Brooklyn’s Doe Fund to bring their first ever arts class into the Veteran’s wing of the fund’s transitional housing shelter. I felt like it was especially important to bring art to our nations veterans. Through photography classes, our veterans will learn a new form of personal expression, develop technical and creative skills while having the therapeutic outlet to share their stories and experiences with a larger audience through their images. Not only is it empowering to create images for exhibition, but it is also a healthy and therapeutic break from the various struggles of their daily lives. My goal for the Fall is to administer free photo classes down South by partnering with New Orleans’ veteran resource centers.
You just spent a month in Singapore in April. Tell us about the project you did here.
A: I spent a month in Singapore photographing and conducting oral history interviews from the transgendered community there. I was struck and inspired by the strength and courage of these men and women. There are many challenges to living trans within a conservative Asian culture where your support and resources are limited. Their bravery and truth to themselves truly moved me and I look forward to bringing their stories to a larger international audience.
I find Singapore particularly inspiring in that there are so many different cultures and subcultures coexisting within such a small place. I am very grateful for my time spent there, and the people who agreed to be a part of my project.
You’re devoted to photography and education, being involved in several pro-bono projects. What drives you?
A: I strongly believe that everyone should have access to education, and often arts education is highly overlooked within the United States education system. I strive to bring arts education, namely photography and videography, to communities and populations who would not usually have access to or have ever experienced its benefits. I love seeing how empowering it is for people to document their world and tell their stories through the images they create; I love being able to help in that process. One of my favorite projects was working the New Orleans Kid Camera Project after Hurricane Katrina. The Project gave the children a space for learning and sharing with their peers and a therapeutic way of dealing with the trauma from the storm.
What’s waiting for you back home?
A: I’ll be in New York for a bit of the summer; people endure the harsh and freezing winters because summertime in New York makes it all worth it. I’ll be riding my bike to the beach, going to farmers markets, and watching the birds eat from the feeders in the backyard of my home in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. Mid-summer I’ll be heading down to New Orleans where it is hot, hot, hot and very humid; the weather reminds me of Singapore, very tropical. I live on a beautiful historic avenue in New Orleans called Esplanade that runs between the Mississippi River and the bayous. My boyfriend and I live in an old bed and breakfast that was converted into different apartments; we have beautiful hard wood floors, wrought iron on our balcony, and banana trees surrounding the house. He and I will spend the summer working on collaborative art projects, going to exhibition openings at artist-run galleries, and strolling through the French Quarter in the heat.
I always have a million projects to say the least. Right now I’m focusing on opening a photo school in New Orleans that will provide free photo classes to the community, and will continue working on a collaborative book documenting the workers behind the scenes of New Orleans’ racetrack. As far as new photo series, I’ll be photographing the Arizona town I ran away from when I was 16, a way to connect to the town and its people at a different point in my life. Fro there, I’ll travel to Los Angeles to work with Homeboy Industries, taking portraits of ex- gang members learning a new trade and working as bakers. I hate sitting still, and rarely do it.
- Yuni Hadi
Images by Aubrey Edwards.