Ashley Joyce Cummings, a self-described lover of art, photography, and cats and business owner/photographer of Ashley Joyce Photography, possesses a seemingly effortless style and an aesthetic all her own that reflects both in her lifestyle and work. Despite her natural ability to capture the perfect moments in people's lives, establishing herself as a wedding and portrait photographer was no overnight feat but rather a humbling and inspirational creative process in itself.
Before I headed back to school, Ashley and I met up at the Nob Hill Flying Star on a lively Monday evening filled with the voices of UNM students and study groups. However, it was nothing less than an enjoyable evening conversing with Ashley. Over her order of fries and my white vanilla hot chocolate, we chatted like old friends catching each other up on our lives and she shared with me that creative process that has made her the creative type she is today.
Ashley with her cat, Orion.
As a young child, she grew up in small towns throughout New Mexico and Arizona where she spent her weekends watching the Bob Ross painting show. She also loved to draw and paint, and expressed to her mother that she wanted to, "Be an artiste in Mexico" because it was the only country that she knew of besides the United States.
When she entered her teen years, she became a huge John Mayer fan. Inspired by Mayer, and following in her mother's and grandpa's footsteps, she started playing guitar. Because of her smalltown upbringing, there were never art classes around so it wasn't until she reached high school and college that she began her formal training. While in high school, along with guitar, she took every art class possible.
Freshman year of college she was a declared music major at the University of New Mexico only to find out that she really hated it. However the following semester, after taking one photography class, she dropped music completely and switched to a degree in Fine Arts with a focus in Photography. Since then, she's also earned an Associate's in Graphic Design and most recently this year, a Certificate in Museum Studies.
Being an artist, just like any occupation, is bound to have its challenges. A quality that separates the dreamers from the doers is the ability to push through these obstacles and self doubts regardless. In 2012, Ashley almost gave up photography but decided against it. Ashley shared with me the challenges that come with identifying yourself as an artist and gives credit to those who have supported her through this journey:
When I was younger, it took me a long time to say that I was an artist. I felt that I needed a lot more time to say that I am photographer. I felt like I needed to get more shoots together, even though I was already shooting.
There is a lot of skill level involved in photography. Everyone can pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer. I don’t want to seem like one of those people. I wanted to have a lot of work behind me to say look at what I’ve done.
With weddings, I was proud of my work and could tell people "Yes, I am a wedding photographer." It just took a lot of time and people trusting me and being happy with the product. Another instance when I learned to be more confident in my skills was when I worked with an agency for the first time; it was really nerve wracking to have a client that is expecting my photos to sell their product. This agency had a lot of trust in me, they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
During my senior year, I had this professor who was on a chair for my senior thesis committee for my fine arts degree. She was probably one of the most inspiring teachers, especially in conceptual art at UNM.
I had reached a point where I was feeling like, "I’m making this work and I don’t know why, and I don’t feel that it’s good enough."
This professor helped me by telling me, "If you're going to take pictures of your interior house or something as simple as a toothbrush but you don’t know why, keep doing it till you find out why." I always felt like I needed a reason to do what I was interested in beyond “I like it.” My professor pushed me, even through my doubts, in my personal work that was very transformative in ways that healed, challenged, and brought up wounds. In the end, I presented a body of work that I think was very vulnerable and very real. I respect the artists that are very real and vulnerable. Anyone can paint something pretty, but not everyone can open up their soul to the world and let them see dirt, decay, and grime. In art, if you don’t know the reason why you are pursuing, do it until you know why you are doing it and then you’ll find THAT reason.
What we can takeaway from this time in Ashley's life is that sometimes passion comes first, and then reasoning comes later.
#BTS Shot from 2013
In late 2013, I started modeling for Ashley, and it's always a memorable experience being a part of the magic she creates within her art. When she is not photographing weddings, she experiments with various conceptual and styled shoots.
"I love experimenting with new lenses, angles, making the models do weird things and hold strange things like beautiful fruit. I can do whatever I want and no one is going to say no. Unless I’m making the model contort their body in some way I can’t haha. After every styled shoot, I’m always thinking of the next one." Ashley expressed.
For Ashley, inspiration can range from art to seeing people on the streets or at restaurants to indie movies. She oftens finds her models by observing a person's everyday actions. Her favorite style of photography is film. She loves the ethereal, dreamy, and pre-raphaelite era style of photography.
Her thoughts on shooting weddings: "Fun. I really do get a high from it. I find a lot of joy in photographing people who are happy. I feel very honored when I get asked to be the photographer because it’s such a special day. It shows that they trust me with my skill and knowledge, and I’m proud that I can handle it. I love getting to build long-lasting relationships with my clients."
In the time I've known Ashley, she's always been a creative type and a busy-bee. So it was almost no surprise to me that when I asked Ashley what her hobbies were, her response while simultaneously giggling and being serious was, "I don’t have time for hobbies."
But when she does have time, she enjoys spending time hiking and camping. Traveling when she can, going to museums, art shows, and galleries. In addition, challenging herself to take on different creative projects such as interning for a local flower wedding vendor, Floriography where she learned about the wedding world from a different perspective.
Ashley riding bike in Switzerland 2012
Fun Fact: Ashley spent a summer exchange program in Rome in 2012. While there, she visited a friend in Switzerland. Her ideal vacation would be to go back to Switzerland and hike the mountains.
When Ashley's not creating, she works full time as a public affairs admin for the forest service (because creatives must pay bills too). Though she loves the agency as a whole, it is so evident that her true passion and heart is to be creating.
"I handle it because I have a creative outlet. If I didn't have that, I don't think I would be off very well."
As a budding creative, it can sometimes seem discouraging when you have to work a day job to support your creative job. Ashley provided some assurance and insight that your practical day job is just as beneficial as your creative dream job. Adulting means paying bills. Paying bills mean having a job that pays the bills. Ashley shared some advice on how artists can pursue their day job and their dream job:
"If you have a day job that you don't like, you have to realize and understand the benefits of your day job. Understand why you're there. You have to weigh what’s important to you. If you’re a traveling gypsy and don’t need the benefits then a day job is not for you, but if you need that type of security than you need to come to terms with it, and still constantly find inspiration. Pursue music, art, whatever it is you want to do. Allow that day job to allow you to do what you want to do. Without my day job, I wouldn't be able to market my business or have an apartment. Once you get to a point where you come to terms with that day job, create. Not everything is going to come to you, you need to work hard for it. You need to work hard now so hopefully someday you can let go of that day job you may not like. That means a lot of 12-15 hours a day, eating chips and salsa for dinner, and that might mean not hanging out with friends for weeks to months.
Sometimes that means, adopting the “I can’t hang out with you every night” mentality. When pursuing your passion, you have to surround yourself with people who are doing the same.
It’s not offensive to them if you can't hang out because you're growing up and pursuing what you want. That takes time and investments. Maybe a lot of tears haha. I’ve been there a lot."
Ashley Joyce Photography Website
Other than living it up as a super busy, go-getter creative type, a life that I can completely relate to, Ashley's dreams for her future consist of becoming a full-time photographer, graphic designer, and artist and owning her studio. She envisions herself living in Colorado where she spent time as a child camping, dreaming, and discovering her artistic inspirations. Given that she officially established herself as a photographer just this past January, and already has a lot of work under her creative belt, things are only looking up for where Ashley will continue to go in her work. As for guitar? She expressed that if her boyfriend is playing she will sometimes jump in.
Ashley J Cummings Graphic Design Website
If you ask me, on top of her many talents, I think she should be a creative counselor, if that’s even a thing. She shared with me so much wisdom and insight on living the creative type lifestyle. Working with Ashley is nothing less than magical. So book her for a shoot. Be friends with her. Get to know this super cool human being.
Ashley and I before our shoot // Summer 2015
Much much thanks for sharing your story with me Ashley! Let's shoot again reallll sooon!
Links to Ashley's Work:
Photography Website: http://www.ashleyjoycephotography.com
Graphic Design Website: http://www.ashleyjcummings.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AshleyJoycePhotography