We partnered with Sophie Elgort, cofounder of Through Our Lens, for a hands-on photoshoot session.
Photographer Sophie Elgort (who’s shot campaigns for Etienne Aigner and tons of other influential brands) is flipping the script on the fashion photography industry. Here she lets us in on her passion project, Through Our Lens, which recently partnered with Etienne Aigner for a summer photoshoot session filled with hands- on, real life experience.
How did you come up with the concept of Through Our Lens?
My friend Carolyn Pride and I launched TOL almost 2 years ago with the goal of being able to mentor as well as give opportunity to high school aged girls who are passionate about photography and fashion who otherwise may not have the access and the skills or tools to get into the industry. We built it around that concept and we’ve been successful and just had, as we like to call it, our first class of fellows. They are all now going into their first year of college in the fall. As of this coming year we will have a new class which will be sophomores in high school and we’ll start over with them and keep tweaking the program and making it better and better. We recently used Etienne Aigner summer shoes for a shoot themed around “Art Directors in the Making”. And so the girls really were able to get first hand experience on a set and see how an Art Director might collaborate with a photographer. They were able to work with the product up close and be a part of the flow of creative ideas, which is so valuable.
One of our goals is to be able to give scholarships to the girls for college. Something is in the pipeline, but we still have a lot of fundraising to do to achieve that goal. It is something we really want to make happen, I would say that’s the 5 year plan. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s on the right track.
What advice do you typically give to these girls that want to take an entrepreneurial step and work in this medium? Any words of wisdom?
One of the things that we’re trying to do is really get them the experience and have them think about possible paths they may want to explore. During my high school summers I would do internships in different parts of the fashion industry and I got a lot of value out of them. It was a snapshot to the different parts of the industry. So, I worked with a stylist and I got to work with a makeup artist, I was on photo shoots and I even interned at a design atelier. I experienced many different things and found what I was interested in and what I was good at. I think that having that early on is amazing and obviously that's something that not everyone has access to. So that’s really what we’re trying to do with the program. The photo shoot was a perfect example of that, because the girls got to see what that type of environment is like and that exposes them to different avenues. Do they want to go into styling, photography, set or art design? It allows them to see where their passions and talents lie and maybe make some connections.
Has social media changed the message at all?
Today, I’d say in general if someone doesn’t have the access but they’re really interested in this space, with social media there is so much of an opportunity to really demonstrate what your aesthetic is and be able to show your talent on your Instagram. There is no more “you have to build a website or a resume.” You can use the Instagram channel, especially with something creative and visually show what you can do. If you’re talented at making little videos, you can even do that on your phone. You can use different apps and you can make videos, or if you’re a really wonderful sketch artist, do sketches and share it; if you're a designer show your creations, or a makeup artist, do makeup on your friends and photograph it and put it up there. I really feel like there's a platform now to be discovered and get into the industry and you can have access to a lot of the talent, people you may want to work for, just by direct messaging them. Maybe 80% of the people won’t write back, but what if somebody does? I’ve actually had a ton of people in high school reach out to me and ask questions or ask me to look at their portfolio and sit down with them and give them advice and I do it. If somebody reaches out to me and has something to show me, “here’s my portfolio I put together, or here’s a PDF of my work” and really follows up and is dedicated and wants to make it happen then I will sit down with them and try to help in any way I can.
How did your career path take you to your current role and do you think you’ve reached what you aspire to or do you still have goals in mind?
As it pertains to my career in terms of my photography and as well as TOL, I still feel like I have big things ahead of me. I am always flattered when people are telling me I am doing good projects and I am very lucky to be working with some of the best most exciting brands out there as well as publications and talent, but I really feel like there is still so much more to do. In the past few years I’ve started directing short films for fashion brands and branching out; that's something on the newer side that I’m super excited about and have really been pursuing and I am currently working on a short film that is more of a personal project. Which will hopefully be out in the next year. I still just feel like there is a lot ahead, all sort of within the photo and film space.
What mark do you, personally, want to leave on the photography world?
One of the reasons I’m doing films that I’m not only commissioned to do, but also personal films on topics I care about, is because I really want to make content that is meaningful. That will change somebody's mind about something or make people more open to a certain subject. Or maybe educate someone. For me, I think that’s the type of work that I want to eventually leave a mark on the world. I really believe that through image and also moving image there’s a real opportunity to make a difference and do good in this world. I’m at that point in my career right now where I want to focus on that.
Commercial projects are amazing and I really do love doing them, I love fashion. I love everything from the clothes themselves to the hair and the makeup, all of it. I love creating stories, that’s one part, but I do feel like, sometimes you find something you’re really passionate about and you really want to tell a story around that too that's not necessarily about fashion.
How do you use your own skillset and your experience to create your own unique brand?
I think it’s to stay true to yourself and what you stand for no matter what the trends are. There’s always going to be a new trend, but I think what’s most important is that you have a signature aesthetic. For photographers, people may be able to identify your work by just seeing the image. I think the same rings true about Aigner - you can recognize it just from seeing some of the pieces. It has the consistency that even though it’s more modern now, there’s a certain something about it that looks like an Etienne Aigner bag. Whether it's a color, or a certain silhouette- it’s consistent and people can recognize it and that’s so critical to branding, that it stays true to you. I think it’s just always going back to the drawing board and making sure you are being authentic and not doing something because it’s new and trendy.
We’re happy to announce that 10% of all proceeds during the month of September will go to the Through Our Lens Program.
Photos courtesy of Cinzia Brandi.