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Ones to Watch: Aria Herbst Is The Visual Artist Injecting Color Into Existence

Aria Herbst is the multimedia artist and model who set out to create a project on existence; specifically, “what it’s like now, being us, living in this city.” As she grows up alongside her friends, she feels their present is a pivotal moment in their coming of age. Through the lens of a colorful perspective, she captures an intimate series of the people who inspire her the most. Find out how Herbst overcame negative influences to find the right creative mindset below.

What inspired you to start this series on existence?

I’m almost 20 now…I’m beginning to settle into my skin and accept the parts of me I have grown to love and work every day to change the parts I don’t care for. I think growth is vital to the human experience. I think the ability to love is also integral, especially in New York City. Showing love has been something I have struggled with as I’m not easily an open person. However, the people in this project are people I love with all my heart. They are my true muses and best friends. I wouldn’t be here without them and they have made my life in this city a beautiful and adventurous existence.

What were you most focused on capturing in this project?

I wanted to create a homage to my friends and our youth because we are all growing up—I think it’s easy for us to forget to just breathe and that we are still young. A lot of us have been having the same anxieties about growing up and leaving our teenage years behind. I wanted to capture the people in this series how I see them; as these beautiful, vibrant, powerful beings. I also wanted to pair each person with a specific memory I had of them or a certain feeling I associate with them. Another aspect I focused on was blurring the line between masculine and feminine. This is always prominent in my work but specifically in this series I wanted my friends, most of whom are queer/non-gender conforming, to truly be able to exude that.

Were there any challenges you faced when trying to achieve your vision?

Many, if not all of the people in these photographs are artists in one way or another, individuals with hectic lives, juggling a multitude of jobs, dreams, and creations. It wasn’t necessarily a challenge to align our schedules, but because I wanted to include very specific people, it did take time, which is a valuable thing and I am grateful they lent theirs to me so graciously.

How do you feel your perspective differs from other photographers? How do you show this perspective in your work?

I think as an androgynous person, I’m very keen to photographing people in a way that brings out both feminine and masculine attributes. I like to make people look delicate but strong, soft, but also intense.

When did you start taking photographs?

I started photography seriously January of 2018. I’d taken photos before then, but it was a sort of nonchalant process that didn’t really matter to me… I fell in love with [photography] as a form of expression and have been growing and learning with it ever since.

Your work has such a distinct artistic feel. How did you develop this style? What was your experimentation process like?

Thank you, that’s really cool to hear. I think my style reflects how I am feeling at the time. My process was a bit odd. I started shooting when I was around very negative influences in my life. It was a hard time as I had just moved to NYC and I felt very isolated and depressed and was hanging around a very negative crowd who viewed me and my work as less than, so I felt very insignificant. I would try to shoot things in order to appease to what they valued, which were photos equally as dark and dreary as my mindset, but that always felt so hollow to me, probably because I was trying to be something I wasn’t in order to conform to the ideals of those around me. I quickly left that part of my life and those people behind and began a fresh start and had to ask myself what made me excited, what did I want to create? I fell in love with color and realized it was people that fascinated me as subjects and so I began to shoot everyone around me in hopes of having them see the beauty I saw in them. I want to make people feel beautiful and valuable when I shoot them. It means the world to me when I succeed in that venture.

Do other photographers and visual artists inspire you? What type of art influences your work and creativity the most?

I get asked this a lot and I feel ridiculous saying this, but I honestly don’t have any photography influences, maybe because I’ve never really studied photography and kind of delved into it with only my brain and my camera and pretty much no outside forces to pull from. In terms of other media as inspiration, I think a lot of my work draws from a magical sort of feeling because when I was really young I was fascinated with mythologies from around the world. The surreal nature of my work comes from those stories, I believe.

Your photographs are potent with color, but vary throughout your work—how do you decide what colors to use when capturing a subject?

It’s a bit strange but most times the colors come after the photo is shot. I love Photoshop. To me, photography is equal parts the photo and then the part where it sort of becomes a painting of mine in post-production. I associate people with colors, I’m not sure why. Memories and experiences, even things they say to me on the shoot all influence what color I choose for the piece. Sometimes colors are consistent when I shoot the same person multiple times, but most times they change and depend on how I feel and how I feel towards them in the moment.

Above all, what do you hope to say and express through your work?

I want to show the beauty of those around me. I am blessed to be surrounded by so many unique individuals, people who are in the arts, people who are queer, people who don’t conform to gender rules, people who may be ignored because of how they look. I want to express the idea that beauty can be found in the ordinary and the bizarre just the same and both are valid and lovely.

What can we expect next—how do you hope to evolve your photography and visual artistry in the coming years?

I recently shot a music video for my friend Ondine Atwell-Hudson, which will be coming out soon and we are super excited! We work together a lot and she’s definitely one of my muses (she’s the girl with the shaved head in this series). I love shooting music videos and it’s something I hope to do more of in the future. Also, I just got signed to a modeling agency and my true intentions with that are to somehow break into the fashion world and begin photographing editorials or campaigns. I love fashion and I think it’s vital to have a new wave of artists creating content for brands that may be unaware of the social changes happening and how the ideals in our society are shifting into a more inclusive situation (though not fast enough). I want to become an entity that is synonymous with inclusivity, someone who can show people that beauty is not just one thing and it shouldn’t be.

Images courtesy of Aria V

Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.

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