A Portrait by stjms
FAME, and Beyond
It's a few days after the beginning of the New Year. Snow has not only begun to fall, but stick—and, in Portland, that qualifies as a state of emergency. This is actually horrible timing. I, in the midst of preparing myself to move across the country; Anaka, a senior at USC, with only two days left in Portland before heading back to sunny California.
We abandon our last ditch effort to meet in the cozy confines of Powell's Books. Now, instead of battling the elements, I am struggling with technology, trying to get FaceTime working on my computer. No such luck. There is a foreboding sense of doom. Corresponding via text, it is suggested we try one final time before postponing the interview. This time, it works.
Anaka's face pops up, and I am a little surprised. This is the first time we've "met". My colleague who brokered the meeting had briefed me on a few of Anaka's creative interests and accomplishments: dancer, photographer, videographer, publisher, painter... artist. Seeing her for the first time (not quite face-to-face, but close enough), the first thing I noticed was how young she looks.
stjms: Is the snow terrible where you're at?
Anaka: We're pretty iced in but it's not so bad—it's warm inside, and I made gluten-free cookies.
stjms: Gluten-free? That's pretty Portland of you.
Anaka: [laughs] I don't really care either way but my mom does.
We banter for a moment more before conversation saunters towards our creative sensibilities. As we speak, I can recognize a magnetic quality to her tone. She wants you to be just as excited about the work as she is. I can see why her aesthetic is so provocative. Anaka is equal parts thinker as she is artist.
The daughter of an actor and a painter, Anaka pulls from the creative ambitions of her parents. Speaking about their influence, and how it has helped her own tastes progress, she tells me how recently she has re-found a childhood love and how, for the past few weeks, she has been compulsively collaging.
Anaka: I must have made 30 collages in the past week and a half. I just made another one in the last couple hours waiting out the snowstorm. Being home around all my mom's magazines and art supplies—there's so much, just art supplies on deck—and with all this creative energy around me, it's easy to get caught up in it.
And then there is school. Majoring in American Studies & Ethnicity along with Analog & Digital Photography, and Cinematic Arts Production, it's an understatement to say that Anaka is busy. Still, the first thing she tells me about her life in L.A. isn't about the USC party scene but how she made her name by bullying her way into events as a documentarian.
Her ambitions have been manifested into relationships with VICE, Beats by Dre, and Okayplayer—amongst others. That same drive has also enabled her to work alongside acts such as uhlife, Kehlani, and Kendrick Lamar. But there is a further reaching vision that she's working with. A lot of what she speaks about are her experiences through a lens of evolution—evolution of the self, of her art, and of the medium she chooses to use. To hear her tell it, photography has become more of a vehicle than a destination.
Something else becomes apparent, too. Even as she is speaking, I can sense Anaka making plans—formulating; developing. It is then that she tells me about her evolving pet project.
The FAME Project by Anaka
Anaka: It's called "The FAME Project". "FAME" in all capitals. It's an ethnographic study researching fame as a social construct. It started out with me just doing behind-the-scenes photography. I became fascinated with the line between persona and true identity. About how blurred that line could be, or if there was a line at all, and how fluid the relationship between the two sides can be.
I've always been attracted to working with musicians because I feel like they cycle quicker than a lot of other art forms, and they're constantly in this mode of creation; their evolution is exponential. Going to shows and working with musicians, that's how this all got started. But I'm looking to work with artists that are working in other mediums too.
Last year, I took a class that kind of gave me direction as far as how I wanted to approach it, so it's somewhat academic in nature as well. It's called "The FAME Project" because the main subject is the process of attainment; the power over media. However many ways you can define "fame", that's what this project is about: authenticity.
The longer we talk, the clearer it becomes that Anaka is not just one thing. We delve into our personal tastes and end up talking for a short while longer—about collaboration, about collectives; about creation. After the call is over, I find I am left with a slight sense of calm hanging in the air, possibly as if some very complex idea had been simplified down to its common denominator. Maybe it had.