You hear so many stories about people who come upon large sums of money. They’re like arseholes – everyone’s got one, and they want to make sure you know what it sounds like. ‘It ruins your life,’ they say. ‘Everyone you’ve ever known is suddenly your mate.’ Sometimes I sit and wonder what life would be like if I found a giant pile of cash hidden away. Perhaps a grandpa, paranoid-about-the-government-grandpa-(or grandma)-style, hid a big wad under my mattress? Would I still do this silly little magazine? The answer is no – I wouldn’t. But until that day, here I am.
Alpha Sierra (AKA Alyssa Salamon), the next guest in our photographers special, probably would keep doing this silly little magazine, if she did do it. She would probably just upgrade her camera or something like that. Not me. Oh man, I’d be out of here. On top of this, she would also find a way to fit it in with all the other creative things she’s doing right now: music, photography and video, to name a few. Anyway, here’s the interview.
I did notice on your site there was a little bit of video work as well as the photography. Is there music as well?
I probably started out first with music, learning violin for a year as a kid. From there it went to guitar, as it does with most people, I think [laughs]. It was at about 16 that I picked up the camera. I learnt to develop black-and-white film at the Hunter Street TAFE, but ended up teaching myself things after that. I'm finding that so many creative outlets are linked – video, music and photography all stem into one another.
It's something that's taken me a long time to be comfortable with sharing with people; in the seven or eight years I've been working, it's only been recently that I've put the stuff out there. Taking photos of gigs without showing the band [laughs]. Once I started sharing the work with people, I started getting some positive feedback – it was really nice.
In the background check I did before this interview, I saw on your site that you were working in engineering before you took on the creative stuff more seriously.
Yeah, I worked about seven years in the field. I was 17 when I finished the HSC and I started a cadetship straight away. It was an associate degree in civil engineering, but I worked in the industry and studied part time by correspondence. I then did about two years in the field labouring – it was pretty full-on [laughs].
Are you juggling it still?
Not now – I just finished a contract, actually. I've worked at a few companies in Newcastle and surrounds, but I've found that the industry is... Let's just say my spirit for the work has been dampened by the attitudes held by some people in the field. In the seven years I worked at the career, I did turn a blind eye a few times, but it eventually got to a point – enough was enough. Through my creative avenues I think I have an impact in a different way. There’s definitely a mathematical side of my brain, which I still love to cater to; learning new programs and creative tools really scratches that itch for me.
You shot video for the vineyard gig recently too.
Yeah, that was great; so much local talent in one backyard! I work with a few of the organisers for a local stage production/labour hire company, and I just really enjoy helping out on that stuff.
You were building stage sets?
Yeah! It’s basically general labour, but involving fun music industry stuff. I think my first show was Neil Young out at Hope Estate, but we’ve been involved with the Disney on Ice productions, and bigger gigs like Bieber and Adele down in Sydney – it’s just lucky we don’t have to sit through the whole show!
What does that involve?
There’s such a range of work job to job, so you’re not often doing the same thing. If you imagine the stages that they're on, all the screens, lights, projectors – there are normally around five to six crews from around the place working on things. Putting things up and taking them down, like little worker ants.
Did you find the people different in their… attitudes?
Definitely. I think there is a little bit more freedom to it. It's not as proper or professional an environment, but there is definitely a whole lot more respect.
So now you're working for yourself?
Yes, to a degree. Still a little bit of barista work and stagehand work just to keep the income flowing. I’m really passionate about being open to negotiation in what the terms are for my creative work. Recently I've been shooting bands and sending three images through for free as a sample, and the option for paid access to the others. I think being flexible is really important. Artists don't always have the greatest resources to hand over. The barter system is great – everyone is helping each other.
You run a sketch party as well as all this.
What is a sketch party?
It’s an idea I took from a place in San Diego called Sketch Party SD. I actually emailed the guy asking if it would be OK for us to start one here – Sketch Party NC – and they were chuffed! The idea is really to provide a creative space and outlet that is (hopefully) a little bit less intimidating. It’s open to people of all skill levels, and we’re not affiliated with the TAFE, uni or any sort of gallery specifically. I really believe it's about having the patience to give yourself the chance to learn something new. All materials are provided, and no skill is required! We also got sponsorship from Murray’s Brewery, and are hoping to have more local businesses supporting in 2018.
Once you get to a certain age it stops being about learning or exploring – it's more about the end product.
Definitely! We get to a stage where we’re aware of, but neglect our own mental health; ignoring the signals of what our bodies might be telling us... I find sketching like a practical meditation – you're really allowing your body to release something: physical, emotional or otherwise. Personally, if I'm anxious about something, holding a pencil and sketching really helps. It's something I've been quite passionate about for some time.
How often are the sketch parties held?
They’re the third of each month to ensure the day is different each time. Hopefully, it makes it a little bit more accessible to people on different rosters. I have noticed in the past that there will be at least one person that we didn't have a connection to. By the end everyone is interacting – it's really great. It's a different context to a gig or art show; people can have a conversation with the distraction, the pretence, of drawing. The next one is in February at this stage, and it falls on a Saturday!
Have you adopted this name – Alpha Sierra – so you can operate in all these different avenues?
Alpha Sierra came specifically from working in construction. We used the phonetic alphabet over the two-way radio – Alpha Sierra is my initial. I didn't want to go out and attach my persona to my creative ventures [laughs].
It's easier to get on with it if you've got a name to go under.
Yeah. It's better for work too. I can work in another industry and play music on the weekend and keep it separate [laughs].
Follow Alyssa on Instagram @__alpha_sierra__, @SketchPartyNC or online at www.alphasierrastudio.com
You can get a copy of our 2018 Calendar, featuring Alyssa's work as well as 3 other amazing local photographers, while stocks last in our Online Store HERE Supporting us to support Newcastle.