How This Touring Photographer Survives Life on the Road

Allister Ann recently spent two days with Dolly Parton in Nashville. How's that for a 9-5?

Hint: it's not. As a successful music photographer and director known for her work with such artists as Tegan and Sara, Cold War Kids, Andrew Bird, yes, Dolly Parton and Adele-- to name drop a few-- the photog is used to long hours on set and on tour. See, the 29-year-old is also one of the few female music tour photographers, working as Kenny Chesney's personal photographer.

But life on the road is no breeze. And it's a field that's dominated by men (tickle our tummies and call us not surprised!)-- but not for long. Though Allister admits that tour life can take it's toll, she's seeing more women join the ranks. Read through to learn more about life from Allister's side of the lens. 

Do you remember the first photo you took that captured a look, a soul, a vibe, where you thought, YES! This is my medium?

I remember while walking to and from FIDM college in downtown Los Angeles, there was, and still is a large population of men and women without homes. Taking the same route every day, some of them became familiar and we exchanged greetings, over time getting to know some names and later hearing a few stories. There was a bakery close by and sometimes I would share breakfast with them. I finally asked to take one mans portrait. There was something very special seeing that film developed. It wasn't just a picture, it was someone that I had taken the time to get to know. There was sentiment within it. That's the feeling that gave it meaning.

Where did you get your professional start?

While in Los Angeles going to school, I was taking photographs all the time, and learning the trade, but didn't make the conscious decision to take it on as a possible career until I quit school, moved to Nashville, and got my first paying professional job. There truly is something to be said when declaring what you want for yourself. I won’t say it's fooling others into believing in you, but believing in yourself enough to get what you truly want.

"There truly is something to be said when declaring what you want for yourself."

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How did that transition to the music industry? 

Music had always been a big part of my life, and Nashville naturally exposed me to some of the most talented artists in the business. My first job was photographing a musician, and it all fell into place from there.

What was the first tour you went out on? 

There were several ‘unofficial’ tours in the beginning. The first being Augustana, friends who believed in me and asked me to tag along. It really just felt like a road trip with friends, but with the addition of a camera to document our time together. Another was 30 Seconds to Mars, that was an experience in and of itself. We did only festivals that part of tour, so in between photographing the guys, I met other bands and shot them as well. Some of those people are still dear friends. The first official tour was with The Civil Wars. I was hired to be their exclusive photographer/videographer. We were together for about 3 years, and I was constantly by their side to document everything. It was an incredible experience.

What was life like on the road?

Going from city to city, shows night after night, it can all blend in together, but we were happy to be there and made the most of it. You can't help but become a tight knit family when constantly on the road. In the beginning, it was smaller venues, but as it quickly progressed, the venues became bigger and the audiences larger. Our first tour of Europe was amazing. We were all so thrilled to be there and share that experience. Photographing every moment started as simply documenting but quickly changed to becoming the makings of a family album of an incredible journey that none of us ever wanted to forget.

Why do you think it’s a field not many women are in?

When I first started there weren't many women doing what I did. Traveling can be a downside for some, physically and mentally-- it can take its toll. It's a different lifestyle that can be exhausting, but also exhilarating. I've seen over time though that there are more touring women photographers now and that's inspiring.

I've seen over time though that there are more touring women photographers now and that's inspiring.

Linda McCartney, Autumn De Wilde, Pennie Smith, and Annie Leibovitz during her time with Rolling Stones opened the doors and paved the path, and I would hope that in time many more women will choose this challenging but rewarding career. 

L: Jenny Lewis; R: Vérité Published, Allister Ann

Are there moments where you’ve been treated differently as a woman?

Unfortunately yes, there have been times when being a female is thought to be a disability in some way. Assumptions that I may not be physically able to do the job or that my knowledge is limited. I found over time that it's not so much having to prove yourself, but more so handling situations as they arise with professionalism and a bit of grace. If you are comfortable in your own skin, and confident in your work, it will ultimately speak for itself, and the gender factor will never come into play.

If you are comfortable in your own skin, and confident in your work, it will ultimately speak for itself.

As you’ve grown in your profession how has your photographer’s eye changed?

Not so much changing but more so evolving. What I am inspired by at the moment, subjects I'm working with, everything is a contributing element to the final product.This last year I have been studying forms and light in sculptures and flowers among other still objects.It's a nice relief from the immediate reaction that documentary work requires.

We live in a world where everything is shared, everything is very visual, what is part of your art form that digital can’t take away?

Shooting film is still why I love photography. It keeps me on my toes in the sense of feeling that I had to earn that photo. There's no immediate fulfillment, but just an excited anticipation of waiting to see if it turned out as good, or better then you hoped for. It's a toss of the coin, or luck of the draw when you shoot in film. There's something very mysterious about it that keeps me fascinated with it.

Who are you most excited to shoot coming up?

An artist that I've worked with for the past few years just announced next years tour, so I'm very excited to see that road family again and spend some time with them.  Also have been working on a portrait project of some fascinating people I've been wanting to meet. Portraits to me are so intimate and allows me to spend time with a stranger and get to know them, still one of my favorite things to do when I'm home.