Interview with Isabella Allwood

Click here to view Allwood’s photographs in the 2024 issue.

Interview by Tammy Browne and Christopher Schmidt

You write in your contributor’s bio that you took the photographs in this portfolio when you returned to Albany, Georgia to connect with family. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to travel between Georgia and New York City? Did you grow up there? What does Georgia and the South mean to you now? 

Though Albany, Georgia is where I took the photos I am a New York native first. My mothers side of the family is from a small town in Long Island. Most of my mothers sisters stayed in New York, but my Aunt Goobie moved down south to Albany. She moved away and it was was a fresh start for her. I have grown to appreciate the slow and what some may call mundane parts about Albany. When I was younger I hated how boring it was, but now Albany has really allowed me to slow down when I need it by cooking food, watching the stars, and taking barefoot walks with my cousin down the dirt roads. To me the South is a different place but I didn’t want to just capture the south. My goal was to show how beautiful the rural south is. It is truly unlike anything I have ever encountered. I fear and respect it at the same time. 

These photographs feel very intimate and familial, with a touch of nostalgia. Is this typical of your photography, or does the South draw out these qualities more strongly?

I wanted my photos to remind the audience to call their grandma. Even when my Aunt Goobie moved to the south, she has photos of our entire family everywhere. No one is forgotten, even long lost family members are brought to light when you step in her home. I wanted every photo to have a personality, like you know someone is there but you just can’t see them. When I went to Albany in the summer of 2023, I had no intention of creating an exhibit, but I bring my camera everywhere just in case. I would take photos of people and things and capture time at a stand still. What I found was this southern gothic theme in the first few photos and I ran with it. I wanted the audience to have sensory overload when looking at the photos. You could smell the grease in THE SMELL OF OIL and in SUMMER IN THE SOUTH you expect small children to run in though the screen doors asking for ice cream. I have been doing photography since I was 13 and I look back on photos from then and I notice that I didn’t have a style but it was trying to shine through. Today I have worked more on my technical skills and allowed myself to take photos in my style, but without my style taking away from the essence of the photos. 

Did you study photography in high school or at LaGuardia? You mentioned in your bio that you are an Environmental Science student. How does photography relate to your field of study, and do you see it as part of your career goals?   

I studied film and media at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, NY and I am so grateful for that experience. The middle school I went to didn’t allow me to take up creative space. But at my high school I learned to take it. I experimented with documentary filmmaking and editing and I really enjoyed it, but honestly I watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, directed by Wes Anderson, and I was hooked on marine biology and exploration. I began to be obsessed with National Geographic photography, and the way that people would take flash photography in the daylight.  As well as war photography. I was very drawn to photographs taken from the Vietnam War. When I tell people that I went to high school for film and media and now I’m in environmental science major, they raise an eyebrow, but it makes sense to me. We need someone to continue the next generation of underwater photography, and with all these new technological advances it would be a waste not capture it. I definitely would like to combine environmental science, filmmaking and photography, and maybe one day I’ll be on the cover of National Geographic.

What photographers, artists, or writers inspire you, and do you have any new projects you are working on?

I truly don’t have a lot of photographers who I draw inspiration from, but one of my favorite photographer is Robert Mapplethorpe. I love his work and how it captures a specific subculture of people and I think that’s the whole point of photography to illuminate groups of people who don’t necessarily get recognized or appreciated often. Hopefully in the future, I will get to showcase my full exhibit in a gallery that will be interactive, but I am currently working on my scuba certification so that I can take underwater photography. In my future career I would not only do underwater photography, but I want to document underserved coastal communities, such as the Gullah people which is a Community that I’m very interested in. 

Photographer and environmental science student Isabella V. Allwood collected these photographs during her time spend with family in Albany, GA. Her goal with the photographs in this issue is to showcase how the south and especially the town of Albany has remained the same, from the iconic peach trees to the vintage ice machine. Allwood wanted to capture the beauty of southern charm through her own eyes with low lighting, shadows, motion, and daytime flash to create a southern gothic theme.