Backstage

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Alice Gao

Photographer. Visual storyteller. Traveler. Bon vivant. While these terms conjure wanderlust and envy in most of us, they only begin to tell the story of Alice Gao—a New York City-based professional shutterbug who skillfully captures life through a lens.

With no formal photography training—just loads of practice and lots of less-than-dreamy images—Alice never considered picture taking a viable career choice. “Photography has long been a part of my life, but I studied economics and consumer psychology,” said Alice. “It wasn’t until college, when I purchased my first SLR camera, that I really started to get serious about it.” Late start and all, this self-taught snapper of still life, fashion, style and travel is nearing one million enthusiastic Instagram followers, which is a massive feat for someone who came from the school of trial and error.

From brand collaborations with Cartier to art direction and styling on set, the New Jersey native now wears many hats and wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked if she would be interested in displaying at a gallery, Alice didn’t hesitate. “I would love to have a body of work that can be cohesively displayed in print form,” she mused. “That is definitely a life goal of mine.” Before Alice inevitably becomes wildly successful at populating and beautifying white wall space, we got the chance to chat with her about her blog, Lingered Upon: photos and accumulations of small realities, her creative process and how filters and Photoshop don’t have to be a four-letter word when it comes to photography.

You are approaching one million followers on Instagram—and your photos get thousands of like to boot. How do you keep your audience captivated?
I've gone through many phases over the years when it comes to capturing an audience. There was a time I cared a lot more and thus posted things I knew would do well on social media. Now I'm in a phase where I just want to post the things I personally love and that move me. So, maybe I don't keep my audience captivated anymore—it's hard to know. For me, it's important to produce content that is consistent and always meets a certain level of standards. 

What are five other Instagram accounts everyone should be following right now?
@venamour, @brockdavis, @mkmicho, @junebugkim, @yosigo_yosigo

Food (edibles) has the most posts on your blog. Is this your favorite subject to photograph?
It started out as my go-to subject, but now I really enjoy travel and still life as well as fashion and style photography. I still love photographing food, but in a way that has more context, like when I'm traveling or as part of a larger story. 

Do you ever filter or Photoshop your images?
I definitely do! I enjoy the filters on Instasize for the photos I post on Instagram, and I use Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance my other images. Post processing can completely transform an image.

Favorite Instagram filter?
I tend to stay away from Instagram filters, but if I had to choose a favorite, I would say Clarendon or Juno.

Favorite photo you have ever taken?
It's hard to say. I feel like my favorite is something I have yet to take, but I do love my photos of a beach in Antibes, France.

What was the first photo you remember being really proud of?
I shot a tea story for the second issue of Kinfolk that was titled “Tea for Two.” It was the first time I got to work with a food and prop stylist, which was eye opening for me. The collaborative effort made the final images so much more fulfilling.

Have you ever put yourself in a dangerous situation to get the perfect shot?
I’ve never dangled off a building, but I have teetered precariously on structures to get a shot. The time I felt most uneasy was when I was shooting in Port Antonio, Jamaica. I was getting heckled by the locals who were not pleased that an outsider was taking photos in their town. I quickly put down my camera and went back to the safety of my car. 

What is your process when setting up for a shot?
It totally depends. Many of my shots are unplanned and spontaneous like when I see something that inspires me. For the more composed still lifes, I may spend time moving furniture, setting up a background, and figuring out how to prop the shot. If I'm working with a prop stylist, then we'll work together to set up the composition of a shot.

Most “pinch-me” moment of your career?
When Cartier contacted me a little more than two years ago to say they liked my work and wanted to collaborate. I think I actually pinched myself. It's been amazing to work with their team. 

Fashion and beauty are common recurrences on your social media. What is your relationship with the fashion and beauty world?
Fashion and beauty definitely make me happy. I always turn to beauty products as pick-me-ups if I'm having a rough day. A new lipstick or nail polish will fix that right up—at least temporarily. My personal style is still a work in progress, but I'm finding what works for me and what types of clothing make me feel my best. 

How does New York City inspire you?
I’m inspired by the talented and entrepreneurial people who live or work in New York. Just being around them makes me want to hustle and get better at what I do. There's a pace and energy here that I can't find in any other American city.

What is one fashion statement that will never go out of style?
A killer leather jacket.

What is your everyday hair routine?
I wash my hair every other day and usually have to create some texture in it with my hair straightener and a volume spray.

Favorite Oribe product and how do you use it?
Dry Texturizing Spray—It’s a necessity! 

Where did you go on your last travel adventure?
I was in Paris at the end of June. I went six times last year, but still couldn’t get enough.

Most luxurious possession you can’t live without? 
Even though it’s not really a possession, I'd say my American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

What are your top five life essentials?
Creative people who inspire me, books, coffee, wine, and my cameras.

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