Hustle Chat with Courtney Coles
Courtney Coles is an LA-based photographer who sat down with us to talk about learning how to be a strong woman, appreciating her family ties, and her love of music.
LH: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
CC: My name is Courtney Coles and I'm a 27-year-old portrait and documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. I received my BFA in photography from Pacific Northwest College of Art and have been hanging around the universe with my medium format camera, Autumn Leigh. I love C. Rae Jep...
LH: What is your hustle?
CC: I'm a freelance photographer and every day is a new adventure. There are days where it's really difficult, but as a whole, I'm thankful I'm able to do what I love and I'm humbled that people want to talk to me about this wild ride. Lately, I've been hanging out with the kindest musicians in the studio as they record and there's something extremely beautiful in watching the birth of a song. If I could hang around studios forever, I'd be the happiest human.
LH: What does being a Lady Hustler mean to you?
CC: Being a lady hustler means being the best boss babe in the room. Even if you're in a room filled with other hustlers, keeping your eye on your own prize and being the best you can be. Being a lady hustler means kicking ass and taking names while also being mindful of others. There's enough room for everyone to be successful, no need to step on toes.
LH: Where are you right now?
CC: I’m currently in Echo Park.
LH: Where are you originally from?
CC: I’m originally from Sylmar, California.
LH: So you do music photography and a variety of personal projects. Would you say there have been projects that were more important to you than others?
CC: They’re all pretty important to me, because they bring out a different part of my personality and what I love to do. The one that hits closest to home is my momma series. It’s a series about me and my mom, me learning how to love myself with her and loving femininity. That’s such a terrible word to use. I hate using that word. It’s mostly about learning how to be a strong woman from a strong woman.
LH: You also have a section about your family which you called, “sorry for making you art,” tell us about that.
CC: Very long story short: I’m the oldest of three. I was always the independent one. I wanted to do things on my own, didn’t want anyone’s help, and it made me grow up into the kind of person who doesn’t really ask for help. I grew up being my own person and pushing them away. When I went away to college, I didn’t realize how important my family was until I had to leave them. In art school, I never saw my family as art, I just saw them as the people I lived with. The whole “sorry for making you art” started as a joke when I realized that my photos of my friends and family are considered art, they’re art objects. So I was saying, “I’m so sorry for making you guys art, I didn’t mean to do that, but here we are.” My entire family series is me learning how to rebuild what I thought I’d damaged when I was younger. It’s me taking back all my angst and taking photographs to show my appreciation of them. A love letter of sorts.
LH: What’s something you have in common with your mother?
CC: One of the things I love about me that’s also in her is my ability to love no matter what. My mother asks no questions. If someone needs help, she’ll help them. If someone needs a place to stay, she’ll open the doors to them. I’ve kind of taken after her in that sense, putting others before myself even when I totally shouldn’t do that and should focus on myself. I care for people without any questions. If you need me, I’m there. That’s one thing I love about her. She gave me that gift and showed me that it’s okay to be that kind of a person.
LH: What currently inspires you?
CC: I’m forever inspired by music and by teen angst. Currently, I’m inspired by my friends, by the women around me who are hustling and kicking ass and just really doing it all.
LH: What are you currently listening to?
CC: Breaking Benjamin. They’re a band who were massive in the early 2000s, at the height of my teen angst, when I was very “everything sucks” and all that. It’s like, “why are you so angry at 13!?” They’re still pretty big now. Other than that, I’ve been listening to The Regrettes.
LH: Oh yeah, you took photos of them, right?
CC: I did! They’re some of the coolest people I’ve met and they’re younger than me. What was I doing when I was a teenager?! I’m so far behind! The lead singer is 16 years old and she’s the coolest 16-year-old I’ve ever met. They’re so genuine and great and I am so stoked they’re getting successful.
I’m also always jamming real hard to Brand New because Brand New is forever. I’ve been listening to a lot of old bands I grew up with and trying to revisit their catalog. Carly Rae Jepsen forever.
LH: What’s your go-to song? On a day like today, you’re in Echo Park, it’s raining, what do you put on?
CC: My go-to rainy day anything is Sea Wolf or Local Natives. Back when I was about 19, I was daydreaming about living somewhere that wasn’t as sunny as California. I was in the process of applying to PNCA and was having my, “I wanna live in Portland!” moments, so I kind of conditioned myself to fall into those bands whenever it rains. So whenever I miss the rain or miss the colder weather, I’ll throw on “Leaves in the River” by Sea Wolf or Anything from Local Natives’ “Hummingbird” album.
LH: Within “invite me into your life” project: what was the weirdest/coolest thing you encountered?
CC: My best friend Maddie, I’ve photographed her place twice. The second time felt more home-like, and it felt like, “this is definitely Maddie, this is definitely what I think of when I think about Madison.” I think of her owning up her entire being, and I love how everything is so soft in her bedroom. It’s a great portrait of her. The coolest thing was this pink chair, this old comfortable chair, and it had a little crochet pillow that said “bite me” on it. That’s such a Maddie thing, she’s so soft, but don’t mess with her.
LH: You consistently document yourself: self-portraits, photo booth pictures, and I wanted to ask you about that. Do you see it as a documentation of self, or is it something different for you?
CC: It’s a lot of things for me. I am obsessed with myself. It’s partly narcissistic, but mainly I am constantly growing and changing, and I’m no longer writing it down. I used to keep a journal, but I stopped years ago. I see all my photo booth photos or all my self-portraits as my way of documenting my state of being in that moment. Where I might be smiling in a picture, I know looking back that I may have had a shit day, and that smile was forced because I wanted to present myself in a good way, but I know I was crying before that. Documenting myself allows me to look back and see how far I’ve grown.
LH: Do you have any advice to fellow hustlers out there?
CC: Give yourself time to breathe. It gets hard out there when you're on a nonstop ride to your destination. Roll the windows down. Take an exit. Let yourself live while you're chasing that dream. Your dream will always be there but you won't be able to fully enjoy it if you're not in the right headspace for it. Take care of yourselves and your team.