Sydney Claire. Her life perspective parallels the depths of her photography portfolio. Featured in international publications such as Vogue Italia, she collaborates with a mix of brands and industry professionals. The moment I discovered her IG page, I was immediately intrigued. Little did I know her account would become a source of digital encouragement during my own transition into living in New York.
Her images are stunning, but what resonated in my soul most was her pursuit of life. She has a subtle, yet gravitating personality you can't help but root for. Her gaze channels confidence so freeing it's contagious. Her presence commands attention in a humble, but powerful way. She is a mighty force, mysterious yet inviting.
Our interview was just shy of an hour, though it felt as if I've known her most of my life. Her vulnerability is calming. Her insight will have you saying "YESSSSS" in response to a statement. She speaks with fervor and uses her voice to share candidly about her personal journey. Her artistry and body of work is a direct reflection of the energy she brings to the table every day. And now, as the first featured artist in my "Creator Stories", here is the journey of Sydney Claire, a 23-year old photographer on the rise:
Nestled in Durham, Connecticut, a town rounding up to about 6,000 people and less than 3% of diversity, Sydney was grounded in solid principles. Her father's humility and persistence to create a better life for his family laid the groundwork for her commitment to doing the same for herself.
Topic: Her Background
SC: " I grew up Durham, Connecticut, a town with 6,000 and less than 3% of diversity. My Dad grew up in the hood and worked hard to get a nice house and provide everything he did for our family. I didn't really fit in. A lot of my friends were immigrants and it changed my perspective so much. I was the only white girl and they all put something in my head that I didn't really realize before. I realized how privileged and ignorant I was growing where I did. Went to art school (Lesley College of Art and Design) when I was 17 and was super particular about being in the city. I wanted to reach my full potential and I knew it would be here eventually." Fast forward a few years, she now building an artistic industry network. All that glitters isn't gold though. The process of establishing herself in the city also came with a lot of patience and grit. Where there is glory, sacrifice has often paved the way. And for Sydney, her path is a reflection of the highs and lows so many of us can relate to.
Topic: Relocating to NYC
SC:" This is the place for me. I've gotten a lot of opportunities here and have met countless people through waitressing or anything I do. My network has grown SO much and the types of people I've worked with are allllll over the place. I love to meet different types of people. I think a lot of who I am and why I think the way I do comes from the conversations I've had with others. And just the general perspective changes that come from when I work with somebody new. Always meeting new people and listening to new perspectives. Wherever you look there's an opportunity.
SC: Once I first put my rent down, I had $300 to my name and I was like "Alright, I have no job and this money, but let's make this work." I did have time where I became depressed. In New York, you can have a lot of people around you, but still feel alone and you just feel like there are not enough people. Another thing I realized about being here is there are a lot of things people who are doing all these things via social media that you AREN'T doing. Even being published in Paper Magazine and all the things I've been published in so far, there was definitely a small amount of time that I felt like I wasn't professing toward my goals. I couldn't get jobs, but ultimately I reminded myself, even if you have $200 in your bank account you're still in New York. Yes, it's expensive to live here, yes it's hard to live here, but there's nowhere else in the world where you such easy access to get where you want to be. Yes is going to be hard, but this is the place to do it! I meet people every day who can help me progress in my career."
As I sat listening with my own dreams in mind, I found myself swelling bit by bit with courage. One of the traits I admire most about Sydney is her unwavering conviction in truth. She has no hesitation being candidly real. And I believe it has and will continue to create space for her to manifest her aspirations.
Topic: Being Honest with Yourself
SC: "My skill level has gone miles from where I was relocating to the city. I've been shooting since I was nine. Yet, I look back and this has been the BEST year. Struggling forces you to grind. My work has really skyrocketed since being here because I really know what I want. NOTHING IS SUGAR COATED HERE. People will literally tell you your work looks like shit, but that is GOOD to hear when you need to hear it. If you constantly have people only telling you "Oh this is great", how are you ever going to grow to your full potential? You're not going to progress. I know where my work needs to be and I know it's not there yet, and I'm going to keep working until I get to that point.
SC: You have to be honest with yourself and be like "I know what's going to do well on IG but who cares." It's hard now because everyone thinks validation = likes, but it's about how you impact people. I don't care if 10,000 people look at it or five. If they forget it 10 minutes later... then it's not it for me. There are definitely times where I go through social media and get down on myself about "Not doing enough work", but then you have to remember people are only putting their best life out there. Keep doing things for you. It's about leaving an impression and I don't care about how many followers you have on Instagram or how many people like your shit, that doesn't matter in the end. It's about your longevity and how you're going to leave your work behind."
Topic: Facing Hard Truths
SC: "If you realize it's not going to happen in a specific place, you need to be honest with yourself too. Being in Boston, I was doing okay work, but I was still concerned about having the right hair and the right look. New York is tough, but it makes you grow up. I think that I came here after living with my guy friends in Boston and I was still in LA LA Land. Moving here was a slap in the face you have to just figure out. I had access to so many things where I was before, but that doesn't mean you can't build it somewhere else. I think it's crucial to know your work and know what you need to do to take it to the next level. I live my life in a different way now. I don't really care what people think I look like. I care about what they think about my work. To me, my work is more important to me than my appearance. I got rid of my full-length mirror and scale. It's nice! Once you get over vanity and understand it's about what you bring to the table, THAT'S what's important. It's about how you impact people! As women, we are accustomed to thinking about what we look like, but I've met some pretty people who suck. And I live a happier life now because I don't care."
Topic: Thoughts About Competition
SC: "I'm not gonna say it doesn't cross my mind. BUT you can't think like that, you can't. The more you think about it, the more destructive it is. You can't reach ultimate goals when you're thinking about that kind of stuff. A lot of people sugar coat the art world. Everyone wants it to be liberal, which is fine because I'm super liberal. BUT also there are times when you have to be honest with yourself and other people. There's a lot of people who want to be photographers. I still catch myself comparing sometimes. I'm like "you're thinking too much about what's going into this, step back and make work that's you." It's so easy to choose something that will get more likes on IG and try to shoot that way, but that is NOT how it should work.
SC: Ultimately, you are working and creating for YOURSELF. A lot of artists I look up to such as, Renell Medrando, are making content about people suffering. The photographers and artists I look up to take a step back from that trying to fit the status quo. They make things that are theirs. You look at their photos and say "That's their work". I aim to do the same because the market is really saturated now. If everything got deleted, all these apps, all you have left is your work. Your work should represent who YOU are. That's what I look up to in artists, the ones who rise above the conformity."
Topic: The Importance of Healthy Support
SC: "Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who will support your goals is super important. I found surrounding myself with people I can look up to is really important to me. People who actually care about what I'm doing. People who it isn't a competition with. Your progression is a lot about the people you surround yourself with. Take my boyfriend for example. He lives in Boston and he's so positive. Always encouraging me and giving me positive affirmation.
SC: If you surround yourself with people who are negative, it will impact you. Find people who are actually positive in real life and actually doing things in real life. It will drown out all the noise and negativity. Taking advantage of people who are mentors to you and giving you good advice - that's something. My friend Jo, she's 28 and I'm 23, she has already been through a lot of things I want to do. I really started to take a step back and put away my pride. I'm continuously inspired by her and others who I can always learn from."
Topic: Her Personal Mantra
SC: "Send that link!" I used to hate cold emailing people, but now I'm not afraid. I got featured in Paper Magazine by directly emailing the Editor who then sent me to the Art Director. Looking at things positively too! Even if something bad happens, it's like okay that was bad..but now I have to take what I can out of it. Be positive and understand it's not all going to happen at once."
Thank goodness for voice recordings because I had already stopped typing 10 minutes in. Purely from just relating to practically everything she was saying. This ties back into my opening statement about her authenticity. Having discussed her experiences, we went deeper into her creative purpose, present scope, the future, and beyond.
Topic: Talking to Her 18-Year Old Self Again:
SC: "I'd say go to art school in NYC and stop getting caught up on what people think. I grew up struggling with this and had an eating disorder. My head was really stuck on this. I wish I had the confidence I had now. I know a lot of it comes from growing up and now understanding who I am as a person. I now wish part of me understood more of who I was as a person back then. Because now I don't really give a fuck what people think about me. I'm very organic and I wish I didn't put on as much of a persona as I did back then. Ultimately, I grew into who I am anyway, so why couldn't I have done that sooner?
SC: It's okay to be alone too. I used to feel SO needed to fit into friend groups when I was in college. There were girls who were really mean to me and I was their friend because I "needed" a friend group. And if I was honest with myself and stuck up for myself and said "fuck it, I don't care if I have a ton of friends", I would've avoided so many situations that caused me anxiety and problems. Also, my school was mostly fine art. I wish I pushed my editorial work more too, but I do appreciate having a central background because now I know more."
Topic: Her Life Perspective:
SC: "You will become a better person when you start trying to look at life through others’ perspective. Some of the best conversations I've ever had came from talking to people who are completely different than me. They gave me a new perspective on things I didn't think of before. I've grown so much as a person and it's so important. It's not just you and the world. There are so many other people. Sometimes we get so selfish and we don't realize there are other people with life happening too. We all are really alike when you look at it. I get so mad at myself thinking about how I used to care so much what people thought, but you can't get mad you just have to keep moving.
SC: Also, I think this generation has a lot of negative materialistic realities. We always want more and more, but none of that matters. I have friends who went to Harvard, work on Wall Street, make $100,000 a year, and are still unhappy. I don't drink anymore or try to numb myself. I'm just happy. I just moved into a nice apartment of my own for the first time in my life. And WOW do I appreciate it now. It's about appreciating things and taking everything with a grain of salt. All the hard things you're going through now is going to be worth it in the end."
Topic: Thoughts on Her FutureSC: "I've been shooting my whole life and love to create. I feel I'm meant to do it and why I will never give up on it. I think to myself "you are so lucky to do this" why would you waste that? There's a lot of pressure to give up on it, being a 23-year old in NYC, without a 9-5. I will never quit and waste what I'm doing because eventually, it's going to pay off. There's a lot of pressure to sell yourself to the 9-5 life, but I feel security is overrated. I don't care what my bank account looks like or what I'm wearing etc. etc. because I get to go to sleep happy every night.
SC: Part of what I do and why I do it is that I grew up where people were so out of touch. There are a lot of places and I think more photographers need to start showing diversity and representing more types of people because that makes it more real. There are so many things going on in the world and growing up there made me realize how you can live really shut off from everyone and I did not want to do that. A lot of my artistic practice comes from how you profess as an artist. I think a lot of people from home I think their perspectives have changed from seeing my work. SC: I personally have a lot to say about this industry, but ultimately getting rid of the noise is very important. I try to take social breaks because when I'm 89 and sitting on my death bed I'm not going to remember all my likes on IG. Being published in Paper Magazine and Vogue Magazine someday? Yes. I think people should take a minute to look back and see there's a lot more. You need to have context for your day to day life, otherwise, you'll get bogged down. I got paid to go to Korea for photography for two weeks. I want to do more of that because there's no monetary amount to compare to real life experiences. So, I'm just doing things to be able to further my abilities and take advantage of all that I can. Reminding myself "That's the internet, but what am I doing every day to progress myself in real life?" That is the way to further your progress (personally and artistically).
Sydney Claire is a fashion and editorial photographer based in NYC. Her true skill and passion lies in capturing the rich diversity of the human experience.