Ahlstrom Photo: Escaping with Vibrant Memories
By developing methods to create tangible memories, Kyle Ahlstrom uses vibrant and telling colors to shape positive notions with others through photography. They first noticed memories had been missing during the trauma of their gay youth, and that there must be a way to fill the void. “Photography gave me a way of keeping the best moments of light with me,” Ahlstrom says. Today, Ahlstrom is the owner and sole proprietor of Salt Lake City’s Ahlstrom Photo and provides clients with “light, color, art and notion,” they say.
Using their father’s 35mm camera perked Ahlstrom’s photography interest in the beginning days, then, aided by a local CVS pharmacy, the film was brought to life. It was photos of Southern California beaches, Alhstrom’s friends and their dog that taught Ahlstrom the basics. Ahlstrom relocated to Salt Lake City after their high school days, eventually finding a home at the University of Utah Fine Arts program where they focused on graphic design. Their instructors immediately noticed Alhstrom’s photography skills and they provided Ahlstrom with the motivation to incorporate photography into design projects. Once Ahlstrom graduated, a marketing team took interest and Ahlstrom says, “I was hired … full time not as a designer but as an in-house photographer.”
“Photography gave me a way of keeping the best moments of light with me.”
The trying times of the COVID-19 crisis have pushed Ahlstrom to work as a freelance photographer and added to their desire to keep producing. The ideas, shoots and modifications happen in a small studio within a garage, a space that is kept at peace with a meditation cushion and sun lamp beside a small desk. The walls are adorned with inspiring lines from poets and philosophers, shots from other photographers, and a calming audio contribution from The Lonely Palette podcast. “It’s quite a privilege to Be here—capital B—and to create in this space,” Ahlstrom says. The gear that completes the studio is a Sony A7Riv, Godox softboxes and studio strobe lights. “Having a reliable system that acts as an extension of my own creativity is extremely important,” Ahlstrom says.
When creating a piece, there is “a lot of problem solving and storytelling,” Ahlstrom says. Alternatively, with clients, Ahlstrom determines the desired message to be communicated, combining colors and textures to allow the photo to speak. Alhstrom often does this by analyzing prior photography used by a company, or simply analyzing the shapes, colors and texts already present in a product. Ahlstrom will then incorporate additional materials to design a shoot that will tell the story desired. An example of this was the use of cardboard cutouts to funnel light when shooting the products of Shades Brewing (@shades_brewing). The benefits of the funneling were two-fold: allowing the photo “to stay in [a] realm of bold[ness] but [also] elegan[ce],” Ahlstrom says, and incorporating “shade” into the images.
“Having a reliable system that acts as an extension of my own creativity is extremely important.”
When asked about the self-described desire to find light, color, art and notion, Ahlstrom admits that they’re probably still looking. “I think that phrase is my North Star,” Ahlstrom says. The first two components are required for a photo of any kind, but art and notion are products of the story being told and are more difficult to incorporate. It can be something as simple as channeling light to produce a shade as a play on the product name (mentioned above), or it can be as complex as “discovering and confronting parts of yourself that are uncomfortable and oftentimes painful,” says Ahlstrom. A piece they contributed to the Queer Spectra Arts Festival achieved this complexity when Ahlstrom made silhouettes of models and their shadows. The shadows took on colors produced by a gelled flash and long exposure times. It was effective in showing viewers what the media representation of the queer community is. “It will always only be a silhouette of a human and the brilliant and ineffable variations we each contain,” Ahlstrom says.
Ahlstrom is hoping to continue growing with commercial shoots as well as more conceptual portraits with local Utahans. They have started spending free time with speculative shoots with the goal of “[getting] the attention of the types of clients you want to shoot for [by shooting] for the types of clients you want,” Ahlstrom says. “Vans—please hire me,” Ahlstrom adds with a smile. For the conceptual portraits, Alhstrom places great effort on creating a collaborative environment. Models can bring their ideas concerning concepts, locations, objects, etc. to the table, and Ahlstrom will add their experience and artistic insights to the creative process. “Often, it’s very organic and kinda just feels like we’re hanging out and making pretty things,” Ahlstrom says.
In learning of Ahlstrom’s photography and their methods, the most moving component was their message “to be kind, to others and to yourself … To find what inspires you and learn from it. To do everything to hold on to the moments of light,” they say.
“Often, it’s very organic and kinda just feels like we’re hanging out and making pretty things.”
For further information, prints or booking with Ahlstrom Photo, head to ahlstromphoto.com and visit @kspencera to view Ahlstrom’s more conceptual work, as well as day-to-day shots. For customers, shoots are planned and discussed via Zoom or phone calls, with masks and distancing practices conducted for in-person shoots.