Amanda Rowan grew up around rock stars. Rowan, a New York Film Academy (NYFA) photography instructor, is the daughter of Grammy-winning bluegrass musician Peter Rowan. But unlike many of her contemporaries—offspring of famous musicians—she discovered her instrument was a camera, not a guitar or piano. She began shooting rock concerts in high school and went on to shoot portraits for corporate clients, international artists, and pop celebrities. Rowan recently took some time to discuss her career, her upcoming projects, and playing Paris Hilton’s best friend in a National Lampoon movie.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): As someone who grew up around music and musicians, why were you drawn to photography?
Amanda Rowan (AR): At first I was drawn to photography as a way to document the music and performances that I was inspired by. But I realize now that when I was shooting bands and live music the camera was my “instrument.” I felt like I was part of the band and adding to the music.
NYFA: How would you characterize your work?
AR: I am drawn to elements of life that are visually theatrical. I seek to create images that feel like a movie or a dream. I like the heightened art direction with dramatic color and juxtaposition.
NYFA: Speaking of musicians, you did a project—Born Backstage—shooting musician and performer offspring of artists like The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa. How did this project come about?
AR: In my 20s I was living in New York City and had a lot of musician friends. I was shooting a lot of bands and actors. I was looking for a project to focus my portraiture towards a single subject and build a photographic series. One night I was at a party and I was sitting with Chris Stills (his father Steven Stills was in Crosby, Stills & Nash) and we were talking to Jenni Muldaur (her mother Maria Muldaur was on the cover of Rolling Stone for her 1970s hit song “Midnight at the Oasis”) and Harper Simon (his father is Paul Simon). We were talking about art, music, and our shared sense of gratitude and angst about having musicians as parents. I thought that there was a unique bond between us and that it could be a compelling photo series.
NYFA: You were an actor in your 20s. What were some of your highlights?
AR: One of the highlights was playing Paris Hilton’s BFF in National Lampoon’s Pledge This! We lived in Miami for six weeks at the Shore Club. We would stay out all night and then film all day—I don’t remember sleeping much! But even then I always had my camera on set and was known by the cast and crew as the actress who was always taking everyone’s portrait. Paris was very sweet and liked to pose for me. Our on-screen friendship developed into a real friendship. When I moved to LA to pursue photography, she gave me my first job taking photos of her.
I also played opposite Dave Chappelle on a Chappelle’s Show sketch. He was The Wolfman and I was his girlfriend. It was shot in black and white like an old 50s horror movie. I was cracking up the whole time.
NYFA: Tell us about your latest project.
AR: My new project, Arrangement, is a series of still-life images as well as self-portraits, taken in the studio. The images are of flowers and fruits and other organic matter pared with personal objects like jewelry and feathers. The objects and items in the images are all symbolic to me and represent the “performative” quality of acts of domestic curation, like setting a table for dinner. The images tell a story of seduction, vulnerability, and power. The series will debut at the Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn this August. The show is produced in conjunction with the leading photography and art publication, Float Magazine.
NYFA: What is your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
AR: Teaching is the best plot twist of my career/life! I truly love it! I feel like I have a chance to teach all the little secret things I wish someone had told me when I was coming up! Mostly I just want to support young artists and give them the tools and the confidence to be creative and bring forth the amazing ideas inside their brains! It makes me happy when they are able to express themselves.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach at NYFA?
AR: I love teaching the business classes. I think the business side of art can be challenging for artists. But I have found with the right tools and education you actually gain confidence in your art by feeling equipped with the business side of things!
NYFA: Is there a piece of advice you give your students before graduation?
AR: Do everything you can to stay confident and nurture your creativity and self-confidence. A creative career is not linear so enjoy the wild ride and be open to the twists, turns, ups, and downs!