Ilanna Barkusky: Color From Above
By Alixandra Rutnik Posted on Nov 25, 2021
Discussing ADC 100 award-winning work with photographer and One Club Member Ilanna Barkusky
It’s awards season once again, as the ADC Annual Awards moves into its second century of celebrating creative craft. One of the cool things about ADC is its categories that allow for the personal passion projects of creatives in various disciplines to be entered and awarded. One such submission to reach the spotlight was Colour Series, created by One Club Member and California-based photographer Ilanna Barkusky, which won a Silver Cube in last year’s ADC 100th Annual Awards.
Ilanna fell in love with photography when she had to take it as an elective in high school and began bringing her camera with her every week when she would hit the slopes. Now she’s a licensed drone pilot, taking cool aerial shots of sports players, with an ADC Cube to show off. As part of our Photography Month series, we talked to Ilanna about the inspiration behind her award-winning project.
2021 Photography: Personal / Unpublished / Passion Project / Series
Can you describe that specific moment in your life when you realized that photography wasn't just a fun hobby but something that had you saying “yes, I can take photos for real, for real”?
In high school, I was completely obsessed with skiing, which happened to coincide with the decision to take a photography class as an elective. For our homework assignments, I tried to take my film camera onto the mountain as much as possible. Initially, I put things together and realized that sports photography was a career that could afford me more time doing what I loved on the other side of the camera.
As I got into it, it became something much bigger as I discovered my passion for collaborating with athletes. I enjoyed coming up with a vision and working with others to put together a concept that was equal parts what we loved to do.
The opportunity to create tangible work from this sort of magically combined effort was something that drew me in immediately. I had the moment where I knew I was on the right path early on in my first year. My first few photography jobs felt more like a dream come true rather than a workday, and I began getting photos published in magazines shortly after which was another amazing feeling. Everything seemed to align at a quick pace, and it just felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.
"My first few photography jobs felt more like a dream come true rather than a workday, and I began getting photos published in magazines shortly after which was another amazing feeling."
What was your grand vision for Colour Series?
The idea for this series came together throughout 2020. Right after I received my drone license, I wanted to take advantage of my newfound access to fly in some areas that were previously off limits. I shot a basketball court in my hometown from the air, and I knew I wanted to keep playing around with the concept and see what I could come up with. As I progressed with the project, basketball, skateboarding, and track seemed to fit best with the vision I had and the locations that were available to me.
The most important aspect was that the movements of each sport looked distinctive enough from above. Growing up, aside from some time on a few soccer teams, I would tend to gravitate more to the creative expression I got from individual sports compared to team sports. For that reason, I prioritized figure skating, contemporary dance, and skiing.
These days though, I am a huge sports fan who can’t resist going to as many NBA/NHL games as possible. I still try to always stay active, whether that includes skiing, surfing, or trail running.
When I first picked up a camera for a film photography class in high school, I immediately connected things together and wanted to be shooting what I was most passionate about. In the early stages, I really began to enjoy the collaborative process of working with an athlete to create something together that we both felt strongly about. This is still what keeps me going, years later. The symmetry between my own values and the emphasis in sports on developing your craft, overcoming adversity, and working hard is why I love to focus on capturing athletes.
The colors and shapes are a big part of what makes these photos unique and cohesive. How did you land on this execution?
I was really motivated to create a collection of photos where sport and art could meet in the middle in this abstract and graphic way. I wanted to create a completely different world, where shapes and colours intersected with the movement and talent of athletes, and it all seemed very surreal.
"I was really motivated to create a collection of photos where sport and art could meet in the middle in this abstract and graphic way."
These locations were all everyday city parks that had recently been refurbished but by using the drone, I knew I would be able to isolate certain aspects of these environments and flip the context of what comes to mind when we think of a basketball court or track. The shapes and colours are what brought everything to life in that sense.
So we must know, how do you even capture a drone shot?
All the photos in the series were shot with a DJI Mavic 2 – this is the main drone I’ll use for my photography work. It comes with a Hasselblad camera that is ready to fly, right out of the box. I ended up pursuing my commercial license right away, which involves a written test and an in-person flying test, the same as getting a driver’s license.
When capturing drone shots, I’ll have my phone connected to the controller which acts as the monitor so I can frame things up how I’d like. There are a few more things to consider than your normal photoshoot – you are flying, directing the athlete, as well as shooting the image and I love the added challenge of balancing everything all at once.
"When capturing drone shots, I’ll have my phone connected to the controller which acts as the monitor so I can frame things up how I’d like."
Congrats on the Silver ADC Cube for Colour Series this year! What was your reaction when you discovered you won a Cube?
I still remember the morning I found out I won — I was so incredibly excited and almost shocked. It felt like such an accomplishment and milestone for my personal project to be awarded alongside some of the best advertising work of the year. I went out for a surf right afterwards and was smiling from ear to ear the whole time.
I got that feeling all over again when the actual award showed up – I have the cube on my desk to remind me of the power of hard work and persevering when it comes to the work you want to be creating. My advice to other photographers would be to make sure you are entering your projects into ADC 101. To have your creations and vision recognized throughout the industry in this way is so valuable on so many different levels.
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