Interview: Ajay Woolery Photography: Cole Landers

Cole Landers

In our latest feature, we spoke with a creative many of you will probably know from his viral TikToks and portraits, Cole Landers. We connected a few weeks back during the summer to speak about his journey as a creative. Covering all the usual bases, we spoke about where his passion for photography stemmed from, how he sources his inspiration and how he navigates life as a creative. Not only is his work interesting, but so is what he has to say. There are some great gems in this feature and, we’re excited to share them with you.


tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do as a creator — kind of share what your story is…

CL: I took a class in high school, I took a digital photography course. And that was like the first time I had ever thought about picking up a camera. And I learned the basics, obviously, like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture and all that. And then from then on, I kind of just self directed it, I took a class, for the rest of high school, I had a period every day of school where I could just work on my art. And then over this past year is when it really like picked up for me because with COVID, I took a gap year in college and everything, and I just worked on my art and continuously like, got to go out and shoot and like flesh out ideas and actually become the creative that I wanted to be. I shot digital for, I want to say, two, two and a half years. And then I found out about film photography, and I absolutely fell in love. And I think that's what really, really sparked my interest in photography and my creative growth.


We’ve seen a lot of work from you in both digital and analog forms. Would you say that you have a preference for one or the other?

CL: I thought for a while that film photography was more authentic to me, and that it allowed me to create my vision more in a more authentic way to who I am as an artist and as a person. But as of recently, I've realized it doesn't really matter what I'm using, whether it's a digital camera or a film camera. At the end of the day, it's what best will translate my idea into something that people understand and like, see my voice and my vision through.

Image By: Cole Landers


Earlier you mentioned that COVID kind of allowed you to have that creative freedom to just go out and create what you wanted. And, we’ve been asking a lot of the creatives we interview about this but, how would you say the pandemic has affected your work?

CL: It was definitely difficult. There's a lot of pros and cons. Obviously a pro would be the amount of time that I had. I had a lot of free time on my hands to be able to come up with ideas over a long period of time. Figure out those ideas and actually plan them out but also I was restricted in a lot of ways so I can see many people. I really was like at home for the majority of it. So I did a lot of self portrait series and worked with how I could use myself in my house and create with what I was given. So it really made me versatile in the sense that I could, I could just use what I was only allowed to use. And I think it allowed me to be more creative because I didn't have much. I only had such and such props or such and such lighting, and I could only use those things to create what I wanted to create. So it was definitely difficult, but I think it pushed me to think outside of the box.


Those works were a really prominent feature on your feed and I think they really inspired a lot of people and were so striking. What was the process of creating those projects like, did you always have an idea in mind?

CL: I think I definitely had an idea of what I wanted to do. A lot of the times I'll be like, falling asleep, or I'll just be in bed sitting. And I'll think of an idea. And I'll be like I have to do right now. And I'll, I'll hop out of bed, it'll be like one in the morning, I'll figure all this stuff out, I'll tear apart my room create a little area where I can where I can set up a little scene, and then I just shoot. So usually I'd have an idea, a general concept, but I want to have specific shots in mind.


Where were you finding inspiration for these pieces?

CL: Oh my gosh, inspiration comes from a lot of different things, a lot of music. Different music and how I feel when I listen to different music definitely inspired that. Movies, seeing different cinematic shots and lighting and movies. A lot of other creators going I mean scrolling through tik tok alone, I would I would see all these other creators making these beautiful images. And it would inspire me and it'd be like, Oh, they did this and this and i would i would be like, oh, I've never thought of it like that before and I approach it in my own way. But definitely a lot of artists that I surrounded myself with through social media and tik tok have inspired me to to create stuff on my own.

AW: Just off the top of your head. Could you name a few? Maybe musicians even?

CL: Anna Koblish for sure. I know you are familiar with Anna. phenomenal work. Corinna (Day) had phenomenal work. Monique Yvonne - Her self portrait series is phenomenal. And I've been such a fan on TikTok and seeing all that work is really great. But musicians and artists wise I don't even know there's so many different genres, I listened to a lot of soul music. And that inspires me, Etta James and stuff like that really has inspired me throughout the pandemic, for sure.

Images By: Cole Landers


That’s something that really resonates with our team. There's so much that we want to get done and so many initiatives that we have in our heads, but you know, sometimes that motivation just isn't there. But how do you combat those feelings to get back into the groove of creating.

CL: What I found helps me a lot recently is looking back at my own old work, and seeing what I've accomplished and seeing all these different, these different shoots in these different looks and remembering that I still have a lot, grow a lot of growth to be hard, and there's there's a lot more that I can do. As well as scrolling on Instagram scrolling on tik tok, I'm seeing all these creators constantly, not always constantly, but creating, and I'm seeing these new looks and these new ideas, and I'm like, wow, there's other people out here doing it. So I really need to step it up. I need to continue what I'm doing. But yeah, that as well as like movies and stuff, and really finding my inspiration.


How would you describe what you've been creating thus far?

CL: this is something I've been struggling with this year, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what my style is, and what it what it means as a whole. Because I like so many different styles and varieties. But I think if I were to put a label on it, probably creative portraiture. Because I think there's a sense of identity in person within all the work that I produce. So that's, that's one way I'd put it. I don't know, I'm not sure. I also like to think of myself as an artist that works in the medium of photography, because I do a lot of other stuff outside of photography, and I think that that really has, has an effect on on my photo work that I put out.


what were other things that you were doing either creatively or not, that you think have benefited you work?

CL: I had a collage wall A while ago, I collage the whole wall in my room with magazines. And sometimes I would just kind of like to sit and stare at it. And I would, I would think of ideas, I would see colors, I would see lines and movement. And I think that had a big effect on it. But also, drawing helps me a lot. I'm not a phenomenal artist, when it comes to drawing, technically speaking, but getting ideas out on paper and just sketching things out. just letting my mind in my hand flow on a on a piece of paper. I think it helped me with seeing light differently, seeing composition differently and seeing how it can translate into photography.

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Images By: Cole Landers


emotion is very involved in, in the work that creators make so and that's something that we found, especially with this class of creators that we've been interviewing is that emotion that really plays such a strong part in the work and so is there a particular message or feeling that you'd like to be conveyed through the pieces that you're creating?

CL: As of recently, emptiness has been a big emotion that I've been working with. I have a scene that I'm working on that is about to come out. And a lot of the ideas in the scene have to have to do with emptiness. And I think within something like portraiture, it's there. But within a lot of my urban landscape images, there is a lot of emptiness and emotion. But it', it's interesting because I see it as emptiness. But at the same time, it's very fulfilling, it feels warm and comforting. So it's not necessarily sad emptiness, or lonely emptiness, but a kind of a kind of coming to an acceptance with the idea of emptiness.


What’s some advice you’d give to another creator?

CL: Trust your mind, trust yourself. I think that a big issue for me as a creator, especially in developing a style and trying to figure out what I like is I don't trust myself enough. I would listen to what other people think. And I think that you just need to create what you want to create, and continue creating and create as much as possible, because I feel like the more that that I'm creating, especially when I'm in the zone, and I'm working from project to project, it really allows me to grow and come up with new ideas and find out more about myself and my artistic vision.

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Photography/Media: Cole Landers

Interview: Ajay Woolery

Published 9.22.21