Artist of the Issue: Allie Banks ’16

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M. MARQUEZ '16

Allie Banks ’16 in action.

Allie Banks ’16, a photography and singing tour de force, brings a distinct energy and passion to this issue’s artist feature. An excellent conversationalist and interviewee, Allie is prominently featured on the Circle, from her eye-catching photo on the cover of “The Grotonian” last spring and her recent publication in the latest issue of “The Marble Collection” to her onstage performances at various school concerts.

Surprisingly, Allie has not been taking photographs for very long. She started when she was fifteen, with her first digital camera which was partly a present from her parents and partly purchased using money saved up from previous summer jobs. In the beginning, she shot haphazardly but earnestly, quickly falling in love with being behind the lens.

Her summers on Martha’s Vineyard presented Allie with the opportunity to work with Peter Simon, a world-renowned photographer who has shot everything from old Grateful Dead concerts to sunsets in Menemsha.

Allie’s timing was perfect; she happened to go out on their first shoot shortly after Mr. Simon’s assistant left, and he asked her on the spot to fill the position. Since then, Allie has spent the past three summers working with him, helping out when he does commissioned family portraits and going out on spontaneous excursions.

“I’ll get a call from Peter at five in the morning asking if I want to go shoot at Lucy Vincen t, which is a beach on the Vineyard,” Allie explains, “and I’ll just say ‘sure’ and go along with it. It’s pretty unstructured because that’s just who he is – sort of a hippie.”

These trips prove to be the most instructional for Allie; she has taken Photo 1 and 2 but enjoys the freeform tutoring from Mr. Simon, which allows her to learn in a more organic setting.

Allie’s favorite subject to shoot is wildlife – she particularly enjoys going off on her own with just her camera. Her love for this subject was always present, but was aided by taking ecology last year, where she was put in even closer contact with wildlife on a regular basis due to various lab activities.

Her best shots are also of this subject matter. One of her favorites, a photo shot in Tanzania of birds with iridescent blue feathers, was featured in the Camden Gallery in London, England after she submitted it to a contest, and her Instagram is filled with other remarkable shots of insects, sunsets, flowers, and just about any other natural subject you can think of.

Her inspiration comes mostly from reading “National Geographic,” and she especially likes the work of photographer Joel Sartore, who takes pictures of endangered animals to raise the general public’s awareness on issues such as conservation and extinction, topics which she has an acute interest in.

She photographs people too, but doesn’t enjoy it quite as much, saying that “it requires an immediacy” that is often less preferable to the quiet, observational photos she takes of wildlife. Her work for “The Circle Voice” and the yearbook primarily involves taking pictures of people, so it “seems more ‘professional’ and requires less creativity,” but is nonetheless important in improving her skill.

Having “commissioned” photographs also motivates her to pull out her camera – though she loves it, it is often easy to let it sit on the shelf for weeks on end because of the pull of other work.

Allie claims to not have started out as the fantastic photographer she is today, however. She quotes Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said that “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” It was difficult, she says, to learn that she had to take a lot of bad pictures before she could take take good ones. “The main challenge is to make the camera see exactly what you are seeing, because the scopes of perception are so different,” she explains. That being said, she is a firm believer that there are no bad aspects of photography. There are so many opportunities to get the right shot, so it’s a very malleable and forgiving form of art.

Less forgiving, she says, is singing. It requires endless practice to make each note sound just right, because even a slight difference at any point can throw an entire song off. Allie is a co-head of the Grotones, combining her love of singing and organizing into one extracurricular. She started singing when she scored the coveted role of a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” in third grade, but hated being in front of a crowd so stopped publicly performing until coming to Groton in Third Form.

She was at dinner one night in fall term when the conversation turned to that night’s upcoming Grotones auditions, and made the spur of the moment decision to audition. She always has loved a capella music, citing The Vineyard Sound – Martha’s Vineyard’s much-adored summertime college group – as her favorite group, so she resolved to take the risk and go for it. Her audition song was “Southern Cross” (a Vineyard Sound classic), with which she came full circle this past fall, singing the solo during the Grotones’ Parents’ Weekend performance.

Her musical pursuits fall mainly into the category of a capella, although she was in choir in Fourth Form. “The music itself has such a different feel from music the Grotones sing.” she says comparing the two groups.

For those who have not already heard Allie Banks sing with the Grotones or seen some of her photography, she is undoubtedly one of the biggest forces in the arts department on the Circle. The community looks forward to seeing what she does for the rest of her time at Groton and beyond.