Sundas, can you please briefly introduce yourself. How your interest in the industry has sparked?
My name is Sundas Ahearn and I’m the CEO/Founder of Love Barrel & Company - a luxury gift brand that focuses on Gifts for Her and Bridesmaid Proposals! I work on my small business during the evenings.
During the day, I am a trained CSI and a Forensic Scientist. I have experience working cold case homicides & sex crimes, and take pride in the work I’ve done and continue to do. Being an overwhelming empath, I need an outlet for creativity and focus my energies on Love Barrel – an opportunity for me to be fun, positive, and expressive, which helped balance my otherwise grim reality.
Tell us about the development process that culminated in the artist you are today.
I have always been an artistic/creative individual. During my undergrad at the University of Virginia, I took a course in Black and White Portrait Photography, where I studied the work of Richard Avedon. I fell in love with how Avedon harnessed movement to create unique images, and establish an art form in an otherwise commercial industry.
In grad school, I refined my photography skills via Forensic Photography, where I learned about the technicalities of the camera in depth and how to utilize various settings to capture crime scenes where the accuracy of the photograph took priority over the aesthetic. This of course makes sense when you are dealing with cadavers, etc. and the photos must tell a story that is free of opinion and subjectivity.
When I play the role of a Photographer or Creative Director at Love Barrel, however, I can tell a story that depicts emotions and layers of artistry that I otherwise suppress.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
That’s a complex question. When I photograph a subject as an art form, my work is subtle and I love to play with color and highlights. Being behind the lens, I get to exercise the female gaze. It also really depends on the type of content I am creating (e.g. product photography will be different than fashion).
When I play Creative Director, however, I work with the photographer to merge the essence of my brand, an extension of myself, and the Photographer’s creative expression to create something unique. These photos are perfect examples. I was seeking to create a look that would accomplish two things: 1. Provide the viewer with imagery that would translate a fragrance (which in itself is a difficult ask), and 2. Portray an accurate representation of myself, and what my brand represents: complex feminine beauty.
I came across the incredibly talented Adam Peterson (owner of Adam Avid Photography) via Instagram and was instantly drawn to his style. Impressionable, unique, and with each image having an unbridled strength of its own. I described my project to him and it was probably three weeks of back and forth between Adam and I until we came to an agreement. I wanted him to capture the aesthetic of my brand and create a softer, more subtle look than usual, yet ensure that it was as impactful as some of his prior works – a culmination of two styles to create images that concurrently exhibited depth and simplicity.
It was also very important for me, in this project, that the model we chose was familiar with a level of pain brought on by the misfortunes of life, and was simultaneously able to handle herself with an enormous amount of grace and exceptional splendor. Ellie Wilkins beautifully manifested these qualities, and Adam captured them well. I invite you to take a moment to look into Ellie’s eyes and seek out the qualities I mentioned above.
What makes a photo-session successful? What is your goal from the beginning to the end of the shoot on set?
In my opinion, success lies in communication. If you are in sync with the wavelengths of the other Creatives in a room, the session will reflect that. It will be cohesive, expressive, and impactful. So it is important for me, to connect with my team beyond surface level. I think human connection is beautiful and leads to the most enriched experience when done right.
Could you please share the secret to capture a great portrait? What is the key to getting the best out of someone?
Again, I would stress the level of human connection. In this particular case, I built a bond with Adam prior to shooting with him. As a person, he is quite easy-going and the opposite of myself, as I tend to be very particular. He did an excellent job navigating my vision and combining it with his own style where neither inhibited the other (though I believe Adam could probably draw out certain qualities without the intended effort, I tend to complicate everything)!
In this shoot for example, I placed weight on “the female gaze.” I was a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Major in college and in many ways it has shaped me. I was reading an article in Vogue the other day and came across a quote from Maria Grazia Chiuri that said, the female gaze is “capable of reflecting that of another woman and restoring its intensity,” and I really felt that. So even though I was not behind the lens in this session, I stood close to the camera so that when the model looked at the lens I was in her line of sight. I feel that when I do this, I can try to pull out certain attributes and establish a sense of safety, lift an imaginary veil in a sense, to reveal a less guarded woman underneath.
What is your main source of inspiration?
I have so many…I guess if I had to pick just one I would probably say a relief from depression. I know that sounds grim, but when I take pieces from the darkness and translate them into something delightful and beautiful. I think there is a beauty in pain and painful experiences can be a powerful source of inspiration for an artist.
If you could say one thing to someone younger who looks up to you, what would you say?
To keep on keeping on during the more difficult times. Pain is relative, so each individual on this planet will go through a level of it at some point or the other. I think it is especially difficult for young folks who are still developing and coming to terms with the world as it is, that it can be easy to get stuck and feel like giving up. So I would say, as everything passes so will the difficult times. They come and go like the waves in the ocean and as long as you keep your head above water you will find a way out – you’ve got to think like a boat.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Oh, I love this question! If I could go back in time I would love to collaborate with Richard Avedon and Audrey Hepburn. I am most enthralled by the both of them – Avedon was a gift to the world of Photography and Audrey was full of depth and wisdom, the definition of feminine beauty and complexity – and not to mention, iconic.
Where can our readers keep up with your work and get connected with you?
They can follow me on Instagram/Facebook @lovebarrelco . I would also encourage readers to take a look at the works of Adam Peterson who is exceptional at what he does, and Ellie Wilkins whose light shines bright when she is in any room or space - I call her my “Flower Child.” Also Anya Connelly, who not only is an outstanding Hair Stylist, but spent hours perfecting the floral crown depicted in the photos (after I took it apart multiple times) and MUA Jenna Irving, who is talented with the brush like an artist is with a canvas. You can find full credits of our team below, for the piece titled, “Grace of a WildFlower.”