“Photography is what I am passionate about, and I do it because I love it not because anyone is asking me too,” Grace Watts said as she balanced a bubble tea between her legs outside a coffee shop in Brooklyn. “Give me a camera and I will do my own thing 100%, you will not catch me attempting to create some cheesy posed photograph.”
Watts had just spent her morning shooting a pop artist on a rooftop in Williamsburg, agreeing to meet up with me in the late afternoon at a coffee shop near her shoot. We ended up not being able to get into the attached bar because Watts, amazingly enough, is only nineteen. The pop artist, Skela, that Watts shot that morning did not realize either she was so young, guessing her age to be 24. You can find the work from this shoot across Skela’s social media and on the official promo material for Skela’s upcoming EP release concert at Mercury Lounge. Watts is a freelance photographer, but she is a student first; her art is just a hobby, albeit one she is very good at. Her work includes mainly photography and graphic design, but she also enjoys writing scripts and creating short films.
While you would assume Watts is going to school for art or photography, that is not the case. While she is no stranger to the world of art academia, her first semester at college she was a liberal arts major, she soon dropped out and opted to go to Princeton fall 2017 to study computer science. She tells me, “Art school just was not for me. I’m selfish when I say I enjoy being the best, but when it comes to art no one is the best because you are always going to find someone who is more creative and more talented than you. I also enjoy being unique and in art school, as weird as it sounds, everyone acts the same way. I knew I could do better at a university that would push my limits and make me want to be the best like my high school did, so I dropped out of art school and opted for an ivy. In the grand scheme of things anyone can take a picture if given the right equipment but not everyone can design an app and take a beautiful portrait.”
How does one make such an abrupt life change so quickly? It may lie in where Watts got her start. She grew up in a self-described “privileged Baltimore bubble, where everything is easy”. Attending private schools her whole life, she understood quickly how lucky she was to be born into such privilege, but that did not make her any less keen to try to break out of the easy world that had been crafted for her. “The Baltimore bubble was just a never-ending cycle of becoming one’s parents and I wanted to avoid that.”
So Watts started sneaking her camera into music festivals and concerts. Music was already one of her biggest passions, so it was only natural she started drawing influence from it in her photography. She learned after a bit it was not quite the right medium for her, as she “would rather enjoy the show then watch the whole thing from behind a camera.” Her next project was the Disposable Dreams Project. She bought 60 disposable cameras in bulk and started carrying them around with her as she traveled the country for music festivals and concerts. She started not just capturing artists, but her friends and surroundings as well, and curated it all onto an instagram page. To make her edits more unique she would employ her graphic design skills and draw over a person in a real-life setting.
Her other big inspiration, is of course, New York City. She spoke quite animatedly when she talked of New York with me, nearly spilling her tea as she used her hands to speak, “8 million dwell under a shared skyline of passion, inspiration, emotion, and fascination living vastly different lives. It’s impossible to know everyone, which makes it even more intriguing. Everyone in New York is interesting and everything I love was actually created here, from Is This It to my favorite Wes Anderson film. When everything you love stems from one place it makes you fall in love with the place yourself and really has it inspire you.”
When I asked her if there were any final thoughts she had about the art she shook her head and left me with, “When it comes to my art I always say this but I’m very candid. I hate titles and I’m not trying to wrap in some secret meaning in my photographs. I’m just trying to create something I, myself, love.”