Photography Without Boundaries | Driely Carter
I first came across Driely Carter at Cathleen Cher’s Women on Top panel discussion at the Soho House in Los Angeles. The event was full of inspiring women, all self-made bosses in their own right, and all with priceless words of advice to share. But Driely really stuck out to me and completely drew me into everything that she had to say. As a professional photographer, she had many interesting stories to tell, from exposing the shallow music festival photography scene to giving the inside scoop -- or lack thereof, due to contracts -- on what it’s like to shoot for Kanye West and Beyoncé. But to me, the most impressionable thing about Driely was her outspokenness and way of seamlessly dropping f-bombs throughout conversation without seeming like a try hard. Which coincides with what I believe to be the main page that we should all take from Driely's book, her unapologetic commitment to being herself.
Both Driely’s interest in visual art and rebelliousness started from a young age. She loved cinema since day one, and spent her childhood in her home country of Brazil studying VHS tapes and books on the subject. “I remember during my last year of highschool in Brazil I had a total of 114 absences because I would skip school to go work on cinema. My parents had no idea. But I always had good grades, so the teachers couldn’t do anything about it and I graduated just fine,” Driely recalls. “I remember feeling that I was learning so much about life through art, and no teacher was talking about any of that stuff. Looking back, it was the best education I could have asked for." Not long after high school Driely was faced with the threat of an arranged marriage. She fell in love with New York due to the countless movies she had seen and soundtracks she had listened to; her infatuation with the city in combination with the fear of settling down in her early 20’s pushed her to make the big move.
Despite Driely’s passion and genuine knowledge in the field, the language barrier proved to be a huge obstacle for her to overcome. “I still remember like it was yesterday, Google translating my resume online and begging people for internships,” she says. “I would cry every night for the first solid 10 months thinking maybe I had just made the biggest mistake of my life, and how I went from being respected and considered bright for my age to being treated like I was stupid simply because I did not speak the language.” This led Driely to become a housekeeper in order to make ends meet.
Unhappy with her situation and determined to improve her English while circumventing expensive classes, Driely cheated the system and enrolled in public high school so that she could take English classes for free. There she picked up photography to fulfill an art class requirement, and immediately fell in love with the darkroom. “I will never forget my incredible teacher who saw all of this potential in me and secretly gave me keys to the school darkroom so that I could go in and use it anytime. The darkroom was my saving grace. Documenting my life became essential to cope with all of the feelings of ‘non-belonging’ that came with moving countries.”
“My rule has always been shoot first, ask for permission after...If you are polite, it usually works."
Over the years, Driely’s English improved and she worked many jobs -- including cashiering at Target and an unpleasant stint at a wedding studio -- while applying for internships during her free time. Driely’s interest in fashion grew and she eventually made her way into the industry through an internship at Racked; leading her to shoot multiple NYFW’s and eventually shooting YEEZY Season 1. There’s no doubt that Driely has the technical skill to succeed in her craft, but she attributes much of her success to the genuine relationships she forms with her clients. “It was a very organic word of mouth thing. I would make friends with everyone I shot, and 98% of the time I would get emailed in the future to work with that store/person/brand again. It was truly rare that I would come in to shoot a feature that would not end up leading to work with the same client again and again and again.” I guess I’m not the only one who has been swayed by Driely’s personality.
Driely went on to pursue freelancing full-time as she felt that she could make a bigger name for herself independently, and she was right; having been able to create a career for herself through her talent and troublemaking ways. “My rule has always been shoot first, ask for permission after. And if you get in trouble, apologize a ton, and act like you had no idea what you were doing was wrong. If you are polite, it usually works.” Although the advice may seem risky to some, it has granted Driely incredible images resulting from sneaking into the Louvre and limited access areas at fashion week. “Bottom line is, if you see an image in your head, you MUST go out and get it. It is your duty to make your vision come to reality.”
Now 27, Driely has hustled her way into working with top clients in the industry and is committed to speaking out about sexism, inequality, and financial hardships along the way. Although she loves photography, she acknowledges that it’s no easy industry to conquer. “The industry is broke. I think I am finally coming to terms with the idea that there isn't such a thing as being financially stable and a photographer in this day and age.” However, Driely has high hopes for herself and for fellow women trying to make it in photography, adding, “I would love to be very old one day and see women photographers everywhere shooting whatever the f*ck they want, while wearing whatever the hell they want, and presenting themselves to the world however they damn please.”
As for what’s next? Driely doesn’t necessarily have a plan, but that’s never stopped her in the past, “I consider it a small miracle that I get to wake up every day and do the sh*t I love the most for a living. I make memories, and for now, that is enough.”
Photos by: Carmen Chan