The Art of the Personal Project: Sasha Nialla

- - Personal Project

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Sasha Nialla











How long have you been shooting?
I have been shooting for 13 years. I’ve been working solely as a photographer for 10 years.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I’m self-taught. I took one photography class at The New School to learn how to use the camera and one black and white printing class to learn about lighting, shading, how to look at a negative, that the film is just a blueprint…I also read lots of books. And of course, the never-ending class of ‘trial and error.’

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
I am constantly getting involved in projects that bring awareness to different causes and life experiences. With immigration being one of the top issues on people’s minds today, I wanted to create a project that shows immigrants and refugees as people and not as social-political data.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
I contacted New Women New Yorkers with a photo concept. We decided to make it into a photo exhibition to raise awareness about women immigrants in New York City. I photographed this series over 20 days. The exhibition is on Thursday, March 24 from 6-9pm at Centre for Social Innovation, 601 West 26th Street, Fl. 3.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
I jump into projects with both feet. I make all the commitments and agreements before I have even picked up the camera. So I shoot the whole project, usually over the course of a few days, and then walk away from it for a few days. With a clear head I start viewing the images and seeing how it affects me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s just great for the people involved but not for my portfolio. That is ok, because a huge part of why I shoot personal projects is the experience with my subjects. I love learning about other people, what makes them tick. To me, if that experience went well, I believe the work went well.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
I view them as the same. I shoot personal projects with the intention of it going in my portfolio. I try to present work that I would like to get hired doing. Since I produce, art direct, photograph, and retouch all my personal projects I feel it is a good representation of my style.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Yes, I do post on Facebook and Instagram (@snialla). I’ve gotten assignments and kept contacts this way. I feel it’s a good way to stay in front of people without being annoying. If they want to look at my page, great.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
I’ve yet to have a piece go viral…

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
Yes, I almost always print my personal projects for marketing. I made a black and white magazine of portraits I took for Dance Theatre of Harlem. I mailed some out and kept some to leave behind at meetings. It was mentioned on PDN’s Promos We Kept and the series placed in the self-promotion category of the PDN Photo Annual 2015.

Artist Statement
Now more than ever, immigration is one of the top issue’s on people’s minds. Women immigrants and refugees constantly face sacrifices and challenges that deserve attention and recognition. Learning unknown customs, speaking a new language and adapting to different cultural norms is extremely hard. Establishing a career in the US workforce as a foreigner is even harder.

Through my photographic series entitled Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York, I want to bring awareness to the fears and strength immigrant women carry each day. The cities they first called home are a huge part of who they are. For this reason, I chose to integrate their hometowns into their portraits. Landscape images of their birthplaces were projected onto their faces, bodies, and background to create highlights and shadows. These projections blended onto the sitter’s features, emphasizing their beauty, their emotion and the marks of their struggles, which are visible in their eyes and expression.

I approach all subjects in the same manner. I spend time getting to know the sitters, I ask them questions and connect with them. Only with their trust, I am able to show their vulnerabilities.

I think that it is important to underscore that although much is being said about immigration, immigrants and refugees are being treated as numbers. These portraits show immigrants and refugees as people and not as social-political data.


Sasha Nialla was raised in California and spent the last 16 years in New York City. As a photographer for 10 years, she is constantly getting involved in photography projects that bring awareness to different causes and life experiences, including; children with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Iraq war survivors and many more. All these projects have resulted in supporting vulnerable groups and people, and those not exposed to these situations in their everyday lives. Highlights include multiple billboards in Times Square for Bideawee, standees of breast cancer survivors with NFL players in Kroger supermarkets and on PepsiCo and Gatorade packaging and an exhibition of cancer survivors in the NYU Medical Center art gallery.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

Suzanne Sease

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

  1. Joyce Lomma

    I just met Sasha a few months ago & realized that she was special ! Her work is innovative, provacative, and intreging. I can only imagine what she will create next . I wish her continued success. Fondly, Joyce Lomma