We had the good fortune of connecting with Abby Mahler and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Abby, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
There’s no way for me to answer this question without sharing that I have a chronic illness. I’ve had lupus, a systemic autoimmune disease, likely since I was about twelve years old, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was twenty-two. It may be difficult to imagine if you’ve never had a chronic illness, but this meant that much of my life I felt disproportionately exhausted, in pain, or otherwise experiencing signs of illness, but with no explanation. All this to say, my ability to judge “normal” balance was rather skewed. So since the summer of 2016, both when I graduated college and when I was diagnosed, I have been placing much more of an emphasis on self-care as learned to manage my disease. This has been a process, and now having done it for 5 years and during a major global health crisis that placed me exceptionally at risk, I can confidently say it will be a lifelong endeavor.

With this lens in mind, I think many of the conversations I’ve had with Angelenos on this topic has shown me that my priorities are a little different. I really have to be mindful of my stress level, and have to make plans with far more deference to flexibility, with the understanding that my health can be unpredictable… or the circumstances can be, as the pandemic made more than clear. I love my art, but I can’t do much if I don’t do my most important job as chronic illness manager the absolute best.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a self taught photographer when it comes down to it. I took one (1) formal class in college, but aside from that, my art has been cobbled together by trial and error, and the wisdom and patience of others. It wasn’t necessarily easy, but I wasn’t making photos with much intention other than “this should be remembered.” That said, I think I am most proud of my persistence; I’ve picked up and put down a lot of pursuits throughout my life, but photography has been a lingering staple.

Each step towards professionalism was taken when I decided that the image I had before me didn’t quite capture a scene as I remembered it. My memory was always bolder, brighter, more saturated. Eyes twinkled and smiles could be felt. But that didn’t always translate to an early aughts Kodak point-and-shoot, or an entry-level DSLR.

Each challenge was a new lesson. I made my way from shooting on full-auto mode to full-manual mode one arm of the exposure triangle (shutter speed / aperture / ISO) at a time. I’m also very cheap so I only ever tend to purchase anything when my current gear just can’t seem to make what I desire it to, so that was one addition at a time as well.

As it stands today, I hope what separates me from other artists is authenticity. For better or for worse, I tend to be too honest– the Sagittarian way. I try to bring my whole self to the work I’m doing. I love candids especially; others can tell when a photograph is genuine, so I hope that, wherever we are, my subjects bring themselves to the shoot too. In that way, I hope to snap a connection that makes an image come alive; a still photograph that sparks moving memories.

While my shooting is less malleable, I do try to stay flexible when it comes to editing style, so I don’t know if I necessarily have a specific visual language that sets me apart from others. However, perhaps that flexibility, in and of itself, is what sets me apart. I’m always up for a new challenge– it’s what got me where I am now– so I hope that those traits in their totality create a dynamic style that can only evolve.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
What a question for a born ‘n raised Angeleno! I actually love just taking my friends on drives when they come to visit. It’s a cliche to say that LA is best seen from a car (sorry fellow NUMTOTs), but the city is so diverse that I think it holds true. Indeed I literally asked my partners what ~so LA~ time we’ve enjoyed together, and driving around looking at the wide variety of architecture the city has to offer was their first answer. This also works well for me, as an autoimmune person, both in and out of pandemic times haha.

Let’s assume there’s no virus though– in this case, my go-to eats would have to be The Apple Pan, Sugarfish, Father’s Office, Leo’s truck in MidCity, and the Rustic Canyon Family of restaurants where I’ve spent so much quality time. Other stops would have to be The Nuart for a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show with Sins o’ the Flesh (which I’ve been a part of since I was at SAMOHI), the La Brea Tar Pits (where I made my parents sit through the introduction video one million times as a child), El Matador State Beach for some natural beauty, and the top of Mandeville Canyon for an unbeatable view.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Oh I have so many people to thank. Photography is an interesting medium in that, if you photograph people, those people have to be willing to allow it– to trust you, above all others, with their memories. I have been very blessed to have been surrounded by, for many years, people willing to suspend their annoyance long enough to allow me to buzz around them, snapping photos, contracting out their memories in the hope that what I return will be just as or better than they remembered it.

So first and foremost, I have to thank those people. Recently they have clients, but before that, it was my friends and family; my parents who let me commandeer their point-and-shoot Kodak, pals who smiled extra long while I learned to fix settings, fellow marching band members who sat through a slideshow a friend and I created, artists in college who allowed me to immortalize their work even though I wasn’t an art student myself, strangers I connected with through Craigslist to catch their proposal, chefs who have meticulously crafted dishes I was to translate into feasts for the eyes, and all those in between. Indeed, I have a whole folder filled with emails and screenshots of kind words that I return to when I need to remember that what I do has an impact. I’m so grateful for the patience, and for the thoughtfulness in return.

One specific name does come to mind though: Jonathan Barber, the photography technician at Bennington College, who spent more time with me, explaining the nitty-gritty details, in a way that no one had before. He encouraged me to keep going, even though the style of photography that came naturally to me wasn’t exactly taught at the institution.

Thank you all for letting me freeze a moment in your lives, and hopefully bring a shine to your memories.

Website: https://abbymahler.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abbymahlerphoto

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abby-mahler/

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/babs_zone

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amahlerphoto

Other: https://www.tiktok.com/babs_zone

Image Credits
All photos are my own.

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