Alysse Gafkjen is enjoying an amazing career in professional photography with a focus on portraits and music photography. Her work is featured on album covers, press photos, television, and billboards, for example. This River Valley graduate is a shining example of MarionMade! and the epitome of the creative, entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in the Marion area.
Her parents were business owners: they owned a sewing shop in downtown Marion called Gafkjen Stitch & Fix. In addition, her dad, Tim Gafkjen, was a local Lieutenant firefighter.
“In school, I sang and danced in musicals, Rainbow Singers and show choir, was in marching band and concert band…performance seemed to be a logical path for a while,” Alysse stated. Unsure at first, she attended the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) and had to declare a major during her sophomore year. “My sister, Mia, showed me her darkroom in our basement when we were growing up. I had an interest in photography so I declared my major, and earned a bachelor of fine arts in photography from CCAD,” she said.
One of the major turning points in Alysse’s college career was her job at Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant for five years, where she met an Italian family who became instrumental in her studies and with whom she connected. As it turned out, CCAD has an affiliated program in Florence, Italy, and Alysse had the unique opportunity to study high renaissance art and photography in Italy for 6 months while staying with the Italian family she met through Giuseppe’s. “I learned to speak Italian, immersed myself in the culture, and had the most amazing study-abroad experience!” she said. After college, Alysse even returned to Italy to further her cultural immersion – and photographed people during the post-earthquake devastation in 2009.
“Waiting tables became a way to pay for college,” said Alysse. “I started in food service in Marion, working at Stewart’s Root Beer during high school, part-time. That helped when she was at CCAD and landed the job at Guiseppe’s. Another tool to help cover college costs was wedding photography. “I started getting gigs as a wedding photographer during my time at CCAD and then it became a good supplemental income, helping cover college tuition,” she added.
While working at Giuseppe’s, Alysse met the CEO of Victoria Secret and began assisting Russell James, their main advertising photographer in New York and Los Angeles, but she did not want her career to be in photographing models. She landed a job with Limited Express as the Assistant Art Director, knowing that would not likely be her long-term career. “A fellow CCAD alumni had worked in New York for Rolling Stone Magazine. I ended up working for Rolling Stone and photographed live music performers while assisting numerous photographers in the fashion industry.”
“Starting your own business is not easy…much of my work comes from word-of-mouth referrals.” She has no agent and no manager; instead, Alysse has built her business through authentic, hard work, and relationships. “It helped that my parents owned a business, and I saw first-hand how they handled things. I learned how to really engage with people to get and keep clients, and bookkeeping.”
Alyssa’s advice for young people: “Take a year off after high school if you’re unsure about your major…discover who you are and what matters to you.”
Alysse and her husband, a musician, are also putting down roots in San Antonio, Texas, splitting their time between there and their current home in Nashville. “San Antonio is a great city for the arts, as well.”
Recently, Alysse photographed 73-year-old Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, a Mississippi blues singer and Grammy nominee, among others. In addition, Alysse is a voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy’s). View the photographer’s work – http://www.alyssegafkjen.com/untitled-custom-page.