If Frisco photographer Alisa Eykilis can make you pause your mindless scroll through social media, she considers her job well done.
“In today’s world, it is so overpopulated with fast-moving images," Eykilis says. "If I can make my viewer stop, look at the picture and say, ‘Wait, what?’ I think my mission is achieved.”
A glance at her Instagram page, which she describes as a “chaotic visual diary,” helps us better understand what she means.
There are almost no photos of people in her feed, except for a recent black-and-white selfie. The rest can only be described as #mood. Like most of us, Eykilis’ Instagram captures her everyday life, but it’s the way she does it that makes you have to do a double take.
“In the last two or three years I have a little series that seems to be forming of images of puddles,” she says. “They’ve all been taken around the building where I work. My friend and I like to go out and walk a little bit, and it seems like every time there’s rain somehow a picture will happen. I’m not looking for them really. I’ll see it and stop and take a picture, and then we just keep walking. They just happen.”
Those photos in particular have a “hmm” quality about them. At first glance they almost look like a double exposure, but closer inspection quickly reveals that it’s just a reflection of a tree or a sky, where the photo will usually be turned so that the tree is right-side up instead of the sidewalk.
“I definitely enjoy those kinds of riddles,” she says. “I don’t want my images to be one more of those images that is skipped in a matter of nanoseconds. I want my viewers to stop and think, but not for me. I want you to think for you.”
Eykilis' intent is to capture an emotion or mood that can be interpreted by the viewer, which is why we will rarely find photos of people among her work. She’s found that having a human subject offers too much interpretation by the photographer.
“I like to capture presence,” she explains. “You know that someone is there but you don’t have to see them there. I think that it’s easier to imagine yourself in that place. If there’s someone’s face, then that place is occupied already.
“I like to tell stories in my pictures. It means something to me that’s mine, but I want [the viewer] to be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I know how that feels and this is what that means to me.’”
That’s not to say that there aren’t subjects in Eykilis’ work — just not usually human subjects. However, she did do a yearlong series that featured a mannequin as a sort of human placeholder. Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the year after her divorce, Eykilis took a photo a day for 365 days.
“It was very interesting to see it after it was all over, to go through the pictures and see the changes that happened,” she says.
“They started all very black and white because that’s what I like to shoot for the most part — or I thought I liked to shoot. But as the year progressed, closer to August of that year, I met my current husband, and you can see how the pictures started to get more and more colorful and more happy. By the end, most of them were colorful pictures.”
Eykilis is almost entirely self-taught. She was born in Russia and her family moved to Israel in 1990 when she was 12. She then moved to Plano with her now ex-husband in 2003. At the time she was seven months pregnant with her first son, and not long after her arrival to the States, she had her second son.
She knew she liked photography and got her first DSLR camera for her 30th birthday. Eykilis immediately signed up for a couple of classes at Collin County Community College, where she learned the basics about how to use her new camera.
“Making pictures was pretty easy, so I started making things I liked,” she says, adding that her first experimentation helped confirm that she was on the right track.
“We had an assignment to take a white-on-white photo,” she recalls of a class. “I had an old meat grinder that I took and I put an egg inside and I made it look like the meat grinder was pressing on the egg. When I brought the picture to class, the professor stopped talking for a second, crossed his arms, took a long pause, looked at the picture, looked at me and just kind of shook his head.”
That was all the confirmation she needed.
After learning the basics, Eykilis spent hours driving around Frisco with her two sons taking photos of whatever caught her fancy. “For me it was fun to do something, because I was a stay-at-home mom with two little kids,” she remembers.
About eight years ago Eykilis participated in her first group art show. Through that she was introduced to several other Dallas creatives who helped spur her craft in a new direction.
She met Greg Metz, who oversees the University of Texas at Dallas’ Visual Arts Galleries. “He’s been a great friend and supporter over the whole journey of mine,” the photographer says of Metz. Right now Eykilis has some work on display at the UTD gallery.
Another friend who also brought her in a different direction was dancer Danielle Georgiou. “I photographed some of her shows, and that’s how I discovered I very much like photographing theater and dance performances,” Eykilis says. “She’s a wonderful force, and through her I met some other people.”
Eykilis has been working with Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet, the Dead White Zombies and Artstillery for several years, photographing their shows or taking their promo images.
So how is it that a photographer who otherwise doesn’t photograph people could somehow have the perfect eye for photographing theater productions?
“I think it’s that constant search for a slightly different angle; I think that’s why it works,” Eykilis explains. “It’s not a matter of taking pictures. There are a lot of people taking pictures of the same things. It’s a matter of finding, again, something that the viewer can relate to.”
She’s not taking typical theater promo shots of actors posing on a stage under harsh lighting looking tense.
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“I don’t take a picture of a scene. I take a picture of feelings, of emotions,” she says. “I think that’s the most challenging and interesting thing for me is to capture emotions.”
Which, in case you’ve never tried it, isn’t an easy task.
“But that’s the fun part,” she insists. “If it was easy, everyone could do it.”