The Ghost Behind the Lens: Phantom Photography

What began in the shadows and is now being brought into the spotlight, the owner of Phantom Photography, Shay Holloway strives to be more than an invisible face behind the camera lens. Not all artists begin from an artistic background, but their inspiration to pick up a camera came from the desire to document structural changes occurring in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 2012. The Phantom herself is fully self taught in the skills of photography, meanwhile having obtained a B.S in psychology and criminal justice from U of A. This artist has gone above and beyond to ensure that the once densely wooded areas of their city would not go unnoticed by the surrounding public.

Phantom Photography provides their clients a personal, but “in the moment” artistic photo shoot experience. The art created ranges from a variety of conceptually styled pictures such as, but not limited to fashion, nature, community events and also headshots. Phantom self identifies as an “intuitive photographer” due to their energy based thought process on how they capture photos. When an artist performs their craft solely on the energy and feeling that their work gives them, it is as close to true art as it can get. As a person who frequently finds joy in this medium, I can relate to their own definition wholeheartedly. I encourage everyone to discover the phantom within themselves and keep pushing the effort towards greater endeavors. Be as anonymous as a ghost, but have purpose behind it always.

“‘Phantom’ is an embodiment of wanting to be everywhere and take photos of everything.”

Falling in love with art seems easy, but it always fascinates me to hear how someone fell into the type of art that they do. Phantom describes their journey here. "I fell in love with photography mainly from being in the [Fayetteville, Arkansas] area. I came up here for school and when I got out of school I didn't necessarily want to continue going to college. I thought, 'I am going to find something to do.' My business partner encouraged me to get into photography. When I got my camera I started riding around this area a lot and was just looking at how pretty it was. [I thought], ' Man, this is beautiful.' After about 6 months of just having my camera, I started realizing how much things had started to change around here. [For example:] I lived near [U of A] and there were a lot of trees over there where the buses parked at. Now, they tore down all the trees and they put up townhomes and stuff like that. I wanted to be able to have some documentation, [or] at least a little bit of what some of these areas looked like before they started tearing down trees and building on the land. The name Phantom actually came from me not wanting anybody to know who was behind the page, but being everywhere at the same time. [I want to] be everywhere in the community, but [for] people [to] not know who exactly who is taking these photos. This is how I try to operate in my brand. I try to document as much as I can."

The type of camera doesn't make or break anyone as a creator, though it is an important aspect of performing the art itself. Phantom discusses their specific equipment and creative process in depth by saying, "The camera body that I use right now I've had since I started. I watched a series on YouTube of Annie Leibovitz. She is a pretty famous photographer and photographs a lot of celebrities. I like her style and how she photographs people. I watched her and [I am paraphrasing when she said], 'Explore your camera. Get to know your camera.' I took that and cemented it into my brain. I thought, 'Okay. Until I am able to actually out right buy another body, I am going to work with this body that I have until I can't work with it no more.' This is exactly what I have done. I have really gotten to know my camera and understand how it operates. [This] is unorthodox for a photographer to do because most people who think about photography or do photography [are] all about the new equipment and the updates. I am really an intuitive photographer. If it feels right, I'm gonna do it. If it doesn't feel right, I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to take the picture if it doesn't necessarily resonate with me like that. When I go into editing [photos], [I don't] go in with a clear vision of what I want it all to look like. In going into each photo, I feel it out. I feel the energy of the photo."

As an artist who achieves quality photos and executes photo shoots with only a smartphone, I desired to know Phantom’s opinion concerning people who do “phone photography.” Their response was surprising and refreshing when they said, “I think that’s fine. To be honest, I don’t have grievances about people who take photos with their phone because some of the shit people are taking be good as fuck! I’m [thinking], ‘How the fuck are they doing that?! I wish I could do that with my phone.’ I think what makes people feel like there’s a difference is the equipment. It’s obviously photography. You took a picture. [When] you see somebody who has a camera, you feel like they already know what they are doing because they have the equipment. You know what I’m saying? It’s kinda like a façade almost. The person may know what they’re doing or they might not know shit about how their camera works or how to operate it. The person who has their phone could probably know a helluva lot more. Settings are definitely things that make a difference because some things you just can’t accomplish on a phone. For example, I did a [long term exposure] photo of an overpass a while ago. Those are things that you can’t really capture on a cell phone because of the settings. I feel like you have more range to really be creative with an actual DSLR camera versus a phone. As far as skill set or what you know about taking photos, you might be on the same level and you just have different equipment. For a person who is booking someone, I think it puts them at ease when they see they booked [someone] who is taking photos with a camera versus their phone. A good picture is a good picture. If I had a better phone, I would take pictures on my phone because I see the quality that’s being produced. It’s amazing quality. [It could be seen] as a form of gatekeeping into the industry when photographers [say], ‘They shouldn’t be taking pictures on their phone.’ Why not? I feel like photographers [think that] if folks start taking pictures with their phones, it will saturate the market and make the art depreciate. There’s room for everybody because there is an abundance of people out here needing photos for various different things.

According to this artist, accomplishments do not overall define them or their art. Phantom puts it best saying, “My proudest accomplishment as a photographer is that I put together a group shoot in 2019 at Speak Easy Tattoo. When [this shop] was in downtown Rogers, Arkansas, I set up a ’20s themed shoot. I had a team of models, photographers, make-up artists and hair stylists. It was an all day thing. I feel really proud because everybody there was able to get some amazing photos from [the shoot]. [Also,] I enjoyed the sense of teamwork, comradery and cooperation from [the] owners of Speak Easy Tattoo for allowing me to be able to do that in their space. I appreciate stuff like that. From that photo shoot, one of my photos got published in an online magazine called Bombshell Magazine. It really doesn’t matter that much to me personally. I know that it makes other people look at me in a certain way. If I cared that much it would be in my bio. I don’t take it and let my head get big about it. I feel accomplished [based] on how much I have been able to experience as much as possible through my photography.”

How is the type of art you do considered a “brain drain” and what does “brain drain” mean to you?
It allows me to just express my creativity and take a break from everything else. It boxes everything out. Though I don't like editing, it allows me to create my own world with this person that I am shooting. When I am shooting I am invested into this time that we have together because I want to maximize the time so we have some amazing photos. It gives me an hour and a half escape from whatever it was that I was thinking about. 'Brain drain' means being able to release [the] hold on [anything] draining your body. You get to drain your creative mind and perspective into whatever it is you're working on. It's a release from life or trying to control some of the things that you can't really control in life. [My art] allows me to have a sense of control [when I am in my element.]

To find out more or get in contact with Phantom Photography, follow them on FB Phantom Photography, Instagram @_phantomphotography, YouTube Phantom Photography, or at phantomphotofayar@gmail.com .

For purchasing art or receiving a commissioned piece, contact artgirlshay@gmail.com and follow on FB Art Girl Shay and Instagram @artgirlshay .

Photo credit: Shay Holloway of Phantom Photography

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