“If Madonna walked down State Street?”
She leaned back, chuckled and paused for a minute. Madonna in Madison would be more unlikely than Lady Gaga in housewife head-to-toe velour. Admittedly it was random, an icebreaker, a question for my reassurance of her intentions after 40 minutes over coffee (and tea for her) on a bitter cold Sunday afternoon. Her answer was, for the moment, predictable and honest. Her eyes met my gaze.
“I’d want to photograph the mother; the woman — not the singer.”
When setting up the interview, an e-mail to Audre Rae Krull was returned a day later — a fairly quick turnaround considering the photographer’s busy schedule. “Krull” fostered momentary confusion on my part. After all, I was expecting to speak with Audre Rae.
Her supportive artist parents, credited with funding her first SLR camera, understand that her pen name is nothing personal. Kr- and -ull create an undeniably abrasive combination for a bubbly, passionate extrovert. Her middle name, Rae, is an appropriate substitute that resonates fluidly off of the smooth -re intonation of “Audre.” Like Charles Hardin Holly adopted Buddy Holly and Eric Arthur Blair invented George Orwell, the measure of an individual begins with his or her name.
“My friends call me Audre Rae.”
While ordinary high school juniors experimented with Captain Morgan, two 30-cases of Bud and water bongs on parent-less weekends, Audre Rae of Appleton experimented with lenses, exposure and black-and-white during her paid jobs to immortalize the candid, buoyant split seconds of ecstasy shared between grooms and their brides among drunk guests and a multi-tiered sweet confection topped with plastic tux and white wedding dress caricatures of newly wedded couples. But weddings meticulously scrutinized through Canon lenses were time and investment well spent. Since her high school heyday, a Google search result lists “audre rae photography” for hire — and that was just the beginning.
Her initial artistic interests were fashion related ? an attractive afterthought, onset by reveries of expensive clothes and a fast-paced life between celebrities and tycoons. In college she cultivated her ambitious agenda around New York City, despite scoffs from her photography professor at Madison Area Technical College.
“They were like, yeah right, Audre.”
As luck would have it, Audre’s national exposure came via a freelance fashion photography job for Elizabeth O’Brian Berg, a former classmate and a Wisconsin-cum-New York City-based swimsuit designer.
“I put on a bunch of images of the four models on Flickr, and I went on vacation. I was in Montana for two weeks. All of a sudden I had 50 e-mails from people who wanted to purchase a swimming suit,” Rae said.
Of all the Internet’s peculiarities, the sudden coverage was unexpected, but eagerly welcomed by the designer and the photographer duo. Jezebel.com had “borrowed” and credited Audre’s Flickr photographs, in turn sending the fashion world abuzz with O’Brian’s nod to the vintage World War II high-waisted swimsuit pin-up era. Two months later, Audre’s work landed on the homepage of a fashionista’s bible, New York Magazine’s The Cut, and on the desk of Alexandra Shulman, editor in chief of British Vogue.
“That was exciting but it didn’t get me a job,” Rae admitted.
Post-graduation life finally bared the impracticality and dissatisfaction of fashion photography. Madison Magazine had a history of contracting her services for their fall fashion issues, but the 22-year-old’s objectives for her art fluctuates, and understandably so. How many 22-year-olds have discovered their life’s calling?
“I love to do fashion photography, I really, really do, but I want to make sure that my art is helping people,” Rae said.
“I love photographing people… I’m basically really into working with people and I just love being able to get expressions out of them.” If a photographer isn’t a people person, success outside of commercial photography is futile. “Commercial is where the money is, but I get so bored trying to take a picture of shoes or a handbag,”
Today, Audre is pursuing a new destination ? namely, Guatemala.
“I want to get into travel photography,” Rae explained fervently. “In college, my roommate, my friend Megan and myself went to Guatemala. Why? Honestly it was the cheapest ticket ? $300 round trip to Guatemala.”
Audre’s Flickr page is 661 photographs full of heartwarming Guatemalan infants, breathtaking landscapes and rustic Guatemalan architecture, interjected with the occasional travel candids among friends. In exchange for volunteering at a school and orphanage, they had received a crash course on Guatemalan culture.
It’s hard to resist the travel bug of her Guatemala undertaking to a point of being downright contagious.
“I just fell in love with the country… it was inspiring. You should go there sometime,” Rae said. “Getting to know those children and photographing them, knowing that my images could change these kid’s lives, that was kind of a big deal. So I came back to Wisconsin and it’s hard to see myself in New York, living a life of fashion.”
“Guatemala” has for a second time been inscribed into Audre’s calendar. Within the year, she will depart for a year-long trip, supported by a foundation that seeks to raise awareness of the penury orphanages and their tiny occupants, and they plan to do so by utilizing her photography.
“If anything, I’d like to be known as a photojournalist,” she said.
After that? Paparazzo? Unlikely. New York City, or a permanent stay in Guatemala? She’s weighing her options. But as of the moment, she’s not worried.
“I need to travel. I feel like I’m too young to start a huge career and be a workaholic. I’m 22. I need a year to just do something. Then I’ll make money.”