Here's 12 Q&As that will make you fall in love with her as well!
1. Rae, for those out there who are getting to know for the first time, can you introduce yourself?
Sure :) I am an ex-pat from the US. I have been living in Berlin since the end of 2009.
Professionally, I am a creative jack-of-all trades. While my main profession is as a photographer, I also run an instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/raetilly/) where I showcase my fashion and thoughts.
In addition to this, I am the creator and Editor-in-Chief of two online platforms. Love From Berlin (http://www.lovefromberlin.net/) is an online editorial all about art and subculture in Berlin. YEOJA Mag (http://yeoja-mag.com/) is my newest baby and a project I am extremely passionate about. It is a girl power platform focusing on diversity, fashion and subculture.
2. Among the many things you do and partake in, which of them would you describe as an adult job, and which of them has been a lifelong passion of yours?
As a creative, I would say that my adult job and my lifelong passion is one in the same - photography. I was interested in photography since the age of 9 and began my love affair with the medium in high school where I spent most of my time during and after school in the darkroom working on photo projects. I am lucky enough that I have been able to take this passion and channel it into multiple projects - whether it’s building my own portfolio (http://raetilly.com/), doing production and campaigns for brands like Bench, or showcasing my life on instagram.
My other big passion has been blogging. I have had a blog ever since I can remember and while my first experiences in the blogging world were at a time where people blogged privately or for close friends, all of these experiences have prepared me for launching my own online platforms. (I also worked on the editorial board of my Uni’s newspaper, interned for a local paper, and worked as a UX/UI Designer which have all aided in helping me run online publications)
I would also say it depends on what you define as an adult job. I don’t go to a 9-5 where I have a desk I sit at and work for a steady income. I DO still get up and work more than 40 hours a week on all of my creative projects combined. For our online platforms, we have editorial meetings and a team of staff writers and photographers/illustrators. I am constantly shooting and creating content. Some of that content is paid, and some is not.
The problem in general is that for the most part, creative work seems to still be undervalued in terms of pay. Which is why creatives have to hustle and do multiple things and have multiple clients to make a living. A lot of my work also comes through instagram and this is such a new field where no real rules have been established. Companies forget that when you produce editorial content on instagram there is location scouting, production, the actual shooting and post-production needed to create what gets shared on Instagram.
Still, I would not want it any other way. For creatives, we are only satisfied when we are making things and putting them out into the world.
3. It must be hard to move to another country, let alone to another continent! What drove you to just pack up your things, leave home, and start a new life somewhere else? And why Berlin in particular?
To be honest, I never really found it hard to move to Berlin because I have never felt extremely tied to staying in one place. I went to Uni in a different state than the one I was raised in and have always been interested in traveling and experiencing new things. I initially came to Berlin for a political internship at the DGAP (https://dgap.org/de). Initially, I was planning on pursuing a career as a professor and had settled on the idea of photography becoming a hobby of mine. While I have always been an artist, I am also passionate about politics and history and thought a more “serious” career path would be the most responsible choice.
I was only meant to be in Berlin for four months and then return to the states. Life never goes as planned though, and I had ended up in a relationship with a Berliner so I decided to stay. We eventually broke up, but I decided to stay in Berlin to see if this city was the place for me as an individual. It was scary but life changing to explore everything on my own and I quickly realised that Berlin was someplace I wanted to be for me.
4. How would you describe the fashion scene in Berlin? And does it influence your own personal style as well?
As an ex-pat you are gifted with this really unique perspective on all things. Being from someplace else, it gives me the ability to see the contrast between the fashion here and the fashion back home. Clearly, in every country there are cliques and sub-groups where different fashion trends are established - like in the US if you want to be really cliche about it, we have goths, jocks, preps, etc. But these sub-groups are also intrinsically linked to the cultures in which they come from. The same is true for Germany and the same is true for Berlin.
With the explosion of the internet, a lot of the lines do blur a bit but only to an extent. For example, everyone knows Berlin is synonymous with “hipsters.” I have also lived in NYC and there are tons of “hipsters” there too. But “hipsters” in Berlin look drastically different to “hipsters” in NYC. Here the techno scene influences a lot of the fashion. I think the proximity to nordic countries does as well. So does the cultural and economic history of this city.
I think that when people think of Berlin, they think of your typical Berlin club kid (both German and non-German) who wears a lot of black and is into streetwear and androgynous styles. That’s definitely true, but like I mentioned above, there are also a lot of other sub groups here as well - you get your festival hippy types and start up guys as well as the more “grown up hipsters” who wear A.P.C. and more tailored cuts. Then there is a deep-rooted punk anarchist culture which means Berlin has a lot of punks living in squats who have their own sense of identity and fashion. You also get your classic Ur-Berliner Bauarbeiter who has his own sense of identity and fashion even if people might not immediately think so. There is a huge Turkish and Vietnamese community in Berlin as well. The list goes on.
I think my own personal style has been influenced by Berlin in that I do tend to wear a lot of black (surprise surprise!) and androgynous cuts, and am influenced by club culture. But my style is also heavily influenced by internet culture, skate culture (I skateboard, but I am still very much a beginner!) and every phase I went through as a teenager growing up in the suburbs.
5. Has living in Berlin changed you? How and in what ways?
As I mentioned above, as an ex-pat you get this really unique position of being able to have something to compare your previous experiences with. If I had only ever lived in America, I would be able to see the differences between different groups insofar as they exist within the US. But coming to Germany has given me the ability to see things from a broader perspective. Things I once considered to be politically extreme, do not pale in comparison to living in a place like Berlin. There is also less emphasis placed on constantly consuming. Being in a city also forces you to have to be self-sufficient. Living in a bike-friendly city also keeps you active.
I speak fluent German and have been here for almost a decade and have been in long-term relationships with Germans in the past so naturally over time I have taken on aspects of German culture into my personality as well.
Living in Berlin has made me more self-aware, not as afraid to speak my mind, and to be able to think more rationally.
6. Considering your background as a Korean-American living in Berlin, do you find the multitude of culture you have encountered in your life, as well as your own heritage, affects how you choose to present your content to the world in any way?
I would say that being a WOC (Woman of Color) has everything to do with my identity and now that we are experiencing a third wave of feminism and topics like intersectionality are being spoken about, I am lucky to live at a time where these topics are actually being highlighted. This gives me the confidence to talk about these topics as well. At the end of the day, we should all be treated like human beings and this mentality should not be considered a political stance. It should just be considered common sense. Still, as we can see with the current political state globally, not everyone thinks this way. Speaking about these topics directly or through my work is less of a choice and more of a necessity.
Having a platform on instagram allows me and other WOC to have a voice and for younger girls who look like us to scroll through an app where they see strong confident women who look like them. Being a photographer and getting the opportunity to work with brands like Bench where I can cast people of color allows me to play a part in normalising all types of people. Creating YEOJA Mag was done with the intention of showing both men and women the beauty in all types of human beings.
When I was little, I never got to see women who looked like me when flipping through the TV, going to movies, or looking at magazines. While the blonde haired blue-eyed women in the media were and are beautiful, so are women with dark skin, bigger women, shorter women, etc. The idea is that we need to be showing the world that ALL people, regardless of what makes them “different” are legitimate and beautiful by nature of being a human being.
7. Is there a certain message you hope to communicate with your photographs? Guide us through the process!
I am just here to try and create images that can do something for the viewer. Whether it’s to give them the confidence to be proud in their own skin, or to be able to create a visually-pleasing escape for a few minutes, I am happy. My ultimate goal is to create work that is both aesthetically pleasing but also does something positive for the viewer. The process for this is really about casting unique faces for editorial work and trying my hardest to create little dream worlds in my instagram photos.
8. What do you believe are the perfect aesthetics it takes to produce one of your awesome photos?
First of all, thank you for thinking my photos are awesome! As a creative, I am never truly satisfied with my work and am always looking to refine my work and aesthetics. But at the moment I am in a pretty happy space for the time being. I would say that it comes down to really on-point styling (and a proper casting when it’s a professional editorial) and the right post-processing. At the moment I have returned to shooting a lot of film because it produces this raw, imperfect look that you just can’t achieve with digital photography. I also am constantly saving images that inspire me and usually make mood boards for my projects to help me hone in on what I am trying to achieve visually.
9. If you could summarize your style of photography in 5 words or less, how would you describe it?
Off-beat, underground, editorial, urban, dreamy.
10. You’re obviously a passionate woman with a sense of purpose. What would you say your purpose is, and what steps are you taking to achieve it?
Oh man - that’s a tough one. Ages ago I dreamt of being a photojournalist from the purest but naivest of intentions. Then I thought I was going to be a professor. After that I found my way back to art. So I am not really sure. But I would say my purpose as a creative is to create. My purpose as a human being is to try and leave some positive mark on this planet by the time I leave it.
11. Is there any particular person or a cause you relate to, that inspires you on days when you just can’t?
While there are definitely #girlbosses out there that I look up to, I can’t say that I tend to think about a specific person when I am having a hard day getting out of bed and getting to work. In terms of causes, everything I do is intrinsically related to topics of feminism and intersectionality as well as rights or all marginalised communities.
For me it’s more that I have days where I get down because the line of work I have chosen is plain HARD. The jobs don’t come in regularly which means the money doesn’t either. Instagram has also become a landscape ridden with bots and fake followers and likes which it makes it really hard to grow when you are still fighting to do it the honest way. So I often just get down about feeling unsuccessful and broke!
So honestly, in moments like this, it may sound really cheesy, but it’s my boyfriend (who also works with me on Love From Berlin and is my photographer for photos where I am the subject) who reminds me that the road to success is never easy and helps me put things into perspective to remember the successes and milestones I have already reached. It’s also my parents who have worked so hard to give me the resources I need to be able to even begin to follow my dreams in the first place.
I was also adopted from South Korea at four months old and it’s remembering how different my life could have been if I were raised in an orphanage, that compels me to always try my hardest and strive to be the best I can be.
12. Finally, you obviously have a lot of fans (including us!), is there any final note or thought you would like to keep our readers with? A word of advice or motivation for anybody who looks up to you?
Again, thank you that is so kind of you to say! I don’t really like to think of those that follow my work as fans cos we are all just people at the end of the day, but I am really happy if people connect with my work and are happy with what I am doing. As a final note, I would just say to never be afraid to be who you are and fight for the causes you believe in. We all need someone rooting in our corner. Remember what your strengths are, find out what your weaknesses are and figure out ways to improve them. Be proud of who you are and what you are putting out in the world but always remain humble and always strive for improvement. And lastly, it means the world to me when people reach out, so feel free to follow along with my journey on instagram (https://www.instagram.com/raetilly/) and slide into those DMs whenever you like! I do my best to answer everyone!
Did you fall in love with Rae just as much as we did?