Creating Whatever I Want / Conversation with Caia Grace (say wha?)

You've seen my desk before, right?  (Planner from

You've seen my desk before, right?  (Planner from

KM: Alright, I’m going to go for the most basic question first.

CG: Okay. 

So you’re how many weeks into a new city?

Almost 4 exactly.  This is four weeks since I left Virginia.

You’re in a new creative environment, and a new market.  How does it compare to your old environment?

It’s all different.  The contrast is immense.  Since I’m fresh in what’s going on right now, my new creative environment is —especially the past couple weeks, after I got the chance to acclimate, and got used to certain parts of this new environment— it’s been very creatively stimulating, which is a really great thing, because there was that fear coming into it that it wouldn’t be stimulating.  That it would feel stale or like the same-old-same-old.  It really does still feel fresh, and I know I’m only four weeks in, but it’s encouraging that even after certain parts of this new life that I’m building have gotten to a point where they feel normal, there is still creative stimulation that I’m finding all over the place.  That’s really encouraging.

More specifically, what does this creative stimulation look like, feel like, taste like, sound like?

It tastes a lot like flavors I didn’t even know could go together.  Like this coffee; it could be the poster child for the interesting things that I’ve consumed.

One of the cool things, just about being here in Nashville, is that basically everybody here is an artist or has creative tendencies, no matter what they’re trying to do.  Everything is presented in a creative way or in a beautiful way.  It makes everything a little more special.  There’s not really anything that I’ve been a part of or done so far that’s been “just whatever”… Nothing is thrown together in the same way that I’m used to.

Do you think that’s because there’s space here, in the general culture of the area, to spend the time to figure it out and do it right?  It’s not as busy of a place..

Yes, and that brings me to the environment that I’ve come from; a place I love very dearly, but there was a lot of pressure there.  The pressure was to be fast and efficient.  To have something to show for yourself.  I think some people thrive in that environment, but I don’t think that the majority of people do, and I definitely don’t think that everybody does.

Do you think that the arts in general thrive in that environment?

I think that the exact opposite is true; I think that the arts do not thrive in that environment.  I think that one of the most crucial parts of art is space, and creating space, and a release of pressure.  So a really pressure-heavy environment can stifle art.  I know artists from where I’ve come from, and I think that some of them make great work, but I think that it has to be a focus of theirs to create the space to do work.  It’s a lot harder to combat the environment in a place where there’s a lot of pressure already existing.

One example of that is the traffic.  DC traffic is awful.  But, I’ve also had my fair share of sitting in traffic in Nashville.  It seems like there’s a different attitude about the traffic.  DC traffic is really heavy; stop-and-go, people getting upset with each other, and there’s an attitude about it that’s just hostile.  Traffic here can be annoying or a pain, but everyone seems to know that if you’re trying to get somewhere under certain conditions, be it a time of day or an area of town, you’re going to be running into traffic.  So whatever, you arrive when you arrive - just turn on the radio because there’s something good on.  At least, in my experience so far.

I can see that… I’ve been here long enough that this is most of the traffic that I can remember, so I still get plenty worked up about it, but my attitude is like that - I try not to really care.  If we’re going to be guests at someone’s house in Franklin, they seem to get it and not mind if we’re late because of traffic.  The idea of being late in general has a completely different connotation here.  Have you experienced that?

Well yeah - being late here is a couple different things:  it’s either not your fault so nobody can care, or it’s your fault but you had higher priorities.  So nobody cares.

It’s not encouraged to be late, but it’s not expected that things will start on the 00:00.  We’ll get here when we get here then we’ll all be together.  It’s a mixture of the southern culture and the artist culture, I think.  Neither of those value timeliness as much as southern culture values relationships and artists— well, something about artists’ brains don’t stick to their schedules well.  Their brains are pre-occupied creating.

Right, and there’s so much going on in the brain.  It just has to do what it has to do.

Very improvisational brains, generally.

And that’s something I’m learning to embrace, I think.  Coming from a corporate environment and the idea that productivity is key, there was a lot of me feeling inspired by something or having an impulse to create something, and then having to stifle that because it worked against my job or task for the moment.  That could have been at any place - my actual job, at home, with a friend, even.  But schedules and levels of productivity were deemed really important and emphasized so it blocked out all space for creativity.  It’s kind of scary when you come from that and all of the sudden you’re allowed to create, and you’re allowed to decide what your schedule looks like and how you use your time.  At least, it has been for me because I wasn’t used to that freedom - I’m still not really used to it, but it’s exciting when you let yourself be excited about it.

iPhone Photo  |  "I started telling baristas my actual name, and sometimes they spell it correctly!"

iPhone Photo  |  "I started telling baristas my actual name, and sometimes they spell it correctly!"

What is your personal photography or art philosophy?  Is there a driving philosophy behind your work?  Is there something you lean back on and say, ‘this is why I do this’ or ‘this is how I do this’?

I have the reasons why I do it, and the philosophy of my photography is connected, but separate (wow that totally doesn’t make any sense… to clarify: they’re two different things in my mind, but they’re related).

When you say philosophy, that’s something that I feel goes back to my style and the way that I run the business, and that has been something that I have kind of just given to myself... I've said to myself ‘it’s whatever you feel like!’  That's a really freeing thing, because every time I get worked up about a style I’m working on not looking like anything I’ve done before, or what worked for me that other time, if I let those feelings run then I become a robot.  I just create the same thing over and over again.  So the philosophy that I have tried to follow has been to create whatever I want, in a weird way.

Then the purpose behind that philosophy is— well, I used to say that it was all about people, but I’ve defined it a little more precisely. The purpose behind my photography is for the sake of art.  It’s a big discovery project for me, because I just want to know artists and get in their brains, and know what they’re creating and why they’re creating it, and how they’re creating it.  What it’s doing to them mentally and psychologically; is it helping them or hurting them?  Why is it doing that?  It really can be boiled down to a person and their specific story, but it’s more than just any person.  I think that anybody can be an artist if they let themselves, but not everybody necessarily is an artist.  You don’t have to be in a traditionally artistic field to be an artist, but you still have to have a certain wonder and amusement for the world around you, or this general curiosity.

It sounds like the philosophy that you’ve developed is a philosophy of curiosity.

I think that’s a good way to put it.

What I hear you saying is that if you put too many constraints on your style, and you try hard to be something specific, that takes away the sense of wonder about what you’re doing and about your wonder, and that ultimately works against your artistic goals.

It’s something that I have been able to focus on the past few weeks since being here and being able to devote my time to it.  I think that I knew all those things in the back of my mind before, but I hadn’t been able to piece it all together or have such a focused vision for what I wanted to do.  I had just enough of it to know what I needed to do to get here.  That’s something I’m really excited about: knowing what I’m doing.

iPhone Photo  |  This ivy is all over the place and I love it.

iPhone Photo  |  This ivy is all over the place and I love it.

I’m curious about how photography compares to other art forms you’ve tried, and just other art forms in general.  What makes it similar and, more importantly, what makes it different?

I’ve tried a lot of different things - obviously, I talk a lot about my background in dance, and I have always been a doodler and a drawer, and I love paint, but yeah, I’ve tried a lot of different artistic and creative mediums.  I’ve always loved crafts and stuff like that.  I think photography is kind of the culmination of everything that I’ve tried.  I think that’s why I like it; I feel like I can have a part in everything else that I love when I’m a photographer.

It’s like dance because I get to pose people and observe how they move.  And I’ve taken photographs of dancers and I love that, because the beauty of dance has always been the emotion, the movement, and the lines, and how all of our human bodies are made up of the same basic parts, but everyone’s body is different; moves in different ways and expresses the same types of movement in different ways.  The cool part about photography is that I get to try to capture that, and the challenge is that I can never quite capture the essence of a person’s movement, but I can get close, and always get closer.

Just the fact that, with photography, you’re taking pictures of things that already exist.  You’re basically taking somebody else’s creation, and capturing it in a different way, or looking at it in a different way.  In a weird way, it’s the highest point of curation.

iPhone Photo  |  "it's once again beautiful, sunny and warm-ish in Nashville, and the birds here are NO JOKE."

iPhone Photo  |  "it's once again beautiful, sunny and warm-ish in Nashville, and the birds here are NO JOKE."

How did ‘for the art/for the artist’ come to be your personal brand?  Have you always seen yourself as an artist, but one who serves other artists as well?

I think that ‘for the art/for the artist’ has become my personal brand just through this development process of figuring out, ‘Okay, I’m a photographer.  What am I photographer for?  Who am I a photographer for?’ and I realized that no matter what genre of photography I had put myself in, the types of people and types of things I was drawn to photographing in that genre were art and were artists.  It could have been the difference between two different brides and their weddings.  ‘For the art/for the artist’ started out as 'Documenting art and the artist'.  Then I realized it wasn’t just documentation.  A large part of what I do is documentation, but it’s also that I have a hand in some of the creation that goes on.  I didn’t just want to be a journalist.  I wanted to be an artist with the artist that I was photographing.  Everything in this whole journey of figuring that out has been influenced by what I’m doing, what I’m calling it, where I am, the people I’m around, and what they’re doing.  It’s very holistic.

I’m an artist but I’m almost never an artist by myself.  I love being a part of somebody else’s thing.  I love to be a part of things.  I think that general feeling has always been a part of me.  I have never wanted to miss out on things, and I always wanted to be a part of something that was cool and involved other people.  But, I don’t think I’ve always viewed myself as an artist who helped other artists.  That’s something that has probably developed since middle school-ish.  It came on slowly.

It’s still been a while then!

Well, my whole life I’ve thought of myself as an artist or someone who wanted to be an artist, even when I didn’t recognize it.  But I think that around middle school or early high school I realized that I really like to be a part of projects and I had a stretch of time where I was part of an A/V team at church.  And that was not very artistic, or it shouldn’t have been very artistic, but I turned it into something artistic for myself.  And the whole point of that was to be an aid to the band and an aid to the people that were there every week.  It hasn’t been forever but it’s been a while - I think I’m just now starting to put names to these things.

*All photos (except the first) were taken on my phone and are for the most part random.

A couple weeks ago, Kelly and I turned the tables - this time he interviewed me.  My hope is that you feel more connected to my story and where I am in life after reading and, if you did a fast scroll to the bottom of the page and didn't read the whole conversation, that's okay too.

If anything I said resonated with you, I would really appreciate a share to your Facebook timeline, or even if you let me know which part it was in the comments below.

As always, I love new friends - please email me about anything and everything at