Louise M Empowerment series with Founder of Louise M shoes Louise Matson and Prue Aja of Prue Aja Photography.
Posted on August 02 2021
“A picture is worth a thousand words, but a memory is priceless” as the saying goes. We snap dozens of photos every day, but do we still treasure them? Our recollections may appear to be crystal clear in our minds, but they are not exact replicas of the events we observed. Memories are jewels in our hearts that last a lifetime.
In this episode, Prue Aja, one of Australia’s most in-demand portrait photographers, shares how she helped impact-driven women and high-profile entrepreneurs visually bring their personal brand to life. Her official foray into the world of fashion and photography started as a stylist, partnering with brands, such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue (UK) then assisting and being mentored by some of the world's leading photographers. She is sought after around the country for her innate ability to connect and capture the essence of an individual through imagery. She's been profiled in the media and images of her clients, adorn the pages of well-known publications. Prue's passion for visual storytelling is equal to her desire to help women celebrate themselves and elevate their visibility. A passion inspired by her own life experience, overcoming traumatic circumstances, and finding the strength to be seen.
Full transcript below:
Louise Matson (00:04):
Hi today I'm very honored and very proud to interview Prue Aja who is one of Australia's most in demand portrait photographers and for the past decade, she has helped impact driven women and high profile entrepreneurs visually bring their personal brand to life. Her official foray into the world of fashion and photography started as a stylist, partenering with brands, such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue (UK) then assisting and being mentored by some of the world's leading photographers. Today she is sought after around the country for her innate ability to connect and capture the essence of an individual through imagery. She's been profiled in the media and images of her clients, adorn the pages of well-known publications. Prue's passion for visual storytelling is equal to her desire to help women celebrate themselves and elevate their visibility. A passion inspired by her own life experience, overcoming traumatic circumstances, and finding the strength to be seen. Prue is based in Melbourne with her daughter, Myla. Hello Prue.
Prue Aja (01:11):
Hi Louise. Thank you so much for having me on today. I'm very excited to chat with you all about empowerment.
Louise Matson (01:18):
Well, I've been following you since we met at the business chicks conference in Byron bay, and you took this photo of myself with, Emma Isaacs and that photo is one of my favorites because it just captured a moment in time for me. It was just a great event the conference, but as also a moment in time in my business as well, and meeting amazing women and that photo, it does, it does give me a sense of empowerment. So thank you so much. So thank you for being here.
Prue Aja (01:54):
Absolute pleasure. And I think that's why photography is so important. So many people shy away from it. They put on their bottom of their to do list, but when you have those photos to look back on, it's not just the photo, but it brings back all the memories of that time. It's kind of like a smell as well. So I'm so glad it's so special to you.
Louise Matson (02:16):
Thank you. And I'll ask you in a moment about empowerment, but I do say that does empowerment present physically or emotionally. And I think, um, I think it's both and photography is one of those things. You know, you, you physically taking your photo, but there's so much, emotion behind, what that photo represents. So on that note, what does empowerment mean to you?
Prue Aja (02:42):
It means to me is really knowing who you are and then trusting in who you are and your beliefs and where creating a vision of where you want to take your life and the steps that come along with that. So building your confidence and, and also it's not just about self-empowerment, but also how you serve in the world and how you empower others. So it's, for me, it's really important that I get to know my clients and understand their stories and what their vision is, so that I can create images for them to step into that. And I imagine it's similar for you with the shoes that you designed for women as well. You're empowering them to look amazing, but be comfortable too.
Louise Matson (03:33):
Absolutley it's a feeling, you know, they might put on the shoe, but it's that feeling behind that and that surprise shock can actually be comfortable and go back about your day in them. So, yeah, we're very similar in that regard that we've got, it's amazing how many, um, how many of us are empowering women and we don't even really realize it, sometimes, but that's why I sort of started this empowerment series as well, because I realized that, you know, people just think you've got a product it's shoe, but my shoes are far more than that. So it just like your photography is. I did read something on your, on your website. I think it was, it was a quote and it was, don't be less like every time you pretend to be less than you are you still permission from other women to exist fully. I really love that. So what I would like to do is take you back to your childhood, and then I'm trying to determine whether how we are made to feel as a child helps us go into adulthood more easily, or if not, and then we'll lead into your adult hood and how empowerment presented in your adulthood. So tell us a little bit about your child hood and your siblings, if you have them and did you feel empowered as a child?
Prue Aja (04:54):
Okay. So I think I'll start as a child. Um, one of your questions, cause you did send them through to me before was like, did you feel empowered or disempowered as a child? And, and I believe it's a bit of both. I had quite a tough childhood and was probably exposed to a lot more than probably any humans exposed to in their life. Being in Australia that is of course, you know, we still are very lucky for the, where we live. Um, but my both my parents had drug addictions and my mum was in and out of my life when I was two, she moved to England and left me for two years. If my dad came back, she kidnapped me. It was very traumatic and I've blocked a lot of it out, but also obviously hit a certain age as an adult where you're like, all right, this stuff here that needs to be worked on and faced and, and sorted out.
Prue Aja (05:56):
But what that did teach me from a young age, I had to learn to be resilient and take care of myself. And I also became hyper aware of people, who different people, where, what parts they played in my familys life, from what they did with my parents or so understanding what mood my parents were in because of their addictions. And I believe that's why I have become a photographer because I know how to read people. I would always look at people and go, I'll try and go what they're thinking about, what their life is like, what they do for work. Are they happy or sad? And I was doing this from such a young age and that also made me go, well, I don't want to end up like my parents. And I want to be like this person. And I can't say there was any specific person that I was like, I want to be like them, but it definitely made me shape who I am today.
Prue Aja (06:56):
And knowing that I didn't want to be a certain way. I did want to work really hard to be another way. And my mom actually passed away when I was 13. And she was in a really good space at that age. She was clean off drugs. And so was my dad and they were back together and they were really trying to make things work out, which is funny because she was 39 at that age. And I'm 37 now. And as children, you think that your parents know everything and they should be, they should have their lives sorted out. But when you hit that age, you go, well, actually, no one really knows what they're doing. No one's life's really sorted out. We're all just trying to do the best we can and make our way through. So, um, yeah, I'm not sure where I was going with that bit, but, from that age at 13, that was kind of a breaking point where I was like, okay, there was a part of me is like stuff this.
Prue Aja (07:49):
I just want to run away. And you know, who knows where I would have ended up then. And then I was like, or I can really work hard in my life to never end up like this and that's what I did. So I had to take care of my dad. So I was very self-sufficient and independent then, pretty much running a household during high school started working as early as I could. And I did feel empowered in the fact that, you know, I'd go to my dad and go, what should I do with my life? What should I study? What should I be? And he was always like, you do whatever you want, do whatever makes you happy. And I think that was quite empowering because you hear of people whose parents made them feel bad if they didn't go and study medicine or law or something like that.
Prue Aja (08:37):
So I did have the choice to do whatever I wanted with my life. So having freedom is great, but also sometimes you want someone to actually guide you and go, you should do this so I really had to make it all up as I went, but as a teenager, growing up in Byron Bay, I loved taking photos. So I'll do photo shoots down the beach with my friends. I was the girl at every party with the camera and they're like, oh, here's Prue again with a camera taking photos. But now I captured all the memories of the nineties growing up in Byron Bay. And that's when I, when I finished school, I wanted to be a photographer, but I guess I felt disempowered then because it was a very male dominant industry and I was intimidated and I was like, I'm never going to make it doing that. So I studied fashion design instead, which, you know, fashion design is pretty competitive. But within a couple of years I was living in Sydney. I was a fashion stylist working with on great advertising campaigns and magazines. And yeah. So, and then after living in London doing styling, I was like, well, if I came this far in fashion, I want to, I'm going to give it a go in photography. Cause that's what I actually want to be. So that's when I stepped over. So that was a bit of my life story in a summary.
Louise Matson (10:02):
Thank you so much for sharing, you know, that takes strength in itself, but wow, what inbuilt strength you had because you know, others might've just followed their parents, and I had a terrible childhood and, you know, that's the path they continue to have to have. But what a strenght you had in, particularly as you didn't seem to have an outside influence or mentor, like a grandparent or anything that perhaps got you through that you just had yourself, which was incredible and when your dad said you could do whatever you want to do. Um, yeah, it might've been nice if he said, gee, you're really good at this, or really good at that, that might've helped you, but you actually have achieved this all on your own which is incredible. So, congratulations and well done. How fantastic that you've captured the nineties before the phones came and you captured some of the nineties before it sort of became, the camera was on the photo when everyone was taking photos. So that's a really good. So, as an adult, where did you learn your photography? Did you go and do some education? I think you went to a photography school, didn't you?
Prue Aja (11:18):
So I moved back from London and I was, I was actually sponsored to stay in London and this is in 2008 when the GFC happened. So I was back in Byron staying with my dad. I met my daughter's father at that point as well. And I was like, ah, do I go back to London? Do I stay living in this beautiful beach town surfing every day? And I think it was time to have a year off and I didn't go back to England. And during that time I was like, okay, what is it that I really want to do in my life? What's the next chapter. It was that, you know, you can tell when you're going into the next chapter of your life, you're closing one section of the book and preparing to turn the page and write the next story.
Prue Aja (12:06):
And that's when I was like, okay, time to be a photographer. Where's the best school in Australia. I did my research. It was our MIT in Melbourne. And before I even knew I got in, actually, we were like, let's just move to Melbourne, which my daughter's dad who I'm not with anymore, but to his disappointment because we were living on Lennox head point and surfing every day. And he's a surfer, and an artist. We moved here and we, I applied to get it. What did I do? Yeah. I sent my folio off. And meanwhile, we flew to Indonesia on a surf trip in Sumatra and the day after I got back, I had to fly to Melbourne for interview. And I had forgotten how to use an SLR camera. I'd been using a point and shoot while I was styling, because I just that's where my energy was focused on the styling side of things.
Prue Aja (13:01):
And the teachers who were interviewing me were like, so if I asked you to shoot at F four and something, something, something, you have no idea what I'm talking about. And I was like, yeah, no, I have no idea. But I somehow got in, I think they have like a few hundred people apply every year and about 30 people get in. So I was very lucky to do that. Um, and then also found out I was pregnant on the way. And so moving to a new state, new city, having a baby, um, starting a whole new career, a lot happened in that six months. And then my dad passed away when I was eight months pregnant. So it was a very, 2010 was huge for me.
Louise Matson (13:47):
Goodness, may. I mean, that's where that resilience suffering your childhood probably kicked in fast.
Prue Aja (13:53):
Yeah, it was, it was pretty terrifying. Like when I had my daughter Myla, you know, you would see people going, oh, having a baby the best years and the best days of your life, and I was just like, I am not feeling this right now. And this was before Instagram really took off. So I didn't have that connection to people being real no one was really being authentic and truthful. Everyone was more, it was Facebook and people like this is amazing having a baby. So I felt very isolated in a new city, not knowing anyone having just lost my dad and a new baby going, oh my God, what do I do with this? So, yeah, it was a very, very tough time.
Louise Matson (14:34):
So the photography course did that really start giving you the confidence that, you know, you could do this thin and achieve being a photographer, a successful photographer.
Prue Aja (14:49):
I think it, it didn't come for a couple of years because the first year they really tear away everything that they think you know about photography and want to do. You feel very raw and exposed and just being like, ah, I don't know what I'm doing in this. And then the second year I started building my confidence. And the funny thing is I actually wanted to be an architectural photographer. So all my travels, I love taking photos of really interesting buildings and landscapes and thought that's what I wanted to do. And then I assisted a few architectural photographers and was just like, this is really boring.
Louise Matson (15:33):
Buildings have personalities, but they stand still
Prue Aja (15:37):
You can't talk and communicate with them and what I, and I didn't want to be a fashion photographer because I'd just come out of the fashion industry and I'd learnt a lot about how, how damaging the fashion industry was to the environment. At that point in time, it was the second biggest polluter after oil, from the way that dyes were poisoning waterways and the Amazon rainforest being cut down to graze cattle for leather. So I was like, I don't really want to be a part of that, but I do love fashion. I also started a kids party business when I moved to Melbourne. That was something else that happened because I was pregnant no one would give me a job to support me while I was studying. So that's when I decided I'd never work for anyone ever again and started a kids party business, which I sold five years later.
Prue Aja (16:27):
And I saw, I loved business. I loved fashion. And then I just saw that all these people were having really boring corporate portraits. And I was like, there's a gap in the market here. I want to bring my fashion photography and photograph people that are actually making an impact in the world or doing really cool things. Like why don't they have cool photos? So that's how it all came together during the personal branding portraits. And I think the timing was divine really in the uprising of women in business, you know, over the last 10 years as well. So I think it just all fell into place.
Louise Matson (17:08):
Well, I badly need some new photos and I can't wait for the day that I can fly to Victoria from Perth and have you do my portraits. That would be amazing. So yeah, that's on my wishlist.
Prue Aja (17:26):
Actually. I've been meaning to come over there.
Louise Matson (17:30):
when you do. Maybe we could do that and I'd have my shoes with me, a bath full of shoes or something, or champagne tub full of shoes.
Prue Aja (17:41):
You can do all that.
Louise Matson (17:43):
So you seem to just have these innate sense of strength and empowerment. I'm trying to find what else, you know, did you join networks or, you know, you had your photography education, but really you've just had life experiences that have given you this strength and sense of empowerment. So, do you feel empowered now with your business, and where you are with your life?
Prue Aja (18:14):
Definitely. I saw one of your questions was like, what helped you become an empowered adult? And I think it was through learning about the power of manifestation and my spiritual practice. So when I was 19 and I was in Sydney, I was getting, I was actually getting my car serviced and I thought I'm just going to go into the library where my car's getting service and read a book. And literally a Deepak Chopra book fell out of the shelf into my hands and it was spontaneous fulfillment of desire. And I sat down at the window, started, I read the first couple of pages and I was like, whoa, this really is connecting with me right now. And I looked up and saw a rainbow outside the window. And I was like, okay, I need to, I need to get this book. I need to sign up to this library and become a member and take this book home.
Prue Aja (19:05):
I've given away, got at least 10 copies of it to people to really share with them the understanding of how you do create your own destiny. And we have that power within all of us. And the hardest part of it is just knowing what it is that you want and what you want your life to look like. So that's been a big part of being empowered and I also am a Vedic meditator. So I meditate daily for 20 minutes, sometimes twice a day, it's a priority every morning to do that meditation, which I learnt I think four years ago. And it's, it's really just helped my mindset to become super clear and trust in the universe and the process of life. And so when challenging things do come upon, like hit me, you know, it's one of the other questions was what do you do when you're disempowered? But knowing that I can connect with my breath, go for a walk or asking with the situation that was coming to me, going, what's the lesson to be learned in there? Why is the universe, you know, doing this to me right now, what's what's going on and diving into it and realizing that all these challenges come to us only to make us stronger and help us reach the next level in where we're going in our life.
Louise Matson (20:31):
So true, isn't it, you know, things happen to you and you think, why is this happening to me? And then, you know, six months, a year, two years, then you go, oh, that's why that happened because I wouldn't be here if that didn't happen, so I love that. I love, um, do you still, um, read and listen to a lot of Deepak Chopra or have you got some other favorites.
Prue Aja (20:53):
I have found a few other teachers since then? Like, I love how Joe Dispenza, he has really connected the scientific evidence with the spiritual side, which will speak to a lot more people who see the spiritual stuff a bit too woo. I've also taught people, my methods over the years by running workshops and that too. So my next, my next step in my career is actually to empower people with spirituality and building confidence in their personal brand to then allow them to step into their vision and really put themselves out there. So not just with photos, but truly from within themselves.
Louise Matson (21:35):
I love that. So yeah, everything, you've experienced in your life it's coming together and for you to share and empower others. I just think, I came across Joe Dispenzer yesterday actually. So that's amazing that you've just mentioned that there's the universe trying to tell me something.
Prue Aja (21:55):
Right. He has a great morning and evening meditation, which is all about being super clear on what the vision and what you want to attract in your life. Actually, that's what I was going to mention in another one of your questions about if empowerment presents physically or emotionally. And, and as you said before, like it's definitely both and how the power of our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings create our actions, which also create our vibration as well. So if we meditating and visualize what we want to attract to our life, our body then starts creating that vibration and attracting these things to our life too. So that whole thing about think happy thoughts, even though it's a bit of a, you know, a throwaway comment, it's so true.
Louise Matson (22:46):
I wish I learnt more about this, 20 years ago, it's really fascinating and it, it truly every day as I look at the universe and, say I'm grateful for things, and then please help me and I want this somehow it does manifest something. , I'm learning all those things now. I love that you give, um, the Deepak Chopra book to to others to read that. So that's a really nice thing to do.
Prue Aja (23:15):
Yeah. Just to empower people to realize. And actually I've just been reading this book, um, and it's the same, it's the same stuff, but just talked about it in different ways. It's called make it happen by Jordanna Levin. She's actually, she lives in Byron Bay now and I love the way she writes. She's very funny and I just bought this book for a friend yesterday actually, and sent it to them because I thought that's what they need in their life right now. And you know, it all comes down to the same formula, but it can just be written and spoken about in many different ways.
Louise Matson (23:47):
I love that.
Prue Aja (23:51):
By the time my daughter who's 11 now. So I think when she's our age, it's all just going to be so well understood, well I hope so anyway, and that the world will be a different place to what it is today.
Louise Matson (24:06):
Yes. That's what I was going to ask you. I mean, my daughters are in their thirties, I've got a granddaughter who's about 21 months at the moment and hat do I say and do to help her get through childhood more easily but adulthood as well. It's great that you're exposing Myla to all these things so that she's aware of them and she can see through you how these things have helped you overcome your challenges and succeed in your business. I love looking at your photography. I was having a quick look at your Instagram, your under Melbourne photographer and Prue Aja. Is that right?
Prue Aja (24:42):
It's just Prue Aja I think it's to show what it is that I actually do, it says Melbourne photographer, so yeah, it's Prue Aja photography.
Louise Matson (24:51):
Yeah. I love it. So when people present to you, um, for their photo shoot, how do you feel you empower them? Do they, do they come along and they're hesitant and unsure about how the day is going to go and how the, how the photos are going to turn out when they present you or have you already done some background work with them, before they get to the day of the photographer, doing the actual photography?
Prue Aja (25:18):
Yeah, definitely. So I, probably more than 50% of the work is done before the day of the shoot. So the first thing is they book in a zoom chat with me, just so that we can connect and see you for the right fit for one another, because a photo of a person is actually expressing their relationship and their connection with the person taking their photo. So if you don't feel comfortable with the person taking your photo or connected with them, you're going to see that in the images. So that's the first thing that's important, and then once we feel like we're a good fit. Then we deep dive into understanding what their business is about, what their goals are, where they're going, so that I create photos for them that's going to last the next two to five years and really help them elevate who they are, their personal brand and confidently put that out there and that also involves all the logistical planning as well. Like if we're doing a studio shoot on location, I create a brief of what to wear, what the color palette is going to be so that all the photos are then consistent and it expresses their personal brand across all the mediums.
Louise Matson (26:34):
So by the time they step into the studio, they, they feel confident with you that you're going to do the job that they wanting, their wardrobes all sorted out. So, and then it comes down to actually taking the photos of them. Are they, you know, do they, do they warm up?
Prue Aja (26:51):
Every one hates being in front of the camera. Everyone's like, I'm not photogenic. I hate being in front of the camera and I hear that from everyone, and I think that's why I love photographing real people because photographing models is easy. They know how to move and feel confident in front of the camera, but everyone else doesn't. So that's helps me, you know it's my job to create that space for them to be comfortable and be themselves. Most of the time I'm talking to the person so they kind of forget that we're taking photos and the fact that they already are really clear on the vision or the elements are in place. It just comes down to really capturing the personality and the, that innate natural energy really it's about create, capturing that energy for the world to see
Louise Matson (27:46):
I was looking through. And it's funny how there's connections that you don't even realize there's connections. Um, you did, um, photography per Celleskin, Vanessa Baubin Perreira. I've had some, business collaborations with her she's a lovely lady. So, and Celleskin looks amazing and feels amazing. I've actually got a pair. So yeah, it's just interesting how there's connections that you don't even know exists. So, one of my clients, Lea Boyce, who I interviewed just released her interview this week and she's a Business Chick, but she's at, she was a client of mine way before I realized she was actually a Business Chick as well. So with all of these connections, which is really lovely, me being on the Perth side of Australia, I feel pretty disconnected at times to my clients, but then it's great there is actually more connection than I realized, which is really, really lovely. So Prue how do people get in touch with you and get you to help them.
Prue Aja (28:55):
Oh, you can connect with me through Instagram, which I'm sure you'll probably pop a link in the bio. You can also go to my website where I've created a checklist on getting clarity around your personal brand and how to confidently step into your vision. And if you are interested in booking a shoot with me, there's a form you can fill out on my webpage or you can schedule a zoom chat with me and connect that way. I'm also on LinkedIn as well, but I'm mostly hanging out on Instagram.
Louise Matson (29:28):
I see you are doing courses are they for photographers?
Prue Aja (29:32):
Yeah. So this year I launched a business course for photographers. Because I built what I believe to be quite a successful business. I have been empowered to buy my own apartment as a single mum and a lot of amazing things in my life and something I've always seen photographers and creative struggling with is actually building a really strong business, and because I've also previously built a business and sold it, I know the start to the end stages and the elements that you really need to have in place. So yeah, I created a business course called the go-to photographer. So teaching photographers, how to niche down and be the go-to photographer for shooting what they love. And that's what also has made me super excited about creating this, spiritual, personal development, personal branding course, which I will be launching next year, which will be more of a mastermind as well.
Louise Matson (30:27):
Lovely. I mean, I'd love to, I don't know you need to take us back to Byron Bay and have all these spiritual photography. That was amazing. I loved speaking with you. Thank you so much for sharing your story from your childhood, through your adulthood. You are truly inspirational and I'm truly honored to have spoken to you today.
Prue Aja (30:50):
Oh, thank you, Louise. I really appreciate you reaching out and connecting after all these years as well.
Louise Matson (30:56):
I mean, that's great too, isn't it? That connection stays and that's through social media I suppose. I keep in touch with what you're up to, which is really, really lovely. So thanks so much Prue. I hope to see you soon. That would be amazing.
Prue Aja (31:12):
tha would be good. Hopefully we're all flying again soon.
Louise Matson (31:15):
Well it starts and then it stops, we'll see. Thanks so much Prue. Bye.