Photographer and artist Tony Powell discusses ‘selfies’ and overcoming alcohol addiction.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN PERFORMING ARTS AND HOW YOU TRANSITIONED INTO PHOTOGRAPHY.
I was in school at Chevy Chase Elementary when an outreach program from Howard University came to teach us about performing arts.Afterward, they asked the kids to get up and dance to this music. Someone from the group noticed me out of 400 kids and asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for a production that had just left Broadway called “Raisin” and that’s how I started my career. I left school for the rest of fourth grade and literally toured every opera house in Germany, Switzerland and Paris. Down the road, I ended up at the Julliard School, got a degree in dance and continued my musical studies. After graduation, I went on to start my own ballet company where I wrote all the music and did all the choreography and photography. I’ve made more than 125 ballets and orchestral compositions – art has been my whole life. I saw how well my photography worked when I utilized it for my company and I noticed that it was something that I did very naturally. One day, some guy asked if I could cover his photography gig for the opening of the Ralph Lauren store in Georgetown.That was my first job for Washington Life Magazine!
YOU HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED PRESIDENTS, TAKEN MANY SOCIETY PORTRAITS AND SHOT THOUSANDS OF GALAS. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE JOB?
There have been so many, but as a photographer, working with Pope Francis. He was a really, really big one because I was raised Catholic and he’s such an important spiritual leader.
YOU HAVE ALSO MANAGED TO SNAG SOME GREAT “SELFIES.” IS THAT A PART OF YOUR BRAND?
It’s twofold. It’s really to show that I’m out there, kind of like a calling card in a way. If you need to get something done, this guy is doing it at this level.That’s one way to look at it. But there’s also a more heartfelt reason. I want my kids to see that their dad’s working hard for them, really loves them and is trying to make a great living for them. I want my kids to be proud of me.
YOU’VE BEEN OPEN ABOUT YOUR STRUGGLE WITH ALCOHOL ADDICTION. HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
After a lot of loss, the end of my marriage and having my kids taken away for a period of time, I realized I either needed to do something different or I may not be around long enough to figure this out. I prayed for the willingness and the willingness came, but the grace that I’ve been given is because of asking for help.
GETTING CLEAN LED TO A DIFFERENT KIND OF PURITY IN YOUR LIFE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR VEGAN LIFESTYLE?
I had been living a very rough lifestyle previously– I used to smoke, drink and party really hard.Two years into sobriety, I had a sudden, almost supernatural reorganization. Not drinking wasn’t enough– I knew I had to expand my spiritual life, and the veganism and then Buddhism just kind of showed up.
HOW HAS SOBRIETY AFFECTED YOUR WORK AND CREATIVITY?
I had lots of ideas when I was drinking, but often, there was no execution. Having clarity of mind now has focused my thinking and afforded me the ability to bring my imagination into reality.
TONY’S TOP SPOTS:
Spa World (13830 Braddock Rd., Centreville, Va.) is an oasis away from the stress of everyday life. It’s a 15,000-square foot Korean spa that’s so invigorating.
For every day on the go raw food, Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar (402 H St. NE) is a staple, but for a gourmet vegan meal
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw (1341 L St. NW) is the best in town.
The Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW) has been a big part of my life since I was a child. I participated in my first performance ever with the Washington National Opera when I was nine years old.
The National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard (8th & F Streets NW) is one of my favorite places to shoot. The modern undulating glass canopy is a beautiful unification of old and new.
This interview appeared in the Summer issue of Washington Life: