In a world where super-thin models aren’t thin enough, Alanna Ralph is capturing real women in highly stylized sets. BIANCA GOLASA CRESPO shares Ralph’s inspiring story.
Sporting a pair of cat-eye glasses, Alanna Ralph, 31, plops herself onto the ornate couch in her lush photography studio, juxtaposed next to her beauty salon, Blush Salon. Satin, lace, and Victorian-patterned material adorn the corners of the area, the well-worn hardwood floor giving the studio a comfortable antiquated feel. The abundance of props, like white feather boas and an antique phonograph, casts Ralph’s woman den in fine colors of mauve, emerald, rosy pink, and other hues used to create magnificent visual art: from 1950s pinup shots to more theatrical themed shoots involving vampires, zombies and deeply gory horror scenes.
Nestled in the heart of Philadelphia’s Fishtown section, you will find these unique beauty spots owned by Ralph. She founded the salon in 2007 and has worked vigorously to live her dream and make her vision a reality ever since.
Ralph adjusts her glasses and smiles as she recalls her early years in Fishtown, which is home to old factories that appeal to the city’s arts-minded population. “It just snowballed,” Ralph says. “I always wanted a business, even at a young age. I never really had much back then, but I wanted to be happy, so I worked my way up.”
It was never easy for Ralph, a Fishtown native. Who practically raised herself from the age of 13, which is when her grandparents insisted she move out due to her different religious beliefs. “My father passed away when I was 11 years old. And due to my religion choice, my grandparents kicked me out. I drifted a little at the age of 13 while my mom had issues of her own. I got a job washing hair at 15 after I dropped out of high school, and then went back to school at age 17.”
During this time, Ralph acquired her first major job in a 70s nightclub, one of the highlights of her life. She eventually saved up enough money to buy a house at the age of 20. After that, Ralph worked at a law firm until she had enough money to own a salon. Around this period, she was also going to school for aesthetics.
Ralph specializes in natural skincare, her first love, and photography, both self-taught professions. “I used to make my own cosmetics,” she says animatedly.
Now, as a talented photographer and the founder of a beauty salon and spa, Ralph can say all of her diligence truly paid off. Salon Blush was recently awarded second place the category of Best Facials and ranked #8 on the list of Best Hair Salons on the Philly Hot List, published by local TV station PHL17. Ralph credits her gifted staff of beauticians for this accomplishment.
With her limited free time, Ralph travels the globe, using the time to absorb bafflingly different cultures. On her most recent trip, she went to India. “Everyone is so open there,” says Ralph. “They’re so pure and free. It’s very spiritual, as opposed to America, where spirituality is usually a private thing.”
While there, Ralph fully immersed herself in the culture for both spiritual and artistic purposes. “Everything is focused on nourishing the mind, body and spirit in India. It’s really incredible,” she says. “With my photography, I wanted to capture the hard life, the real aspects of India; for instance, the dead bodies floating in the water where other people would bathe. This was the India I wanted to capture in my photography.”
Ralph travels to expand her outlook on life. “I am more humble with traveling,” she says. “I like to see and experience real life [in other places] so I come back to America with a much broader perspective.” Real. Raw. Natural. This is Alanna Ralph. She is absolutely relentless and fearless when it comes to her artistic pursuits. “Through my photography, I want to show emotion,” she says. “I don’t use models, only real people. I want to transfer what’s going on inside to an image.”
Ralph’s dark style of photography displays this philosophy. “Everyone can relate to dark art,” Ralph says. “What is art if it doesn’t move you? What’s the story behind it? That’s what I’m interested in.” Ralph recently did a photoshoot to advocate breast cancer awareness. To express her message, Ralph’s subject wore a gas mask to represent “purging, cleansing, getting out the toxins.” She wants to show the public the truth, and nothing but.
There’s another style Ralph regularly turns to: the 1950s pinup girl. Through this classic theme, Ralph hopes to inspire women to love themselves again. While photographing real women, she brings out what’s within and savors the memory with a simple photograph.
With the recent fiasco involving H&M models, Ralph is a relief. Aftonbladet, a Swedish tabloid, released details a few weeks ago about H&M’s latest attempt at beauty for their advertisements. The company made computer-generated bodies, and then edited a model’s head onto each perfect body, adjusting the skin color to match.
As if women don’t have enough to worry about with their bodies, now when they look at advertisements, even more pressure is placed on them because now, even the bodies of supermodels are not perfect enough for fashion and the media.
In a world where ‘perfect’ skinny models are the hierarchy, it’s a complete comfort to know that there are successful independent women, like Alanna Ralph, around who know that the real beauty is more than skin deep. •
From M.L.T.S. Magazine‘s third issue, released in December 2011.