Allister Ann: Capturing Beautiful Life Moments with Powerful Authenticity


February 28, 2024

Carly Long

Immortalizing a fleeting moment may seem commonplace in an era where technology allows us to capture every passing moment with a simple click, but few artists possess the ability to transcend mere documentation and capture the essence of life itself. Allister Ann, an American photographer and filmmaker based in Nashville, Tennessee, embodies this rare talent. With a discerning eye for authenticity and a soulful approach to storytelling, Allister’s journey into the realm of photography began at the tender age of 22, touring with the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars. This early experience laid the foundation for what would become a remarkable career, eventually leading her to serve as the personal photographer for country music icon Kenny Chesney.

In this conversation, we delve into the enigmatic world of Allister Ann, uncovering the origins of her distinctive style, her philosophical musings on destiny and manifestation, and the intricacies of her creative process. From her humble beginnings to her meteoric rise in the music industry, Allister shares insights into her journey, peppered with anecdotes that offer glimpses into the heart and mind of a true artist.

Black and white image of a singer on stage in front of a live audience, leaning back and singing into the mic.
Black and white photograph of two women standing in the streets of France, one wearing a black slip dress looking at her phone, the other standing off to the side with a dark blazer coat and slacks.
A self portrait of Allister Ann, her sitting on a bed looking into a mirror leaning over a vintage camera.

Interview with Allister Ann

First question — a weird one. Is Allister Ann your real, given name? Or a pseudonym? It exudes such a cool, artistic vibe. (I also get curious about pseudonyms in male-dominated creative industries; if they’re chosen intentionally to stand out or blend in.)

It is my real name, but it comes with a funny story that I didn’t know for a long time. My mother had Sesame Street on for my older brother while pregnant with me, and Cookie Monster came on playing a parody of Alistair Cooke, a host on PBS. As you can imagine, he was Alistair Cookie Monster. She changed the spelling, and Ann was a family middle name. Being raised to only hear ‘Allister Ann’ yelled when I was in trouble, I avoided it until I met Charlie Peacock one day (Grammy-Winning Producer for The Civil Wars, Chris Cornell, Switchfoot & more). While at his home going over images from a project, out of the blue he asked what my full name was. He said, “Allister Ann…that’s it.” Kept it ever since, although I still feel the connotation of being in trouble when someone says ‘Allister Ann’ out loud. 

A photo taken behind singer Kenny Chesney on stage performing in front of a live audience.

What’s your take on destiny versus manifestation, versus just staying really open to whatever the Universe has in store for you? (Like riding the wave of early tour days with The Civil Wars leading to an immaculate career with some really amazing musicians.)

I’m a very spiritual person when it comes to believing in “meant to be.” I choose to romanticize when things don’t work out that it will inevitably lead to something beautiful. There is no denying how brutally difficult it is when there is an ending, a loss, or simply knowing you have to start again. Life has a way of keeping you on your toes.

The Civil Wars was my world, and suddenly it came to a halt. It felt like a first heartbreak in too many ways. So I went to Europe for a bit and came back not knowing what life was really going to be. I was convinced that what I had with them would never happen again, and at that point I wasn’t sure if photography would still be a career. 

When I got back to the US, I got a phone call from a label that I met years prior and hadn’t worked with before. They remembered me and thought it would be a good fit for capturing behind-the-scenes of a music video. It was a two-day shoot for Kenny Chesney, and that completely altered my life to where it is today. 

The Civil Wars was my first love and that was a beautiful time for those years. There really is no comparison, but I found a new love that is the same in many ways, while also entirely different. There is no denying that things will ultimately work out. I can sincerely say that, and continue to trust however life may unfold. 

Black and white close up images of a blond, long-haired image looking upward towards a light, singing into a microphone.

How did you hone your signature style of those really authentic, film-captured moments that almost transport us back in time to another era pre-iPhone, DSLR, and social media where everything can be snapped and edited in an instant? Do you feel like your style is set in stone — or always evolving? 

“You are only as good as your last shoot,” is what always runs through my mind going on set. 

It really hasn’t been until recently, from organizing my archives after years of not looking at them, that I have grown to appreciate how my work has evolved. Some images I see and fall in love with all over again, and others I’d rather keep on the shelf. 

Shooting on film and learning to work in a darkroom is what I grew up with, so it just felt normal. My case is always full of film cameras, lenses, polaroid cameras, digital, and an 8mm movie camera. Really at the end of the day, having this tool box, I know each will do something different — and the work is figuring out what will be best for that moment. 

Digital is naturally the safety net, but with film, the tone shifts. Between my subjects, only 12 frames, and a hand focus, there is more intention on both ends that cannot be replaced. I always have a camera in my purse and car; it has been over a year now that I always carry my Leica Q2, so that I stray away from my iPhone. 

What I photograph most on my phone are cheeky things of life. 

A black and white image of Italian locals, sitting in front of a cafe, chatting and interacting with each other.

How does it feel to be capturing history, knowing that these live concerts will never be — and can never be — produced in quite the same exact way each time? Does it come with a lot of pressure? 

It sounds heavy hearing it like that, but really that is why I love taking photos — because that moment you savor is then gone forever. 

As I have gotten older, the value of a photograph has taken on a new meaning and I’ve come to appreciate it more when I do get that piece in time. 

My greatest thrill of unexpected moments in a live show is when the crowd and artist are magically united together. You just feel the energy, and sometimes if I’m lucky enough, I will capture it. It feels like the purest moment of why the artists do what they do. 

Can you walk us through your creative process, from conceptualization to the final product? How do you prepare for a tour and/or photoshoot or video?

With each assignment, it’s a different approach. 

For tour, it is being totally present, becoming aware that anything can happen. Documentary work is being immersed in the world you are in and the people around you, even in the quiet moments or at times mundane. 

For photoshoots and directing, I become obsessed with it sometimes in the weeks leading up to it. If it’s an album cover, or a specific song, I usually talk with the artist to gain insight, hear their thoughts and vision, and run with it from there. Sometimes the assignment is to the point and I love bringing humor to it, other times it can be really personal and I try to honor that. At the end of the day, you can have all the right pieces of set, wardrobe and crew, but unless you are on the same page with the artist, it won’t work.

A black and white image of people dancing outside in front of a river.

Outside of your professional life, what do you like to do? Any favorite dishes to make or books on your nightstand? 

It’s always evolving. 

My personal life is really quite simple. A friend pointed out when moving into my current home that my world feels all connected to art. Intentionality is everything to me in what you surround yourself with. 

What makes my heart sing are legal pads on my bedside table for rambling thoughts, road trips, farmer’s markets and making dirty martinis. My upbringing is really what my personal life has become in going to museums, antiquing, and watching old films. Dear friends in my life seem to be very similar in that way, with the excitement of exchanging music, films, or epiphany talks. I absolutely live for those lightbulb moments. 

Right now, life in Nashville has been filled with classes in oil painting, going to Pilates or ballet class, and learning how to pickle things before tour season begins. 

A self portrait taken by photographer Allister Ann, sitting on a wood stool holding a vintage camera, resting her head on her hand.
A black and white self portrait taken by photographer Allister Ann of her looking through a vintage camera with a white towel on her head.

You take some stunning self portraits. What drives you to capture yourself through your lens, and how does this personal aspect contribute to your overall artistic expression and storytelling?

Thank you! Anyone who knows me well knows that I really don’t like to have my photo taken. 

Early mornings fresh out of the shower and a pot of French press is when I feel my best. I’m not sure how I actually started documenting it, but it feels like the calmest moment worth holding onto. 

Otherwise, my self portraits are to finish a roll of film or wanting to remember that particular time. 

*This interview has been edited for clarity.

To keep up with Allister, follow her on Instagram @allister_ann or visit her website at


Written by: Carly Long | @bycarlylong &

All photography taken and supplied by Allister Ann.