Behind The Lens: Neon Theory

Alyssa Cavanagh is the creative mind and photographer behind Neon Theory, an Adelaide-based photography page.

Specialising in fashion photography, Alyssa is making quite the name for herself through working with many labels and magazines.

Taking her work international, Alyssa has also photographed musician Troye Sivan (ah-ma-zing), and is also getting her work published online at US Vogue (double ah-ma-zing).

We sat down with Alyssa to find out more about herself and her work.

So tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Alyssa Cavanagh, but I’m known as Neon Theory in the photo world. I’m a professional portrait and fashion photographer based in Adelaide. I named myself Neon Theory as a bit of a nod to my love of 80’s pop culture and the neon lights of American style cocktail bars and diners. I enjoy the anonymity of my creative name, I generally like to let my work speak for itself and keep a bit of distance from my real life.
I’m actually pretty boring IRL, I enjoy the simple pleasures in life, love cats, watching Korean and Japanese television dramas on Netflix. And nothing gets my heart beating faster more than entering a stationery store, I’m kinda obsessed, I think one day I want to design a Neon Theory stationery line…

Oh wow – we’ll be looking out for that! So when did you first get into photography?
I started studying photography at the Centre for Creative Photography in 2010 after completing my degree in Graphic Design because I decided graphic design wasn’t really for me, I wasn’t really digging it at the time.

I think to really understand when photography first piqued my curiosity, we have to go way back to 2005, I remember picking up my first camera, it was a shitty 4mp DSLR and I took ‘artistic’ self portraits for my digital imaging class at high school. I remember learning about Photoshop and everything just seemed so magical at the time, I remember thinking, ‘OMG I can change the colour of the background WOW’.

I guess in the years following that I couldn’t really shake off the feeling that I wanted to pursue photography professionally. I would pour over magazines with my jaw dropped at the sheer beauty, the richness of the tones and textures in glossy mags, and I knew I wanted to learn how to make photos like that.

It’s only when I started studying at the CCP that I learned about the science of image-making, about light, prisms, historical processes, darkroom chemistry and digital sensors. I really enjoyed the whole process, and the gratification of thinking of an image and translating it in picture form. I would dress my poor friends up and drag them into the studio and take a billion shots.

My Photography took a bit of a backseat for a couple of years until I had an eureka moment in 2013 and Neon Theory popped into my mind. I knew I wanted to pick up my camera again have a proper shot at running a photography business. And now here we are!

Where do you draw your inspiration?
I am inspired by everything around me, music, colours, sounds, experiences, people and I enjoy the process of translating that into my work, it’s hard to explain… sometimes I’ll see something beautiful and completely candid and it will spark a Pinterest rampage trying to make sense of what’s swirling around in my head. I’m also inspired by mega photographers from around the world. My favourites are Miles Aldridge, Gregory Crewdson, Nan Goldin, Mario Testino, Juergen Teller and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few, I could go on for days!

What projects have you been up to lately?
As a freelancer my work is never predicable, one minute I’m shooting an event, next minute I might be planning for a bigger campaign and then I’ll shoot an actor’s head shots. I’m absolutely loving it. Right now I’m working on shooting for a local label, model portfolios and salon campaigns. I’m also working a lot with a new local modelling agency, Rin Models, who specialise in representing dark skinned models; I work together with the owner Juach Cyer to unleash our creativity on test shoots.

I love working with new models and teaching them how to relax in front of the camera, and they always relax in between a fit of giggles! I have a lot of fun with them and show them that the modelling world isn’t as scary as it’s made out to be.
I do a lot of work with Azalea Models as well, and we have an awesome editorial coming up that we’re so pumped about, but I can’t reveal any more details.

Favourite on-set moment is?
Going to Universal Music HQ last year and photographing Troye Sivan! What a beautiful soul, he’s absolutely killing it right now in the music industry! I had 30 minutes total to meet him, chat briefly and try not to lose my shit while standing in front of someone I admire heaps and attempt to take decent photographs. Luckily those photos came out really well and they absolutely exploded on the Internet, with his small 20-something-million combined online followers.

Oh, and getting my work publishing online on US Vogue! That wasn’t really an on-set moment but it happened only a week ago, they published a photo from an earlier test shoot with Mary Akech from Chadwick Models/Rin Models. It’s definitely one of the coolest things to happen to me, a moment that rocked my world. I spent some time crying on the phone to my mum, I had no idea that is was getting published, I just remember getting a text from Rin Models with a link to and my mind kinda went blank.

And where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’m no oracle, but hopefully loaded with cash, on a yacht with some babes. Well not so much the yacht, but hopefully making some dollars from creating art that I love. Maybe I’ll land a commissioned cover shoot with Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar? Y’know small goals like that… Most of all I want to be making art, and meeting new and interesting people all over the world because that’s what makes me ridiculously happy.

All images provided by Alyssa.




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