Seventeen-year-old Phillips Exeter Academy student Rachel Luo is a style hunter armed with a camera and a keen eye. The Texas native is the mind behind “The Exeter Issue,” a fashion-centered Instagram and Facebook page that is quietly gaining a big audience. A self-taught photographer, Rachel posts photos and micro-interviews of PEA students (and sometimes faculty) in the style of the Humans of New York blog, but with her own youthful perspective. The resulting photography, often accompanied by quotes from the subject, showcases the diverse range of styles seen around the PEA campus.
I recently sat down with Rachel over a cup of coffee to talk about her inspirations, the challenges she faces, and her favorite shot of all time.
What inspired you to start this project?
My older sister is a fashion photographer. When I was younger, I wanted to be like her. She works with models and makeup artists. I tried to do what she does but it always felt too staged for me, so instead I switched to a less structured, more simple, street-style photography. I try to capture the natural essence of a person.
What attracts you to take a picture of a particular person?
I love details. If I see that a person has a really interesting necklace, I’ll stop and ask them about it. Originally I was thinking that I would photograph particular pieces, like a necklace, and then ask the story behind it. As I started taking more photos and interviewing more people, I started hearing their stories, and that is when I incorporated the quote aspect to my posts.
What challenges do you face when photographing people?
Sometimes you’ll see an outfit and think that it looks really good, but when you photograph it ends up looking really plain. Other times you see an outfit and don’t feel sure about it, but when you photograph it comes out gorgeous. For that reason, I have learned to be open to whatever happens.
How did you learn how to be a photographer?
I am mostly self-taught. I learned a lot by playing around with my camera. It’s definitely a lot of trial and error, trying different settings or tinkering with different angles. Also, I’m involved in the newspaper and yearbook at Exeter. They gave me a tiny bit of training, but really I learned more by going to a lot of events and just figuring out what works.
Who inspires you in the field of photography?
Mario Testino. Love him. Especially his towel series; I love how open and raw it is.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style is very urban. People always think I’m from New York City. My wardrobe is mostly black and white. I do like to add little accents of color. I try to accessorize with necklaces, but I don’t wear much else when it comes to jewelry. And I love heels. It’s all I wear. All the time.
Describe your favorite photograph that you have taken.
My freshman year I took a shot at a lacrosse game at Andover. These two guys went up to each other to celebrate after a goal and I captured them perfectly in mid-air, bumping chests. It was perfectly framed. It isn’t a fashion photo but I think it is the best photo I have taken.
What are your favorite places to shop on the Seacoast?
I don’t really shop on the Seacoast that much. I go home to Texas for breaks and over the summer. I do shop on Newbury Street in Boston. That is where I shop the most around here.