Coping Mechanism is a column by Mackenna Manidis exploring the care practices of creative people she finds inspiring.
Allison Gretchko is no stranger to holding it down as a woman in boy’s clubs.
She’s worked as a menswear photographer and in the male-dominated streetwear space for years now, including her current role as an in-house photographer for LA based brands The Hundreds and Babylon. In some ways, her full-time job is translating a message that isn’t designed to appeal to her personal tastes. Then, there’s the historical lack of representation for women behind the lens, too.
“I don’t feel like female photographers are very represented,” she said over cocktails one evening at Good Housekeeping in Highland Park. “Working in male-dominated industries as a creative has definitely been challenging, and I do feel that my voice, creativity, and skill are often disregarded or dismissed because I’m female. It’s definitely a challenge, but one that I happily accept because I want to see more female photographers working.”
When she was 12, Gretchko’s mother gave her a 35mm Minolta, her first film camera, but she always knew she was a creative — even before that. “I was fortunate enough to attend a public school system that offered black and white film photography classes and had a teaching darkroom,” she explained when I asked about her initial foray into photography.
“That was a resource my mom really wanted me to take advantage of, so I spent all of junior high and high school taking photo classes in a darkroom. That’s such a special introduction to the medium, that unfortunately very few people are able to experience these days.” Allison loved working with film so much that she became a Teacher’s Assistant for the beginner class photography as a high school senior, spending her free periods processing film or developing prints.
Transforming a high school hobby into a lucrative career was something else all together, no matter how passionate she was. But lack of representation didn’t deter her either. “For every photo job I’ve ever had, I never used a connection or network to secure it,” she explained. “I began working as an in-house photographer for Chicago hip-hop label, Closed Sessions, while still in college. I sent a bunch of cold emails out and got lucky with a response from them. Almost everything I’ve done is the result of a cold email or a general call-out, so my whole career is a testament to ‘you never know until you try.’”
And like most people who work in creative and ever-changing fields like media or photography, the stress of the industry sometimes weighs on Gretchko. To cope with that pressure, she relies on healthy patterns she learned from her mom and dad; Allison’s close-knit relationship with her parents has definitely helped shape her lifestyle as an adult.
“I learned a lot about self care from my parents,” she admitted. “Their parenting tactics were really well-rounded in terms of emotional, physical, and mental health and that’s something I’m forever grateful for. For my dad, that translates to getting outside everyday for a walk no matter the weather and eating a healthy diet. For my mom, self-care is time spent with her close friends, reading a good book, or donating her time to help others in need.”
Actually, much of Allison’s personal work is devoted to photographing her parents. She created an ongoing photo series with them called Parental Guidance — a deep dive into the parent-child relationship and mortality. This shared trust and love makes taking a page out of her mother’s self-care book that much easier.
“Having meaningful human interaction is a big self-care act for my mom,” Gretchko continued. “As someone who’s not as extroverted, I never understood it. But as I’ve gotten older, I realized that spending time with people who understand me is very healing to my mental and emotional health. Getting enough interaction with friends and family is a huge self-care act for me as a workaholic.”
As a woman in the world, the sentiment of her mother’s methods rings true to me, especially in a high-pressure city like Los Angeles. Women are soft and strong, tough and tender, we navigate with heart and brains. But, at the end of all of it, we still need each other. Allison’s final words on being a working woman take their direction from that thought. “I still sometimes find it really hard to have a voice that is heard and respected,” she acknowledged. “I hope that my career hopefully inspires another girl to pick up a camera and keep that fight to be heard going.”