Q&A: Zoe-Ruth Erwin, Barista and Fine-Art Photographer

Name: Zoe-Ruth Erwin

Age: 25

Sign: Aquarius

Occupation: Barista at Blackbird Coffeehouse, fine-art photographer, audio engineer, singer/songwriter

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I went to art school for one semester and quickly realized I was spending way too much money on that. L.A. puts so much pressure on you, and it's really a mean place. I had always wanted to do something of a photo tour of deteriorating architecture. My father helped me be able to travel for two weeks doing this. I visited a lot of places, including Knoxville. The second time I came through here to visit a friend I decided to stay. My mother shipped my stuff. There is a certain consideration for your fellow man here—a type of Southern grace that's lacking in a bigger city. Even the Bible Belt Christians are kind here. I guess I was enchanted by it all.

When and how did you get into photography?

Almost four years ago. One day I got a phone call from the mother of my best friend in junior high. She called to let me know she had Stage IV cancer. I cried so hard that I ended up taking photos of my swollen face. They were totally super close-up, emo shots. Eventually I became really obsessed. I got into Lomography using an LCA 35mm point-and-shoot camera. I was cross-processing with multiple exposure. Eventually I went digital. It allows me to mutate images even more than with film.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

Before I was born, my parents agreed that they wouldn't dress me in cute stuff. I was only ever in a diaper and black T-shirt. In kindergarten they let me start dressing myself. I wore five layers of colored socks, a rain jacket, a feather boa, and weird sparkly shoes. It was a cute disaster. I think kindergarten is the only point in your schooling where kids don't pick on you for the way you dress. In high school I went through a goth-punk phase. I had my generic black notebook I scribbled in at lunch. I think I've gone through lots of phases actually. My parents were hippies, so I've always been drawn to vintage stuff, not to sound predictable. I always shopped at Goodwill and Salvation Army, then discovered the awesomeness of AMVETS when I moved here. I am drawn to particular colors—rust, burnt reds, yellows, and oranges, vibrant blues and greens. I'm definitely a texture and color person. And I think anything looks good with a belt around it. I'm almost always wearing boots.

Worn clothing:

Cardigan: Target, two weeks ago, $15

Dress: Hot Horse, one year ago, $14

Tights: Target, two weeks ago, $7

Belt: AMVETS, six months ago, 99 cents

Boots: payment for a recording session, four years ago

Necklace: My friend Jessica Ray here in Knoxville, Christmas present this year