Micro Going Macro: Ella Snyder on Photography, Modeling, and Growing Up on YouTube
Ella Snyder is one of 15 up-and-coming Instagram influencers selected for nofilter's 2021 Micro Going Macro list. See all 15 picks here.
WHO Ella Snyder
WHAT Fashion, art, photography
Twenty-one-year-old Ella Snyder has been posting on the internet—YouTube videos, specifically—since she was 12. There are no secrets in Snyder’s life. She documented her whole adolescent journey growing up in Boston and then her move to New York City to attend the Parsons School of Design on her channel for 120,000 YouTube subscribers to see, from back-to-school outfits to her first modeling gig for a magazine cover. In 2019, she also posted a video in which she came out as transgender.
“[My viewers] love to be all up in my business and know what's going on in my life,” Snyder tells me over the phone. “That's the whole thing about putting your life online. It's like having a diary and then making it public for the entire world to see.”
But even her most loyal followers were probably shocked by Snyder’s latest move, undertaken after a seven-month hiatus from YouTube: she left Parsons, moved to Los Angeles, and started work on a book.
The book, a photographic exploration of the trans community, was originally going to be Snyder’s senior project at Parsons. But last year she was awarded a grant from the Dazed 100 Ideas Fund, and decided to pursue the project on a larger scale. She hopes it will be in stores this November. She’s also teased other new projects, like a TV show.
It’s a new chapter for Snyder in every sense of the word. Snyder tells me how she forged this path, and where she might be headed next.
How did you get started on the internet?
YouTube was my beginning. I started my channel in seventh grade and it was the kind of thing where I really had to grapple with my parents to get them to allow me to make one, because I was literally just a kid at the time. I loved coming home from school every day and watching classic, OG YouTube beauty gurus, like Macbarbie07 (Bethany Mota) and Meredith Foster. All I wanted was to be like one of them. I started my own YouTube channel and it was this really great hobby for me as someone who didn't have much of a social life outside of school or many friends. It was a great escape. I started building this really strong sense of community with the people watching and it just kept growing.
How old were you when you started modeling?
I signed with my first agency when I was 16. I got into modeling through photography, ‘cause I started taking pictures when I was probably like 11 or 12. By the time that I was 16, I would photograph my friends who were models and my friends who I just found really beautiful and interesting looking. Eventually [an agent] became really interested in my photographs and wanted me to photograph some more of their models. He called me in for a meeting to discuss that and I ended up leaving that meeting with a modeling contract of my own and the rest is kind of history.
Models themselves are people that I've always really admired. I always wanted to be a model but I never really thought that I could be, as a trans person. I didn't have many role models to look up to and the ones that were in existence I wasn't aware of. It just never seemed like a possibility and then the day that it became a reality, it was just a dream come true.
In the last year alone, my modeling career has really, really picked up and I've started working with designers that I've always admired and shopped from and never thought I could work with. And now we're collaborating and making things, [and] they're using me as the face and the body to their clothes. As a trans person, it is really the most affirming thing to be on that pedestal.
Do you also work with brands in a more typical influencer way?
My motto with that is really, “Anything to pay my rent.” I do work with brands in the more traditional influencer sense, especially when it comes to my YouTube channel and sometimes my Instagram. When I do things like that, I always try and make sure that they're aligned with both who I am as a person, [and] who I am as a model and as a public figure. When you have those many hats, when it comes to things like brand deals and sponsorships, you really have to be aware of all of those parts and how this one project's gonna reflect on those other roles that you're responsible for.
“I always wanted to be a model but I never really thought that I could be, as a trans person. The day that it became a reality, it was just a dream come true.”
How did your first brand deal come about?
I was probably like 13 or 14 at the time and it was this skincare line based out of Connecticut. And I remember feeling so cool and special, like a true Hollywood celebrity getting sent free products. It's definitely like a slippery slope where you can get very used to being sent free stuff in exchange for talking about it on the internet. Which I think I learned very quickly because in the beginning after that, any email that I got where it was a product that I actually wanted to have, I'd be like, "Yeah, send it to me, I'll make a video about it." And then all of a sudden, my entire YouTube channel became oversaturated with branded content, which people aren't that interested in. It's been a journey to find the balance between making authentic content that people are genuinely interested in and then making branded content that I could get paid for and make a living off of but also keep it true to who I am.
Thirteen is so young! Was there anyone you could turn to for guidance or did you figure it out on your own?
It was the kind of thing that I really had to figure out on my own because growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, there weren't any other YouTubers that I knew of that were working on the same level that I was. I honestly found it very hard at the time to make YouTube friends the way that I saw other people I watched doing, because they all would live in LA and hang out and film collabs. I never had that.
What finally prompted your move to Los Angeles?
I think a huge factor in that was the breakup that I had just gone through. I felt like I didn't have anything tying me to a certain place anymore. And also the Covid pandemic and the global crisis was definitely making me reconsider basically every factor in my life and question what things in my life right now are bringing me happiness. I cannot be in school right now. I can't be spending, you know, six to 12 hours each day staring at my computer screen making projects that I'm not passionate about and also spending a year's worth of tuition to be doing that. It just didn't make sense to me, especially without access to the studios and the equipment.
All of a sudden I wasn't in school, I wasn't in a relationship. My lease was ending in New York City. I just really needed a change of scenery. I needed to not feel so trapped inside of a shoe box apartment anymore. I needed sunshine. In the past year I had signed with a modeling agency in LA and also over the summer met a TV producer and got into talks about working together on a project here. There were just all of these factors telling me that I didn't have to be in New York anymore. And then all of these factors saying, “Hey, come give LA a shot, come work out here and see how far you can take this.”
Can you tell me more about the photo book you’re working on?
At some point last year, I got a call from my modeling agent saying that I was shortlisted for the Dazed100, which is a project that I feel like I've been following for my entire adolescence. When I found out about that and found out that the way that they were running the Dazed100 this year—that they wanted each person to pitch their own project that could potentially be funded—I really started developing the idea for this book, which is not only a photographic exploration as I find my place in the trans community, but it's also this kind of collaborative document between me and the people that I meet in the trans community and photographing them in a way that feels celebratory and representative of who they truly are. I thought it would be a really good idea to get out of New York and get a different perspective for this book, because if I'm going to document the trans community, the trans community definitely does not only exist in New York City.
What else do you want to accomplish in 2021?
My goal is definitely just to continue to create things. I've never been the kind of creator/artist that can stick into one box or one medium. Even with photography, I don't know if I want to be a photographer as my lifelong career. I just want to keep making art that speaks to how I feel and what I think. I know in 2021 I'm doing a lot of screenwriting. I don't know what that will translate into. Like I said, there's been talks about a TV show project, but nothing is really solid or set in stone yet. I'd love to explore music. I'd love to keep photographing. This is definitely not going to be my first and only photo book. I also don't think that this will be the first and only installment of this project. This could potentially continue lifelong and just be this ongoing series. I just want to keep living and making and following my dreams, as cliche as that is.