Elisabeth Ouni is the face behind the unruly blog A Polaroid Story (APS), where amazing anecdotes about meeting artists such as Pharrell Williams and Kendrick Lamar –alongside videos and Polaroid pictures documenting them– are told. A truly inspiring character who made her way into N.E.R.D's backstage seven years ago with her instant camera, and kept persevering in the field she believed in. Seven years later, she is working full-time for APS with a whole team behind her, and remains strongly committed to good content, which she claims is key to achieve your goals when carrying on an online project. We talked to her about adapting to the energy around artists, weird backstage situations and the possibility of a TV show. 
Do you remember the first time you held a camera in your hands? 
I always loved the medium of video and pictures, and quickly grew an obsession for music videos I would never get over of. I got drawn by the Polaroid camera merely because it was instant. You didn’t have to develop, or wait to see what you had captured: the moment was there, in your hands.
Your project started some years ago on MySpace, how have things changed for you since then? 
I started out about 6-7 years ago, around 2010 I think. Facebook was on the rise, MySpace would disappear not long later. I wrote stories on the first templates of Wordpress, based on an example of a US blogger I was following at the time. Blogging was not something that was done back then.
I shared my content via Facebook and MySpace, because I quickly understood the value of stories that went beyond sharing pictures of friends, which was what most people were doing at the very start of social media. People didn’t understand why I would write about hip hop artists, or what a blog was, and only print press was taken seriously. The iPad was not even there yet! (Laughs). I always strongly believed people would get used to reading online, I’ve been doing “long reads” from day one despite people would laugh about it at first.
What are your favorite APS memories? 
They are all special, of course, but I cherish memories of time spent with T.I, Wiz Khalifa, Vic Mensa, Tory Lanez, Mark Ronson and Kendrick (Lamar), of course.
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Has there ever been any really weird backstage moment? 
Of course, but I always look at it like this: at the end of the day, artists allow me in their space, whether it’s via a label, or arranged directly, or on the spot. I respect that, because I don’t take it for granted. So whatever energy hangs in the backstage, or whatever energy an artist has that day –shy, happy, excited, bored, angry, arrogant–, I simply work with that. At the end of the day, they give me time and space – it’s up to me to adapt to whatever energy they carry with them.
How has your perception of the APS procedure changed with the videos? 
Very early on doing APS, I was only with a plus one, and now sometimes I come in with an extra documentary photographer and a camera man! But whether I do video or not, I mostly get 10 to 15 minutes if I’m lucky. In better circumstances, or if I have a bond with the artists, or they like me, I can hang for a few hours, but even then timing is crucial. You can’t act paparazzi all the time, you need to know what to capture and what not. I’m not TMZ: I don’t care about gossip, I don’t care about click content, and I don’t care about sensationalism. Artists need to trust me first and foremost, so it’s an exercise and it takes extreme focus. I’m very strict on my team when it comes to APS. You only have one moment sometimes, and if you or the team are not focused, and become too impressed by the circumstances, crucial moments can be lost. And when I say crucial moments, I mean those little honest moments, the real ones. It’s a challenge to produce quality content in spaces where the time frame is limited and the location is badly lit, or very noisy, or extremely small. We try to work around it the best we can. It’s a very guerrilla way of working, and not everyone is up for the task, because the focus on the variables needs to be very high. The goal is always to eliminate as many existing problems on the spot as you encounter while staying visually strong. Every moment with an artist is a privilege I worked years towards to.
How do you stand out and show you're not part of the groupies trying to get backstage? 
My energy. Artists are not stupid, they know very well I’m not there to flirt or hang around because they are stars. I want to talk music or experience a glimpse of their vibe, their life on tour, the realness. Sometimes an artist just wants fun, small talk and sexy chicks; some of them are young and in the peek of their lifetime, and touring can be simply very exhausting, so I totally get it if they’re not really feeling like hanging out with me. It’s also my job to step aside if an artist just wants to hang with groupies, I let them do their thing and if we have an agreement to work together, it will come through, hopefully. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. When Wiz Khalifa was in town not so long ago, he hit me up to hang and take new Polaroid shots. So I came to Brussels with my crew and he put us all on the list, but all of a sudden it became very quiet. Turned out groupies got in the room sooner than me, and then there was nothing I could do anymore. I was standing outside like a fool with my crew, and were even escorted outside. Fun? No, of course not, but it’s part of doing APS, and I have to accept that.
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Do you get more self-gratification when picturing smaller artists or bigger ones? 
I get the most self-gratification if I can go home with strong visual content and a story that makes sense, with those rare honest moments. As I mentioned, Polaroid is a fickle medium and my artists and the rooms situations I’m in are super dependent on different variables. So if I manage to take a strong image, I’m extremely happy – it doesn’t matter if they are big or small names.
Who has drawn a bigger influence, or inspired you the most? 
Pharrell Williams. I once saw an interview with him where he spoke about the power of an idea, and the power of executing that idea instead of just thinking and talking about it. That was the strongest motivation I got to start executing almost stubbornly my APS stories, regardless of how it was perceived, if it was cool or hip.
Over time, I learned about the industry and met so many artists, and realised that it’s an unreliable business with not many guarantees, especially not for a small town girl from Ostend, Belgium. So once I met TDE and Kendrick Lamar, I was very inspired by how they were with me and how they deal with their own journey. They were real, kept their promise to me, pushed me where they could, and gave me my first video interview. Because of that, I will always be grateful.
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Which has been the most controversial APS?
Unfortunately, the last one with Pharrell Williams. I might elaborate on that one day in my book, or even in scripted series. I still hope I get a chance to re-do my last story with him, but for now, I’m letting the universe do its thing. I will not be chasing new Pharrell Williams Polaroids for now, I learned my lesson.
What three essential social media tips would you give to someone who has just begun an online project? 
Continuity, originality and vision. Without that, you are just going to copy-past content with empty likes. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have many likes or much engagement on your stuff. Good content will save the day, and you need discipline to keep it up.
Which artists are you willing to see live this 2016? 
Too many. But I’m looking forward to Allan Kingdom, Drake, Kanye West, and I want to see J Cole live again too.
What are your plans for APS? 
After six years combining APS with a full time job, I finally made the jump some weeks ago to work full time on APS and give it the care it needs to expand borders. I want to grow and expand my video stories, and become better and more intricate in what I do. I feel people are tired of the gimmick content some major platforms keep on giving, and my stories come across as real.
Besides the content I’m planning to release, there will be APS online gallery and store somewhere in 2016. Also a limited edition of blow up prints will be up for sale. All sales will go back straight into the content creation production cost, with the goal to become self sustainable. I love working with brands, but I dream of turning APS in a business where the fans support by buying APS merch or prints, so I can keep producing the unbranded quality content they crave for. I’m also working towards doing more abroad expositions.  A lot of work, but it’s time for APS to grow up! Eventually I will release a book and I would love to write a scripted series. APS would fit perfectly in an Entourage format. The story about a girl merging into the hip hop world with a Polaroid camera. Come on, sounds good, doesn't it? Netflix or HBO, hit me up please! (Laughs).
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