Photographers LZ Atkinson (left) and Haley Karnes. Photo by Starla Smith
Photographers LZ Atkinson (left) and Haley Karnes. Photo by Starla Smith
Not all of Seattle’s youths want to invent a killer app or start their own tech company and get rich. Queen Anne also nourishes young artistic talent.

“When I was growing up, I actually wanted to be a starving artist,” says LZ (short for Elizabeth) Atkinson, who, along with her best friend, Haley Karnes, is a 24-year-old budding photographer. “I never had any desire to be rich.”

Neither of them supports themselves totally with photography — yet. Atkinson bartends, and Karnes works at a day-care center, but both hope to one day be full-time photographers.

Creative spirits

Atkinson ( leans toward the more abstract and experimental, verging on bizarre. And she was doing selfies before it became a trend.

When the free-spirited Atkinson isn’t taking pictures of herself, she’s experimenting with light painting, letting the camera shutter stay open for an extended period of time to capture the movement of light. It’s a highly creative process, and the end result often resembles an impressionistic or abstract painting.

Atkinson’s idols include Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Imogene Cunningham and Vivian Maier: “They went outside the box,” she said. “It never seemed like they were photographing for anyone else. It was from their heart — a passion and curiosity about life.”

Inspired by her grandfather, who was a banker and a photographer, Karnes ( started taking photos when she was 12.

Her goal is to capture the beautiful, little moments in day-to-day life. She is drawn to budding flowers, flying birds, children, animals and nature. To quote from her mission statement, “I want people to see life as I do, undiluted, beautiful and joyful. From the small, micro shots to the big pictures, I’d like to leave you inspired, refreshed and walking away with a smile on your face.”

Both young women grew up in smaller communities.

Karnes grew up in southern Ohio near the village, Peebles, in a log cabin that her parents built in the middle of the woods. That’s where she developed her love of nature.

Atkinson was born and raised in Grand Junction, Colo., 30 miles from the Utah border.

Her parents gave her a choice: “You don’t have to go to college, but you have to do something. Just follow your heart.”

On the fast track in high school, she started college in her senior year and graduated from Colorado Mountain College in 2011 with a degree in photography.

A year later, she decided it was time to move on. She wanted adventure, and she wanted to live in a city, but not Denver.

“I packed up my car, broke up with my boyfriend and drove around the country for two months. Went South to New Mexico, then over to Arizona, up through the badlands of Utah, across the desert to California and all the way up the coast to Portland. Somehow, I ended up in Seattle in 2012.”

In July 2008, Karnes moved to Seattle to attend the Art Institute of Seattle for videography; she graduated in 2010.

The two friends met randomly at The Jambox, Queen Anne’s defunct rehearsal studio and coffee shop.

Shooting for the masses

Atkinson has taken more than 30,000 photos; Karnes is a close second with 20,000-plus. Both hire out to shoot weddings, parties and family photos, among other events.

Karnes also takes photos of the children at her day-care job, and the parents buy them. Then she donates that money to charity.

Atkinson dresses herself and her friends in costumes and then shoots them in expressionistic and often hilarious poses.

Their aspirations have nothing to do with mansions and Teslas. Karnes dreams of traveling the world and shooting for National Geographic. “I want to volunteer for humanitarian causes and help people in need while I’m taking photos,” she said.

The whimsical Atkinson dreams of “having a variety show, wearing a slinky, red dress, singing jazz, while dueling pianos fight over me.”

She will shoot the fight and, of course, take a selfie.

STARLA SMITH is a longtime Queen Anne resident. To suggest a Queen Anne/Magnolia resident to be featured in “Starla Speaks,” email

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