side note: I quit college and did not receive "extensive academic training." Most of my photo training came from friends and workshops.
Your website’s biography mentions that one of your first big photography projects was documenting the complex lives of sex workers. Can you tell us how this project came about and what you found compelling about the experience?
I began photographing the lives of sex workers when I landed a job at the marketing department for eleven strip clubs in San Francisco, CA. It's a subject I had been looking into working on for years. When asked if I wanted to take "sexy" photos of the dancers for our social media pages, I jumped on the opportunity knowing that this would give me a chance to get to know the women and the types of clubs we had. For my project, I chose to focus on the Roaring 20's strip club where many dancers got their start in the industry. I was interested in knowing what their motivations for becoming a dancer were and how they felt about the work they were doing. What I found the most compelling was that the women come from a variety of backgrounds and their motivations were all over the place. We, as a society, have an image of what a stripper looks like and the women I met broke all of those stereotypes.
Your biography also mentions that after you returned to Mexico City to rediscover your family roots. What does this mean to you and do you feel like you have done so?
Before I was born, my parents migrated from Mexico to the US and even though my parents brought my brothers and I back to Mexico twice a year, I had always wondered what I would have been like had we stayed in Mexico. I also felt a need to understand my parents' background. What was their life back before they moved to the US? When I finally made the move to Mexico, I got in touch with family members- many who I had never met before. Through them and visiting my parents' hometown, I have collected bits and pieces of information that helps me understand my family's history.
How has rediscovering your family roots affected or driven your career?
Even though my projects are not family related, it has motivated me to explore and get a general sense of the issues facing the country. In turn, it has pushed me to pitch stories all over Mexico.
What project did you conduct with the assistance of the International Womens Media Foundation?
With the support of IWMF, I worked on a couple of stories with reporter Emily Green: the effects of climate change on coffee, migrants planning on heading to the US despite the asylum crackdown, and the role of the evangelical church in gang life in El Salvador.
What theme or purpose fuels the kind of projects and work you choose? Why is this important to you?
With my personal work, I choose themes that speak to me on a personal level. With sex work related projects, for example, I felt that I related to these women somehow. They are, in a sense, rebels of society and I was a total rebel when I was a teenager. I did drugs, was promiscuous, was running away, etc. With strippers, I wondered why they had taken this step to become a dancer and why I hadn't. It was important for me to explore this because it gave me a better sense of who I am and in turn, I was able to break stereotypes with my images. With assignment work, I tend to pitch stories related to migration or women's issues because it's important to get these stories out there and hopefully bring some change to the world.
At what point did you begin to realize your career as a photographer was in fact, a career? How did you get to this point?
While I began taking photos at around sixteen years old, it wasn't until I began shooting long-term personal work that I started taking photography seriously. When I decided to freelance, I had no idea what I was doing so I contacted photojournalist friends who helped me put together a portfolio to show editors. When I finally made the move to Mexico, it took me eight months to land my first editorial job but work was still slow. It wasn't until I won the Getty Images Emerging Talent Award that I began landing jobs consistently. This is when I knew it had turned into a career.
If you could come up with a project that had no funding or logistical limitations as your magnum opus, what would be?
I'm not sure if there's anything specific in mind but I am interested in exploring the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. I'm headed up there in a few weeks to explore the cultures of the Mixe indigenous community. Don't want to share too many details yet.
Can you share a short anecdote from your childhood that still affects you in some way?
When I was younger, my dad worked as a computer engineer for some major airline companies. One of the benefits he had was majorly discounted airplane tickets and we were able to travel all over the US. At some point, he was transferred to the South of France where we joined him and traveled throughout Europe. This will always stick with me as I think it's where my love for traveling and exploring came from.
If you could go back in time and tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I would have told myself to skip art school and study something useful like Latin American studies.
What is the hardest project you have ever worked on?
The hardest project that I have worked on is the project, Eden. It is an ongoing project about a sex worker turned mother and yoga teacher that spans eight years. It is difficult not only logistically- she lives in Alabama and I live in Mexico- but also emotionally. We have become really close friends and I would hate for her to think that I'm only around because I want to continue photographing her. Thankfully over the years, our relationship has evolved where we make sure to communicate each of our wants and needs. It is also challenging because she has gone through some really rough periods ie "coming out" to her mother as a sex worker where I really had to push myself to take photos when she was distraught.
What makes a good photograph in your opinion?
A good photograph is an image that evokes a strong emotional response. Things like light, color, and composition are also important but secondary, in my opinion.
Can you recall one thing you learned in your academic training that has stuck with you as memorable?
One of my professors told us that we don't need to travel far in order to create a meaningful photo project. Sometimes it's best to photograph what's in your backyard. Explore and get a different perspective on what you think you know.
What was the most exciting photography project you have ever worked on?
Same as question 13. This has been the most rewarding project that I have worked on and one that continues to excite me.
Can you list some of the places you have traveled to photograph?
Oaxaca, Chiapas, Queretaro, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Mexico City in Mexico. San Salvador and surrounding towns in El Salvador, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Orlando, Gibsonton, Sarasota, etc
Do you ever feel uncomfortable with your human subjects when taking photographs? Can you provide an example?
Yes, I am uncomfortable when men I am photographing hit on me, when they think that I am only there with my camera to spend time with them. I was once assigned to photograph a family of wrestlers. The father began hitting on me even though his wife and kids were nearby and it made me extremely uncomfortable. After he grabbed my hand, I smiled politely and walked away. I wasn't sure how to navigate the situation since I needed to continue photographing him. In the end, I stood by his wife when he was near and made sure never to be alone with him.