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you can be whatever you want


I was raised in the culture of “you can be whatever you want when you grow up” — which seems to be the bane of every millennial’s existence. Until recently, I don’t think I fully understood that statement. Some take it to extremes and think that even if your IQ is 50, as long as you try hard enough you can be president — if you want it badly enough. Some, like me, thought it was meant to say that everything in life is a choice and you have the freedom to be president since gender and race inequality are supposedly a thing of the past and we live in the “richest country in the world”; read: opportunities to be whatever you want. Here is a twist though — what if it means that you can literally wake up one day and be something you weren’t the day before? What if speaking it into the universe makes it so?

One of the things I have learned along my 5-year journey to truly become a professional artist is that “faking it til you make it” is a real thing, and it’s a lesson I couldn’t seem to keep down until this past month, when it basically bitch-slapped me back into reality. I experienced a few months of success in 2011 — my work was published in a calendar, I was quoted by the Wall Street Journal, had my first art show and sold my first print. The thing that got me to that point and through the workload of getting my work show-ready was the fact that I was calling myself a “Photographer” with a straight face for the first time ever. I had never ever before recognized or labeled myself with the title of “Photographer.” I had always referred to myself as someone who just “does” photography as a hobby, never anything with a real title. When the pace of my success came to a grinding halt, I also stopped referring to myself as such — maybe I wasn’t worthy of the title, maybe it’s because I got distracted and stopped creating. I honestly don’t know why and I didn’t realize I even did that until I really looked back on that time in my life.

I tell you this because after my car accident in September, being unable to work, people would ask me what I do and replying back with “self-employed” never ever cut it. What do I do? I finally got sick of humming and hawing and started telling people straight out — “I’m a photographer.” I felt like I was telling a white lie because sure I might be an amateur photographer, but I have yet to really achieve success and recognition. It didn’t hit me until I was driving up to Apple Hill to meet up with my friends that there just HAD to be a reason for this accident. Things like this don’t just happen to good people for no reason, and yes I am- unapologetically — one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. As I was hitting my favorite part of the drive up, where you can see over the entire Sacramento Valley, it dawned on me — what if this happened to push me into really BEING a photographer? I’ve been saying I’m one, and I love and practice photography. Why am I not a photographer in my own head? What the hell is the difference between saying I am one and being one at this point? What if this accident was a reminder that I need to quit wasting my precious creative juices on work and refocus them onto walking the walk. I quit my job 6 months ago for a reason — to be more creative, and here I was working like a dog to make money and fund someone else’s dream, screw that. It’s time to be a Photographer, “capital P.” What’s really stopping me from calling myself and being one? Success? If I can succeed with just a few months of work and half the effort like in 2011, why not go for broke and really live out my creative dreams?

By the time I got to Apple Hill it sunk in — I am a photographer. I AM a Photographer. That is what I do. I am a Photographer, and I run my own blog and YouTube channel — and that is what I shall do. I’m so done living other people’s dreams. I want to live mine now and there truly is no time like the present and I can’t afford to keep being reminded by the universe. I can’t afford another physically painful message from the powers that be telling me to stop wasting my time on fruitless efforts.

You can be whatever you want, when you grow up.

This is me growing up. I am grown up, and I am a Photographer. It’s finally time, and thank God, because 29 years is way too long for me to just finally “get it.”

Valerie Figueroa, Photographer


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I wish they made maps for life.

scenic route

Saying I’ve been in a rut would be putting what I’ve been in, lightly. Whatever it is that I’ve been in, it hasn’t been fun and I’m not quite sure where I’m going now or how I’ll get there- I’m lost. I’m learning very quickly that I’m just not good at some things. School. Balancing life/work/health/education all at once, while retaining my sanity. Definitely not good at coping with extreme stress. I’m not great at being consistent.

The only things I’ve ever been good at are photography, and getting back up after being knocked down. I guess you could say that though I lack focus at times and change my mind often, I am persistent about rebounding from my failures, and oh boy have I failed lately. I’m finding myself basically back at square one in almost every aspect of my life and its really hard to be back here. Its kind of like being a drug addict returning to AA/NA after relapsing, relapsing so hard you can barely lift your head to speak of your struggle.

That is where I am right now. I’m trying to get back up and keep fighting for what I want out of life, although right now I’m not quite sure what that means for me. I guess right now it means focusing on surviving, maybe even thriving at work and picking up the camera again and remembering what I love about life, and being here in the moment. Sorry this post is so vague I just don’t really want to bore anyone with my whiney problems, trust me- my fb & twitter pals hear me bitch enough about my shitty situations lately. I just wanted to post and say although I don’t really feel like getting back up and trudging along, I am going to- because I have to, for my own sanity I have to.


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Music Monday : Kito & Reija Lee

Like most people my age I rely heavily on pandora for entertainment, in fact the only time in the past 2 years I haven’t listened exclusively to it is when the pandora mobile app lost its high quality for a round of updates. Well this gem of a duo recently popped up on my queue and I fell in love with these couple songs. Listen, enjoy & you’re welcome.

Kito feat Reija Lee – “Sweet Talk”

“Run For Cover”

“This City” (this might be my new favorite song)

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Define Your Style

photograph via Rus Anson, found on my newest source of inspiration

This week I began a portfolio development class at my local college to help me prepare my work for the application process to Art Center (and some back ups). Our first assignment is all about defining our style and how we would describe ourselves or our work. When it came time to sit down in front of a blank Word document and explain my artistic ego I got a little stuck. Honestly I haven’t had to be this introspective about my photography in probably forever, especially not for an audience who is going to have some serious feedback (my professor intimidates me so much). I figured I’d share part of these “workbook assignments” (basically assignments designed to help us develop our portfolio workbook) with all of you and try to brainstorm here before I sit down in front of the almighty Microsoft Word and spill my guts. Who knows, you may be in the same spot I am in your journey and may need the same guidance I do. I hope I can help!

Assignment #1: DEFINE YOUR STYLE

What single source can you pinpoint that inspired you to become a photographer? Was it a print, a style, one image? Identify the component that struck a cord deep within you.

When I sat here and thought long and hard about what began my entire photographic journey I had a difficult time pinpointing one specific object or image. I got started because my dad showed me his SLR and how to use it (like a 5 min intro and then he basically just let me loose) and I just started experimenting. At that time I still had no idea who Ansel Adams or any other photographers were.

The first time I can remember taking pictures I was happy with and meant to give any artistic meaning to were the ones from our trip to Puerto Vallarta when I was 17 and had just started senior year of high school (when I started taking photo classes). I still remember 2 shots that I love to this day. One was of the view out of my plane window as we were landing for our layover in Tuscon, this being my first time past Carson City I thought the landscape in Arizona was so Mars-like I just had to capture a small rocky mountain range as we were landing. I’m not sure if my film got slightly exposed because of all the x-rays thru security or if it was just because the film was cheap, but the colors I got were amazing and so otherworldly, like accidental lomography. I guess you could chalk it up to good composition and a technological fluke. The other shot I loved so much I still have on my inspiration board is of a resort just north of Puerto Vallarta. After a long trip through seemingly nothingness you end up in this hilly windy road surrounded by trees and weeds and land in this secluded resort. After walking through a zoo, yes a zoo, and a water park you come to an infinity pool and a half cabana half resort restaurant overlooking nothing but blue ocean for miles. I took a shot of the walkway entrance right as you caught the first glimpse of water, its like you’re walking into paradise. If I had to name a print those would be them.

Describe yourself as a CREATIVE? Describe your personality, your work ethic, your humor, strengths, your attitudes, and the kind of images you enjoy making. What are your unique talents, conceptual abilities, and skills?

Though it may sound egotistical what draws me to photography isn’t necessarily about the photograph, its about how it makes ME feel, not anyone else. Maybe that’s why I don’t really like to photograph people, good, deep portraits require you to connect to the person on a way deeper level than most people realize, it requires an understanding that after years of trying I still have yet to master. I am generally slow to open up to people on a deep level and often have a hard time understanding others on a personal level, I guess I just have a hard time connecting to them and with my work its not about the people, its about me. (maybe this is why I like cemeteries or maybe its just my morbid curiosity lol) Throughout my work you can see my mood in which I shot something. Some are dark, some are innocent, some are adventurous, some just soak in the beauty and let you gaze (which is what I do when I’m around nature I just sit there and take it in). I guess you could call my work moody although most times its not very obvious what I’m feeling unless its dark or nostalgic. I guess its passion that drives me to photograph, so that I can express myself in the way words can’t. I’ve never been great with my words anyway. It’s only when I look back on why I do photography that I realize how self absorbed I sound, but if you found something that acted like natural therapy, wouldn’t you do it too?

Photography is the only thing that gets me to skip meals or skip sleep. It’s the only thing I’m proud of yet humble about when receiving compliments or criticisms. I’m always my own worst critic yet I’m able to give others detailed constructive critiques of their work. I love learning new technical hands-on type of skills in the darkroom and in the field and I guess my natural knack for science finds a home in this. I like seeing how far I can stretch the capabilities of film because I truly believe film still has a place in photography and not just for the art world. I thoroughly enjoy spreading my love of film and standing up to defend it whenever possible. I love experimenting and stepping out of my comfort zone and having the results be so perfect I can’t wait to show them to someone. I have so many ideas of what I want to shoot yet I’ve done maybe a handful of them and the rest I just shoot as I come across them because once again, my photos are ruled by my emotions and my general mood at that moment, and sometimes opportunity and impulse.

Who is your Audience? How would you characterize where you want to end up? In order for you to create an effective visual identity you need to first know what you want to say.

Right now I guess my immediate audience consists of my family, my readers- that’s you :) – and will soon consist of the admissions advisers at various art schools across California. Answering where I’d like to end up is difficult for me because I’m not quite sure on the specifics of that just yet, all I know is that I don’t want to wake up in 30 years and regret never perusing my love of photography full-time while I still had the chance. To put it bluntly, I want to eventually be paid to do what I love. I want to show off the beauty of the world and have my work hanging in galleries, on peoples laptops and smartphone cases/skins, and in their homes. I want to make people love the things I love through my photographs of the things I love – the beauty of decay, nature, life, and especially the beauty of death.

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Year-End Tally

damn, its been a good year. :)

I’m a big list-maker, its the virgo in me I guess. Anyway like most virgos I have a running list of resolutions and at the end of each year I like to cross things off and see how I’ve stacked up, only recently (like the last 3 years or so) have I actually been able to cross off 50% of my resolutions which is huge for me, so lets see how I did this year.

  1. Buy that film scanner I need.Purchased in November!  :)
  2. Get a domain & get serious about doing this blog (consistent posting) thankyouverymuch
  3. Donate a couple prints to charity for an auction.
  4. Participate or have my own (that’s pretty ambitious) gallery showing of my work for a Second Saturday event.Participated in the Sac Vox Second Saturday art show in March!
  5. Get my print store up, running, & prints into peoples homes! it was up until goodsie imposed a $15 dollar monthly fee, my only purchase was outside of the website anyway so I decided to close shop until I could afford it…
  6. Work on my portfolio (this is on my list every year it seems)Well its nowhere near done but I did make a few key decisions about my portfolio, at least the academic one, the real work begins when my Portfolio Development class begins in January. 
  7. Make some serious progress on my book project!

Well 5ish out of 7 ain’t so bad!! :) I feel like I’ve accomplished so much more that wasn’t on that list, lets hope the trend continues in 2012!