Querencia Studio is a Brooklyn-based creative studio driven by sustainable innovation, which focuses on social and environmental issues within the fashion industry. One of the many things that sets them apart from the rest – both as an agency and an engaged & dedicated group of people - is that unlike a multitude of brands, companies, and agencies out there currently claiming to address these increasingly complicated issues (often for the sake of adapting to retail or marketing trends), Querencia does it objectively and tangibly. Among other measurement tools, for instance, the studio addresses some of these social and environmental issues using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as their basis.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate to work with them in Tokyo shooting some pieces from their UNSUBSCRIBE collection and others from their second collection, entitled G.O.N.E. FOR GOOD. The UNSUBSCRIBE Campaign draws attention to the impact fast fashion has on the world, socially and environmentally; encouraging people to unsubscribe from the consumption practices promoted by the fast fashion industry. G.O.N.E. FOR GOOD explores garment lifespan extension by utilizing up-cycled fabric, provided by non-profit organization Goodwill NYNJ.
Yoga East Austin | Press • ATX
Gabriel, founder and owner of Yoga East Austin, commissioned me to shoot his studio and more specifically, to document one their classes. Except for a few previous failed and awkward attempts at working with other studios, I had never been able to shoot a yoga class up close while it was taking place, so it seemed like an interesting opportunity. That Gabriel is good friend to a good friend, that our email exchange was pleasant, and that the studio is local and independent also factored in.
It proved to be a swell opportunity indeed. It was a welcome challenge (like say figuring out how to properly shoot in a room heated to 105°F for two hours while discovering even my elbows had sweat glands), everyone there was kind and welcoming, and it turns out all of the students attending were instructors and that the class was being taught by US Yoga champion Gianna.
I am not all that familiar with the 'yoga community' or for that matter, was not (until now) all that knowledgeable about what yoga encompasses both as a physical practice and a spiritual discipline, so much of what was going on around me while I photographed this class was interesting and felt novel. Among my various observations however, one that stands out is the group dynamic; through spoken or silent exchanges between Gianna and the class, or among the instructors/students (there is no 'ambient' music being played during the class). During those few hours - in that room, among those people - there was a refreshing and welcome sense of openness, unpretentiousness, and just (lack of a better term) comradery; a bond formed by a shared experience, effort, and wholesome aspiration (versus say hardship or adversity).
Gabriel, who was taught by Bikram Choudhury himself and has been teaching since 2007, doesn't take Yoga lightly. This is not to say he's draconian about its practice or spiritually gun-ho about it all; it’s just evident that Yoga means much to him. It has become an important guiding and defining element of who he has become.
I had a chance to catch him for a bit after shooting Gianna’s class and while talking with him about why (and how) he had founded the studio, its rather evident that Bikram (which he mentions discovering by way of friends who felt it might do him some good), changed his overall outlook on life; offered him a new direction to follow.
Now, I didn't know Gabriel before he decided to fully pour his energy, time, and finances into Yoga East Austin (and for the time being, can't say I know him that well either), but he certainly was a welcoming, attentive, generous, and positive person to be around; whatever part Yoga plays in making him that way (which I believe he would affirm is an important one), it is certainly admirable.
Doubt I'll be jumping into a room heated at 105°F to challenge my elasticity any time soon but when I do, I'll trust Gabriel and his instructors to untangle me. Not just because they're obviously competent, but because they feel trustworthy and genuine.
• Velvet Dust | Feature •
Although now sadly defunct, Velvet Dust Magazine had a nice run as an original and interesting publication. Claiming an intersection between fashion, culture, and art, it originally set a specific theme for each one of its releases. The overarching and often unusual theme would act as guideline for the entire vibe and content of the publication; the written and visual content of course, but also the formatting and the actual events they organized to launch each issue. For their “Family” issue, I contributed a piece entitled Mifa. It included the photography here featured - shot on 35mm film between Dec 2009 and May 2014 - and the following short essay.
Although - and possibly even because - parts of the process were unexpectedly challenging, working on this submission was uniquely rewarding. Even once I had chosen my subject matter – family as “the basic unit in society having as its nucleus two or more adults living together and cooperating in the care and rearing of their own”- there were a few interesting false starts and sudden left turns. The most time consuming of which came after I developed a first batch of rolls and realized that I had been instinctively photographing a family as I thought a 'family' should be presented (rather ironically, my own), when instead I came to decide that it would be more fitting (and somehow more objective) to chronicle a family as it was; just being itself, naturally.
This was only a first step in the right direction though, and merely one of content for that matter. The truly enriching steps came a bit later, when my focus started to occasionally shift away from the photography itself and moving towards introspectively (& genuinely) thinking about the theme itself; exploring what family actually is, what it means to me, what it represents.
As it goes, you can choose your friends but not your family. Something few would be able to argue against and that probably defines the life of many. Personally however, I find the statement to be incomplete because it mostly takes into account the blood/biological factor that defines inherent family bonds. This might (or not) be a generational thing but it seems to me like that restricting dimension of family has been sociologically and culturally changing, much like say the (Western) defining values that have been traditionally associated with the sanctity of marriage.
Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that ‘sangre es sangre’ and that if you’re fortunate enough to have one, family is indeed everything. There is little doubt about it, especially when we take into consideration how overarching and deep that “everything” really is. Well beyond the basic assumption that family is who you should be able to unreservedly count on, completely trust, love unconditionally, etc., there are many other (and often way more important) variables at hand, namely the essential impact our closest family has on who we become, on who we are; psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, cognitively, culturally… Yet this is precisely why I also believe that carefully choosing your friends can be a key part of shaping that “everything”. Blood and genetics set aside, if your connection to a fellow human being is reciprocally deep, influential, nourishing, caring and sincere, than it’s a relationship that probably deserves becoming part of that “everything”; not so much as another family but as an addition or even as an extension of our family. This is, in part, why I conclusively decided to present one of my extended families: les Monestialsses.
I have known Frederic and his wife Caroline for many years; they are people (and a couple) I deeply admire and care for. I have been friends with their daughter Lisa since she was born and began photographing them shortly after meeting her for the first time. I have been doing so since, every time I visit (as they reside in France). The following series is about them (even if Lisa becomes a central figure because once she was born, well, that’s what she literally became: the center of their life and family). Although I recognize that the subject matter is personal and acknowledge a more extensive body of work might have been needed to properly ‘do the trick’, I still hope this handful of selections will justly convey, at least to a certain extent, how much they feel like a family (and how much they feel like family).
I would like to greatly thank them for generously trusting my camera and I all these years, and for permitting me to share some of this work with others. While I’m at it, I would also like to thank the talented and hardworking people of Velvet Dust for their inspiring publication/community, and their excellent themes.