18 July, 2012

Interview: Mitzi Valenzuela

Mitzi Valenzuela is the brains behind the lens of Mitzi & Co, specialising in pin up, hot rod and kustom kulture photography. Based in San Dimas, CA Mitzi has shot for the likes of Car Kulture Deluxe, Ol Skool Rodz, Retro Lovely and Dice Magazine. I caught up with her on her recent trip to Australia.

Sheri Bomb: How do you think the kustom kulture scene in Oz compares to the US?

I think the scene is very similar in many ways. We all enjoy the music, dancing and the lifestyle that we immerse ourselves in the culture. It was nice to see the broad range of folks attending the show over the weekend and how much they love and support the scene.

SB: When did you first realise photography was a passion?

M: I knew I wanted to be a photographer at a very young age. My dad bought me my first camera when I was around 12 year old and I fell in love with it. I went to school for photography and received my degree and went straight into shooting for hot rod magazines. Talk about luck.


SB: Are you self-taught or trained?

M: I was trained in school and worked for an architectural photographer. I also had friends who went to the best photo schools. I worked with them in studio learning lighting and working with clients and this taught me the most.

SB: Have you always been into the kustom kulture scene? How did you get into it?

M: It kinda found me right after I graduated. My passion and love are in photography and shooting hot rods and pinups seemed to be my calling. In school I studied a bit on women feminism and I was inspired by our drive and passion for life and living in the 40s and 50s. It was truly an amazing period for women in history and the 40s is such a classic look and feel for women that photographing women seemed to be pretty natural for me.

It was more the look and idea of what a pinup presented today that got me in the scene. After attending my first big show Viva Las Vegas I fell in love with the whole culture and the people. Not only the pinups but the greasers building hot rods and the artists and musicians that made up the scene. Now in my 10th year I have seen this culture grow and I am happy to be apart of something so alive and beautiful.

SB: How do you think hot rods and pin ups compare as subject matter?

M: I think they are the perfect balance of beauty. I enjoy photographing both together because I feel I achieve the perfect combination. One is not more important then the other its about equally representing both subjects.

SB: How do you stay true to vintage pin up influences while creating original concepts?

M: I constantly surround myself with old photographs and images from the 40s and 50s. I collect a lot of books and use those as my main reference for poses and ideas for my subjects but
its really about connecting with your client and been able to incorporate there personality into
the photo shoot and recreating an image that not only represents then but brings in an element of the past or the idea of a classic pinup image.

SB: What influences you? How do you come up with a concept and then execute it?

M: Life influences me. Everything I see around me is an influence. An old building, an interesting door, a new adventure to a new place. I like to write stuff down, go antique shopping and come up with a new scene or fun photo shoot idea. I also like discovering old history and shooting in historic places . Photoshoots in old abandoned hospitals are fun. My models and clients also influence me with who they are and what they would like to accomplish.

SB: In general, during a shoot, how many pictures would you say you take to find “the one"?

M: It depends on my subject and what I am shooting for. If I am working with a client in studio and she has never modeled before it could take 30 plus photos till I get the one. If I am shooting a hot rod I still shoot hundreds of images. On average for a major shoot I am taking close to a 500 images if not more.

SB: Which one item of equipment would you say is the most important to you?

M: My lighting...I just bought a new Profoto battery operated system and I never leave home without it.

SB: Do you rely on lighting (natural, or artificial), or do you rely on computer manipulation?

M: My work is never photo shopped. I am more traditional and work with lighting to achieve the perfect image and the best makeup and hair stylist to get the right look. I work with my clients to achieve the best images possible without having to change or manipulate anything afterwards.

SB: Do you think there is such a thing as a "natural eye" or is skill and composition everything?

M: I do believe photographers have a natural eye for photography. I know a ton of photographers and I have seen a ton of work over the years. Some have evolved but you could see the talent even from the beginning. There is is only so much training you can do the rest lies in how much you enjoy picking up the camera and capturing an image.

SB: At what point did you evolve from a person who takes photos to photographer to an artist?

M: I have always considered myself an artist only because of the element of processing your own film and working in a darkroom. Photography to me is an art form because not only are you creating a photograph but the process involved to produce the photograph is what makes a photographer an artist. Sure we no longer work in labs and now choose to use the computer instead of a darkroom. But for me photography is about a creative process that was instilled in me since I picked up my first camera.

SB: You’ve worked with some pretty big names, what's been your favourite shoot so far?

M: There are no favourites in my book. Each shoot for me is a memorable one and all my models and clients are beautiful and I enjoy working with each of them. I have been lucky to travel all over the world and attend shows not only in the states by overseas so my subjects have been so different in many ways its always an experience.

SB: If your photography hadn’t been successful, what would you be doing instead?

M: I don't really know. I wanted to be a doctor at one time but my whole life has always involved art. Maybe a teacher or perhaps something still in the art field.

SB: What are your plans for Mitzi & Co in the future?

M: I hope to continue to travel and see more of the world. I want to return to Australia each year and experience a new show and shoot more pinups and hot rods. As long as I am doing my photography I will always be happy because I am doing what I love!

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