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Art & Life with Kayla Ramírez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kayla Ramírez.

Kayla, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Hello! Hmm.. where to begin? As far back as I can remember I wanted to be an artist. Everyone in my family is super creative, so I think it’s probably in my blood. As a kid I would sit on the porch with my dad and Grandma and draw for hours, trying to emulate their effortlessly cool style, and I loved the afternoons I spent with my mom exploring museums and doing art projects together. Even though my family always supported studying fine arts and incorporated creativity into our daily lives, I never actually formally studied photography growing up. Even so, it’s always been something that I’ve been inherently drawn to. I’ve always felt good with a camera in my hand.

After high school I ended up going to school in Santa Cruz to study fine arts, but for painting, not photography.  Eventually I left the program, and finished with a non-creative degree. I think at the time I was afraid of having to count on myself as a full-time working creative; our society likes to discredit artistry as a legitimate career choice, and I let that get to my head. Ironically, the more I tried to subscribe to a more “reliable” career route, the more I found myself picking up my camera.

As the end of my college years approached, reality hit and I started thinking hard about my future. I decided that a 9-5 working for someone else’s dream was just not at all how I wanted to spend my life. I knew that falling into the monotony and comfort blanket of a long-term lukewarm career and watching my life go by was far more of a risk than going after something I felt passionate about and the possibility of failing. I was freaked out, but I knew I had to give it a shot. The day before graduation I decided I would move to SoCal and follow my heart. Suuuper cheesy, I know.

Seven years later, I am now fully self-employed as a freelance photographer, and I feel lucky as hell every day.  It’s not always easy, the hustle is definitely real, but I love it like crazy.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I mostly shoot on 35mm and 120mm cameras. There’s just something about the feeling of film that can’t be replicated on a digital format. Shooting in this way has had a large influence on my body of work, and has helped me become a better, more thoughtful photographer.  I don’t need all the fancy new digital gear. Put a disposable camera in my hand and I’m good to go.

I feel most inspired to shoot when I am traveling. I love documenting this strange human experience; the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it.  I love using my camera as a way of getting to know a stranger, even if it’s for just a brief moment to earn their trust to take a portrait. My camera helps me feel connected and present no matter where I am in the world. It’s a cool way to communicate when there’s no common language. I’ve had a lot of sweet moments because of it.

I’m also inspired by and look up to many photojournalists, and I’d like to move my career more in that direction. After having the opportunity to document the DAPL protest in Standing Rock + spending time with underrepresented communities in rural areas of Mexico as well as Central and South American Indigenous communities,  I aspire to incorporate more socio-political conversations into my work. There are so many stories that need to be told, and using the camera as my voice to advocate for those who feel unheard is the most meaningful thing I can do with my career right now. 

My photos feel like the best language I have, and I hope people who view my work feel that too. To me, my photos feel like adventure, freedom, rebellion, nostalgia, and maybe a feeling that words can’t quite describe. Because film is, well, super expensive, each frame I take is going to be a moment I find valuable. It’s something I want to hold onto, an emotion or thought I want to share, something that makes me feel. Otherwise it ain’t worth the $. A lot of people have told me my work feels dreamy, and that makes me happy too.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Oh yes. My advice is this:

( I am also taking this as a note to self – it’s a never-ending practice)

#1! Don’t let anyone tell you shouldn’t, or can’t, or won’t. You gotta believe in yourself, even if your dreams are big and wild and crazy.

Take note of what lights you up and trust in that feeling. Get to know it. Seek it out.

You have to tell fear to go f*$k itself.

Know your craft inside and out.

Don’t fall into the fads. Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s. Look for inspiration off of social media.  Find your own groove, your authentic voice, because that will never go out of style.

Make connections with others in your industry + have good people in your corner (if you don’t have them, find them, and don’t let your ego stop you from reaching out to someone who knows more than you).

Study the masters.

Do your research – being self-employed means mastering the not-so-fun parts of running a business,  like how to do your taxes and actually put money in the bank and make sure your clients are always being treated like gold.

Know your value.

Never stop learning; it’s half the fun.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Find me: www.kaylalilliphoto.com

(check out my print shop on my website – I often run donation based print sales)

Instagram.com/kaylalilli

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Kayla Ramírez
Laura Goldenberger – personal photo

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition, please let us know here.

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