Today we’d like to introduce you to Erica Joan.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Erica. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In hindsight I can see that even from a young age, I’ve always had a fascination for the human form, provocative imagery, and the weird, surreal and obscure.
Growing up I was largely alienated from pop culture due to my upbringing – I wasn’t allowed to watch any TV, nor was I really exposed to a lot of things other girls my age were like fashion magazines, MTV, makeup, and the like. My parents were both doctors and looking back I can see they were doing their best to raise educated and self-sufficient children, but contact with pop culture was limited and that alienated me. I remember feeling completely out of touch with other kids my age. I won’t say I was deprived exactly but I definitely felt a deep longing to connect and be accepted during those formative years.
Back then, not having access to a lot of the things my peers so easily could find made my fascination with pop culture even stronger. The fact that my home environment was so anti-pop culture, anti-consumerism, and exceptionally conscious of the sexualization of women in the mainstream (I remember my mom, an avid feminist, coming with me to buy Britney Spears’ 1999 “Baby One More Time” album and finding the cover to be in bad taste) had a rebound effect. I’d end up at sleepovers at friends’ houses glued to the TV screen, poring over fashion magazines and their advertisements – entranced by imagery that beckoned me to be sexier, better, cooler. At one point, I was stockpiling fashion magazines secretly in the bottom of my desk drawer at home, embarrassed they might be found. The fact that this was all taboo made it all the more compelling.
I’m now grateful for having been raised this way because I found unique ways to develop creatively and keep myself entertained. I read a lot – I remember diving deep into my dad’s weird collection of American Splendor magazines and other deviant works he’d kept from the 70’s which certainly provided a unique, comical and twisted perspective on things. I did a lot of creative writing, would draw and paint, and I spent a good chunk of time out in nature, hiking and camping. I was technically in girl scouts at one point but found more enjoyment roughing it out in the dirt with my dad and brothers when they would take me along on their boy-scout outings.
With the rise of the internet in the early 2000’s my access to art, photography and varieties of culture opened up considerably. I took a black and white film photography course introducing me up to a whole new creative medium. As I went to university, I chose graphic design as a practical way to make a career in the arts but continued taking photography courses.
After graduating with a degree in Graphic Design from SDSU, it was hard to find and keep a job that fulfilled me creatively, which was further compounded by the recession. I began gravitating toward other local artists and creatives and finding inspiration with a new supportive peer group. It’s this environment that I credit for stimulating a drive that had previously been dormant, launching my segue into photography. What began as a way to make money on the side and satisfy my creative drive started to gather some steam.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not always been a smooth road – to be honest, I didn’t really receive too much support until recently when I started gaining some traction with my work.
A lot of people didn’t understand the direction I was taking with my “hobby,” or what agenda I was promoting (answer: my own). A quick glance at my work and some of the first take-aways are the female form and sexuality, and it makes some people uncomfortable. I also don’t think many people understand where it stems from, despite it being ever-present in a majority of my non-photographic artworks over the years. While my parents have overall been extremely supportive, I remember having some less-than-pleasant conversations with my mom during the early years arguing that my work was “for the male gaze” and that it was “perpetuating the male agenda.” One of the biggest blessings of this having started out solely as a creative endeavor is that I’ve been working for no one’s agenda but my own. Ultimately, my work is for myself or is part of a collaborative visual expression with my subject, and not for anyone else.
I’ve also had well-intentioned but unsolicited advice early on suggesting maybe I change up my subject matter to be more suitable for commercial clients (translation: safe). I understand the importance of variety and of having a well-rounded body of work, however, I think the strength of my work is my style and vision, and not being a jack-of-all-trades.
Over the years, I’ve found it takes time to cultivate the right support system and network of people with constructive feedback. You first and foremost must to listen to yourself and pay attention to what you want. Be discerning. Cut out negative and toxic influences and hold tight to the positive and supportive ones. Give out the same positivity and support to others. I’m incredibly thankful and appreciative of those who have been supportive, understanding, and flexible with me – it means more than they know.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Erica Joan Photography – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My freelance photography work as Erica Joan, in a very broad sense, focuses on portraiture. I generally work within the fashion or music industries, usually working with brands, bands or other artists.
To get you a genuine answer on what sets me apart, I surveyed some friends and people I’ve worked with on why they chose to work with me. Visually, my work has a unique style. I’ve had people say my work invokes some feeling that’s hard to pinpoint – some sweet spot between emotion, sublime, surreal and sensual – which is a huge compliment. I tend to use unique locations or integrate props in a creative way, blending a vintage feel with a modern aesthetic. I have my own style of using tones and color palates to create depth, contrast and visual interest. Other times I integrate other visual elements in-camera for a delightfully tacky or surreal effect. Usually, you can find me juggling a few cameras on set: my Canon DSLR, a 35mm camera of some sort, and a polaroid. I love comparing and contrasting the different feels from each one.
As far working with me and how I relate personally, across the board, I hear I’m easy and comfortable to work with. Kiley Garcia, one of the models I work with quite frequently and who’s well versed with a variety of different photographers, quoted me as “authentic” and deemed me to be different from other photographers for “considering the model’s comfort zone and ideas.” I do pride myself on creating a safe and creative environment for those I work with. I don’t push my models or talent to do anything they aren’t comfortable with, and I want to hear their ideas and see if they have any input for the shoot. I’ve got no problem taking creative direction for a photoshoot, but if our collaborative effort makes for a better shoot, why not? I love working with other creatives, usually, the vision and work we create together is exponentially more interesting.
I also like getting a little down and dirty for a shoot – I can usually be found crouched or perched awkwardly somewhere taking a photo; often this means I’ll be leaving a shoot dirty, sandy, wet, whatever! As long as my camera is safe.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The biggest thing I’m excited about right now is a new studio space to work out of LIPPS INC (Little Italy Photo Production Studio). A team of local artists and I have been working very hard over the last 6 months to put this space together – we’ve built a cyclorama wall, put together a seamless paper backdrop system, invested in a top-of-the-line lighting system, and just made it a space we feel will be attractive for photographers and other creatives. We hosted a launch party last month that went all night, so the word is out! I’m very excited for the possibilities this studio offers me personally, and I’m more excited to see what other creatives will do with this space.
Photographer – Erica Joan (me)
Models: Olivia North, Holly Wong, Kiley Garcia, Brittany Hernandez, Tiziana des Pallieres, Melissa Babei