At twenty years old, Luis Vazquez of Luwe Photography shows as much passion for community engagement as he does for his craft.
Not having picked up the camera until a few years ago, Vazquez has managedto go from a middle schooler who “wasn’t good at anything”, to a budding Portland photographer.
Kimberly Perez, charming girlfriend, and often model for Vazquez, chimes in about his photography, “It’s really exciting watching him work. He’s really quiet, but there’s something that comes out of him that happens very fast and very powerful. His mind likes to wander, his mind is really insane! (laughs) I don’t know where he got it. He’s just very creative and smart, he’s beyond his years”.
Vazquez, one who is clearly ignited by his interests, wishes to give back tenfold to his community. He is involved with more non-profit organizations than are noted here, and is expert at combining his artistic giftswith his love for social justice. Modestly he reveals to us an intriguing story.
Tell me how you got into photography.
Actually I got into art before I got into photography. It started in middle school, it was that I kinda wasn’t really good at anything. I wasn’t good at math or into sports, I didn’t really have a place. The art room was where I was able to feel the most comfortable; there, no one could say I was right or wrong. So I began doing sculpting and painting, then in high school I joined the year book and that’s when I officially picked up the camera. That was more of just documenting what was going on for the yearbook. I was still taking art classes, and my sculpting teacher told me Ishould sign up for his photography class and that’s where I learned the whole art aspect of photography. That’s pretty much how it all began.
How old were you when you started photography?
How old are you now?
I’m twenty. I’ll be twenty-one in July, I’m pretty excited.
What was it about photography that made you choose to pursue that instead of other types of art?
For me it was another way I could communicate the emotions I wanted to express. With photography specifically, I felt like I was able to create something using images and tell a story, capture a person’s essence. It’s something I felt comfortable with, but then I always try to push out of that comfort zone, and I felt that was easy for me to do with photography.
On your RAW profile it mentions that you are inspired by abstract expressionism. Can you speak about that?
Yes, I am very inspired by paintings I’ve done. When I paint it’s usually in a very abstract expressionist form. There will be a lot of big marks with the paint. One of my art teachers told me that if you’re mad oneday or you’re sad, come in and paint with that emotion. If you’re happy let that be expressed through your paintings. So I’m inspired by expressionism, I really like big movements. I try to put big emotions into my photography. In a way I think people are able to capture how I’m feeling based off of what they’re seeing.
Are there any artists in particular that inspire you?
There’s this artist named Robert Rauschenberg and he mixes his art, such as paintings or sculptures with photography. It’s very dynamic, very colorful, very abstract. Another artist that inspires me is a local artist, Ruben Lopez. He actually did RAW Artists, and he does a lot of dark cemetery photography. Other artists that inspire me are just anyone who breaks out of the normal, commercial, pretty portrait type photography. I like things to be edgy, but soft at the same time.
Is there any particular work of yours that is inspired by that idea?
A lot of the work that I like to do is very organic. I don’t plan things out, I like to let it just happen. I’m very inspired by the environment I go into, so if I go into the city I’ll be inspired by whatever I feel in the city; if I decide to go venture into the forest I’ll be inspired by what I’m feeling in the forest. I don’t plan things out so it sometimes takes a bit longer because I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but I feel like I’m having to look that much deeper into myself to create something.
What camera and editing program do you use?
I use a Nikon D200 as my sole machine, with a 50mm 1.8. I use Adobe CS6 photoshop. I pretty much edit my work raw, then bring it into Adobe. I have another camera that I use, a sony NEX5, it’s more for cinema, for filming, but I use it for wider shots.
What are some goals you have for your photography?
Short term, I want to be able to inspire other people in my community to be able to latch onto something creative. I know there are a lot of people who are battling to keep art classes in schools. Maybe some people think it’s not as important, but I think that without it, without art classes I would not be where I am today. I want to inspire people to know that it’s an important thing. Long term I just want to be able to set a good example. I want to leave my mark on my own community. What I mean when I say “leaving my mark”, I was born in Mexico, but I was raised here in Oregon. For a long time there were a lot of immigration raids and stuff going on, I was never sure if I was going to be here the next day. I want to leave an impacting mark on people who know me, and even those who don’t know me. I want to be known as someone great.
What is your biggest career goal?
Honestly, I haven’t thought that out yet! I tend to be very in the present so I don’t think about what I have going on in the future, I just see what there is right now. If I have an opportunity to work with someone, or a big company, I will take that chance and see where it goes. That’s just how I am.
Is there a particular story that you like to portray through your photography?
A lot of work that I do is reminiscing my childhood, and children. Not children, as in I take a bunch of photos of kids, but children because they have this fearlessness to them. As kids I think we’re at our most creative, we don’t worry about anything like bills or school or responsibilities. It’s when our imaginations are just going wild and are so powerful, and I think we have a lot to learn from kids. A lot of my pieces have this shadow thing, which is how I like to portray the imaginary friend.
Have you had your photography displayed anywhere?
In high school I was part of several league art shows. This show exhibited art from the top artists at each high school. I also did the NW Oregon Conference Art Show. There are also permanent displays at the PCC Rock Creek campus of my work. Those are a campaign that I did to help fight stereotypes in the community. Those are currently there at PCC Rock Creek, they’re not going anywhere.
Do you work with a team of core people for your shoots?
I do, but I like working with people, so if different people want to work with me I will give them a shot. I do have people that I have worked with in the past that I will get a hold of to see if they want to do another piece with me. I also like working with dancers, there is something about how they’re very expressive with their bodies. I have a few friends who dance, and I really love hitting them up to do pieces because there’s a certain energy that they have that’s just already very creative. I just let them do their thing.
How do you feel about the photography scene in Portland? Is there anything that stands out to you or that you really like?
It’s exciting! Honestly, I’m really glad to be in a city that’s just so strong in the art community. There is one guy that I look up to, Rod Black, and he’s a photographer for Foto Door. I had the opportunity to mesh minds with him, so it’s great that we have such a creative city.
How did you find out about RAW Artists?
Another one of my artist buddies did the show, actually. It kind of inspired me to do it. I thought that if he could do it, I could do it, so I decided to give it a shot. He was the artist that I worked with on the cemetery shoot. He inspired me to get the courage to be out there. I’ve had my stuff, but it’s pretty much just been on social media, never anything as big as RAW.
What was your About Face moment?
Any moment where I get the chance to work with other people and get them excited about something. I work a lot with non profit organizations that help out the latino community and they do a lot of powerful work that helps low-income families. Being able to see and capture that pushes me, and makes me feel like THIS is what I really enjoy, you know? That itself, working with non profit organizations and helping capture those moments that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. I think when I’m doing that I forget who I am and I get really wrapped up in these emotions that I use in creating my photography. I get in this zone where I don’t know where I am.
You mentioned that you work with a lot of non-profits, how are you doing that?
Yeah, I grew up not so wealthy. We didn’t have nothing, but we definitely weren’t rich, either. I grew up undocumented in the US and it caused a lot of issues that I faced, being Latino. There were a lot of things I was unable to do due to being undocumented. I really felt it, as far as being Latino. I have it all squared away now. I feel like since I’m able to give back, I’m able to help out in my community, and it makes me happy. It really fulfills me. I don’t need money to do that, I don’t need to get paid to do that. It’s just me being able to know that I helped someone who needs help. I’ve worked with all different types of organizations, but being able to help with the Latino community is one of my passions.
Have you done any schooling for photography, or did you just pick it up as you went along?
I learned a lot from high school, that was my base. There’s a photography teacher there who is very passionate about his work. I learned how to do darkroom before I learned digital. We did not pick up a digital camera until we knew how to do darkroom photos because he felt like that was so important, as far as learning how we create using film. That’s where it started. That’s how I learned the foundation. Then I just put myself into it, and I have also learned a lot from other photographers that I have worked with. They’ve taught me some of their tricks, and we’ve shared ideas. I like to collaborate a lot with different artists. I’m not scared to hide my tricks, I will bounce out ideas on how to do things.
What’s your favorite part about collaborating?
Mainly just seeing different people’s styles and being able to share your own style with them. I think my favorite part is also learning from each other. I’ll learn something from an artist that I would have never thought of. It can be just a really cool mixture of styles.
What’s up next for you?
I hope that I can be part of more art shows. I work closely with a non-profit called The Oregon Dreamers, they are a group that’s pushing for amnesty as far as immigration. I plan on working with them and doing a photo campaign that will put those messages out. I plan on trying to showcase my work as much as I can. I look forward to working with new artists and more collaborations in the future. Just exposing my work as much as I can to the community.
When he’s not working as a Barista at Starbucks, Vazquez loves to explore cities and nature to find new places for his photo shoots. Vazquez has also found time to travel to Chicago as a student leader from Portland Community College’s Multicultural Center. “Leadership is really important. It’s about being that person that people can reach out to, someone to look to for help. The difference between a boss and a leader is that a boss tells others what to do, and a leader will show others how to do it”.
To find out more about Luis Vazquez, view pieces of his art, or to contact him Like Luwe Photography on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/itsluwe, check out his RAW Artist profile at rawartists.org/itsluwe, or view his collection of images on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/61497756@N04/.