Alejandro (Alec) Gonzalez is a young and very talented photographer whose work has been featured prominently all over the internet. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico but now stationed in Bellflower, California Alejandro is the oldest of two children and at 21 has already accomplished a lot of incredible goals that any artist would envy. From having one of his photographs be selected for the cover of a Buzzfeed article, to being featured as the cover artist for The Flagler Review literary magazine, and also landing on Tumblr’s radar page and their “Photographer Spotlight” multiple times Alejandro has had mass exposure for his work. I had a lovely chat with Alejandro through emailing back and forth and he graciously agreed to this interview so without further ado, here is my personal interview with the amazing Alejandro Gonzalez.
Josh: Could you tell me what first inspired you to start photography?
Alejandro: I took Photography fundamentals in my junior year of high school and I took the year class in my senior year. The only reason I took photography was because I wanted to walk around campus with a camera and take pictures. During my senior year I had a friend named Vincent and we would take pictures every single day. Back in high school I was more of a freelance photographer and Vincent would model for me. I was in love with Vincent and one day he just passed away, literally. One day we were hanging out and the next day I received a phone call that he was in the hospital. He had a brain aneurysm and a vein popped in his brain while he was in the gym and never woke up after that. I’m not happy that he died, but I’m glad he didn’t suffer. After his death I stopped photographing for 8 months and after a long break I decided to start a 365 project. I started my project on April 2013, but that only lasted 14 days so I started again in May and from there I just kept going. I started a 365 project because I needed to keep myself occupied and fill the void that Vincent left. Once I overcame his death I decided to keep photographing because I really wanted to improve and accomplish the same things photographers my age were accomplishing.
J: Your photography is very dark and almost moody. What goes through your mind when you create a picture, and what do you hope to convey with your photographs?
A: I try to give my photos a dark feel to them. I usually sketch my photos before I start photographing them, so the only thing that goes through my mind is the concept that I’ve sketched because it’s very important to me that my final image looks like the concept I sketched. I want to convey whatever it is that I’m going through. I’m sure I’m not the only person who experiences heartbreak, depression, and happiness so I photograph according to what I’m going through. I try to express how I feel through my photography and hope that people will connect with my work in some way. My 365 project was kind of all over the place because sometimes I felt happy and sometimes I felt sad. This year will be different and I can’t wait to share my new work.
J: Would you consider changing your style or do you simply plan on molding it further?
A: I don’t plan on changing my style I just plan on improving it. I believe I have a creative mind and now that I’m regaining my confidence I plan on creating some pretty cool photos. I love getting creative and building/buying props and conceptual photography has allowed me to combine all of those things in one. However, I have been looking at portraiture photography so maybe I’ll give that a try
J: Almost all of your photographs feature you exclusively as the central figure. Is there any specific reason for that?
A: I guess I’m a bit of a narcissist and I’m not ashamed of it. I love myself and I feel comfortable in my own skin to take self-portraits and post them for everyone to see. The reason I’m the central figure is because I have no one else to model for me. When I first started my 365 project some of my friends would model for me, but now they’re doing their own thing so I had to learn how to take self-portraits. I had to learn how to be independent and I think it’s better this way because no model can ever portray the feeling I’m trying to convey. My work becomes even more personal when I’m my own model and I love that.
J: What is your editing process like and what is your preferred mode of taking your pictures? i.e. what kind of camera or lighting do you prefer?
A: My uncle bought me a Cannon Rebel T3i as an early high school graduation gift so that’s the only camera I’ve ever used. It’s a pretty good beginner camera and I’ve managed to create all my work with it. Maybe I’ll upgrade next year, but for now I have to work with what I have and so far I think I’m doing alright. The only thing I have upgraded are my lens, I went from a kit lens to a Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. There’s nothing more that I love than photographing on location with natural light. Natural light just makes everything look more beautiful and natural, but I also use studio lights every now and then. Before I start editing I make sure I have some snacks, then I blast my music and get lost editing. I don’t like to be bothered while I’m editing because I like to focus on bringing my sketch to life. Editing is by far my favorite part of creating new work, sometimes I even enjoy it more than photographing. I have an old computer so editing usually takes longer than it should, but every photo usually takes anywhere between 4 – 7 hours (sometimes more.) When I was working on my 365 project I would photograph, edit, and post the photo on the same day and I usually wasn’t satisfied with the colors the next day. Now I post my work a day after I’m done editing it because I like to give my vision a break and make sure that I’m satisfied with the colors. It’s sort of like typing a 5 page essay, I mean, I wouldn’t turn in an essay I typed the same day because it would be filled with misspelled words and other mistakes. I need time to proofread it and I apply the same rule to my finished work.
J: You have been featured prominently on Tumblr’s radar and home pages. Does the exposure put more pressure on you to deliver photographs more frequently or at a higher quality?
A: I have actually been featured 5 times on Tumblr radar. I literally went to sleep with 270 followers and woke up with over 1,500 followers the first time I got featured. When I woke up I couldn’t believe it, I thought my phone was acting up so I decided to check my computer and after I confirmed it I went crazy. I was on photo 70 when I got featured so it added a lot of pressure on me. I started my 365 project to keep myself occupied each day, but when I got featured I felt the need to improve because now I had an audience. Then I got featured again, and again, and again. I had reached over 11,000 followers and I wasn’t even close to finishing my 365 project. Then Tumblr added me to their “Photographer Spotlight” page so I got exposed even more and I started gaining new followers daily. Other photographers usually get noticed when they complete their 365 project, but getting noticed while I was still working on mine added so much pressure on me. Having that many followers sort of destroyed me and I started to look at my photography in a negative way. I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t satisfied with the daily photos I was creating. I lost my confidence because I knew people expected more from me and I felt like I wasn’t delivering. The whole point of a 365 project is to improve daily and to have fun doing it, but I turned it into a competition with myself. I later realized that I was destroying myself and I decided I shouldn’t be taking my project so serious. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to make crappy work because that’s the only way any artist will improve. I started a 365 project because I needed to keep myself occupied and fill the void that Vincent left, and when I was half way through my project I realized I had accomplished what I wanted in the beginning. I was a mess before my project, but creating daily work really helped me heal. It helped me overcome my friend’s death and I was no longer depressed so I really had no reason to continue with my 365 project. I also decided to end halfway because work and school were getting in the way.
J: Do you have a favorite photographer or artist that you look up to? If so, how do they inspire your own work?
A: I don’t have a favorite artist at the moment, but when I was working my 365 project I pretty much looked up to Flickr photographers. Kylie Thompson, Nicolas Scarpinato, Ben Zank, Marcus Bitsch, and Logan Zillmer all inspired me in different ways. They each had something I wanted to learn from them so I developed my own style through their style (If that makes sense.) Thompson and Scarpinato had that dark moody feeling I wanted to learn how to add to my photos. Zank inspired me to learn Photoshop, Bitsch inspired me to use inexpensive materials (like cotton and cardboard) and create cool props and Zillmer inspired me to keep my creativity alive. I’m not saying I’m a mix between all 5 (Because I’m not) but they each influenced my style and made me the photographer I am today.
J: I definitely want to say congratulations on having one of your work be selected to be the cover photo for the Flagler Review Literary Magazine. What did getting the cover mean to you?
A: Thank you. I’ve never had my work published so getting published for the first time AND making the cover was a big deal for me. Seeing my photo as the cover really boosted my confidence because I used to think that my work wasn’t good enough (for reasons that I stated above.) Making the cover made me realize that I have a lot potential and that I just need to believe in myself. I’m very happy that the editors liked my photo enough to make it the cover. The cover is what everyone looks at first and I think it’s pretty amazing that a tiny part of Florida has seen my photo. The whole experience of getting published was literally the cherry on top of my year and I’ll never forget Flagler for giving me that experience.
J: What are some of your long term goals with photography?
A: My 365 project has come to an end and I would have loved to finish it, but life got in the way. However, I still managed to improve my photography and I believe that’s the main purpose of a 365 project. I still have over 100 concepts that I never got to photograph so I plan on photographing those concepts this year. I also plan on posting one or two new photos every week because I want to maintain an active blog and keep improving. I have 5 different themes I want to tackle this year and I’m going to start with heartbreak. If all goes well I plan on having my little art gallery by the end of the year; I already have the tittle and the cover for my future gallery so now I just need to work hard to make it happen. Tumblr exposed me a lot and I’m very grateful for that and now it’s up to me to get my name out there. I don’t plan on building a career with photography, but I need a bigger audience if I want to show awareness with my other themes. I also plan on getting a good laptop and a wacom tablet so I can start producing faster and better work. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a good year for me and I can’t wait to share my new work. There will definitely be A LOT more narcissistic photos.
J: What are some long term goals in general that you want to achieve for yourself?
A: My long term goals are pretty similar to everyone’s long term goals. I want to start a family, buy a house, travel the world etc, but that’s a long time from now and I haven’t even reached my mid-life crisis yet. For now I’m want to become an HIV counselor and maybe become and HIV specialist/doctor in a couple of years. I plan on working in the public health field and spread the word about the importance of safe sex. I also plan on spreading awareness through my photography sometime this year. Maybe I’ll become a well know photographer and quite my job and start photographing for Vogue, who knows!
I am very grateful to have had this fantastic opportunity to speak with such a creative person and I hope all of you enjoyed reading this interview. Be sure to check out some of Alejandro’s amazing work below and don’t forget to subscribe for more content in the future!