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Portraits of the Valley

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around the Valley.

Lakshmy Mehra

It was an uncertain time when I lost my job as a college student during the COVID-19 Pandemic because I was living on my own and needed finances to pay my bills. Thankfully I had my parents to fall back on so I moved back home where I thought of the idea to start making masks with customizations. I have always been creative since I was a child, always doing arts & crafts when I had free time. I realized sky’s the limit so I started to trial new products and post them on my social media to see how followers would react. Read more>>

Erica Richards

I discovered photography later in life. I worked most of my working life in the film industry and then as a graphic artist doing labeling for a cochlear implant company. I’ve had a lifelong passion to create art that “makes the heart sing”. So, when I bought my first professional camera and realized I could make that dream come true with photography, I made it my career. Ever since I have been “over the moon” going to work every day doing what I love most. Read more>>

Arleen Silva

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I was very fortunate to have parents who saw my potential early on and did everything they could to support me. Some of my favorite memories were of me coloring with my mom and watching how smooth she always got hers to look and my dad racing me back and forth from school to my art classes across town. As I got older, I took any extracurricular art classes I was allowed to take and still passed with all my credits. I didn’t get the greatest grades in school but none of that mattered to me expect the one class of the day. I could finally relax and do what was important to me. Read more>>

Michael Spatola

My story? I’m a Boudoir Photographer of over 30 years. But my story starts when I fell in love, accidentally, with photography when I was very young. I began taking photos of my artwork. Photography wasn’t always my main love. In fact, I really started taking pictures to create a portfolio of my makeup work. You see, I’ve also had another career. I did makeup and sfx makeup for the film industry. To get jobs, I needed a good portfolio of examples of my work. So, I always did both makeup and photography concurrently. In 1991, I made a conscious decision to leave the film industry and focus (hehe) completely on my photography. Read more>>

Paniz Motamedi

I’ve been working retail since I was 15 years old. By the time I was 19 I decided that Interior Design was my dream so I started working in a furniture store from there I attended FIDM in downtown LA got my degree in interior design. During this time parallel to my studies at FIDM, I was soul-searching and came across a few beautiful programs where I was able to let go of a lot of past traumas and really free myself from any limiting beliefs I was holding.  Read more>>

Lorena Ashmore

I’m a Wife & Mom, Esthetician, Lash Artist, creative, and business owner. I went to esthetician school at 27 – with no direction or ambition other than not wanting a 9-5 job. I took clients for nearly a decade- offering everything from brows and lashes to facials and spray tans. Dear Lash + Love was created after years of taking clients and sharing about it on social media. I eventually started making my own apparel for lash artists after noticing that no one was offering cute tees for beauty pros to wear to work. I built an Instagram following by sharing the ins and outs of my business and adding tips for other lash artists. Read more>>

Sarah Ingram

Since my last interview in 2018, so much has happened! Four years later, we have grown extensively. Business gained a lot of traction from 2018 to 2020, and then the pandemic hit. This was by far one of, if not the, most challenging points in my personal and professional life. Since the pandemic, we have had an opportunity to expand! Next week, we will be taking over the suite directly next door to us and adding on almost double the square footage. Read more>>

Ivonne Elias

I was born and raised in Guatemala City until I was 13 and moved to the Los Angeles. I remember one time at school, they took us to a Photographer’s exhibition and that is the day my love for photography started. I was about 11 years old and still in Guatemala. To this day, I still remember the photographer’s name and his photos. When I came to the states at 13 years old my goal was to learn English, it was hard to focus my attention to the arts, which I regret now because at that time they still offered Photography as an elective. Read more>>

Sarah Carroll

Born and raised in Flint, MI. Growing up, my mother always called me her social butterfly. I never knew my natural-born talents until I got older. I did sports off and on but never took anything seriously. In high school, I had a friend who was an aspiring photographer and wanted to use me as her muse and from then, I started modeling. Although I didn’t start taking it serious until my adult years, it always came naturally to me. My journey wasn’t easy from working two jobs, going to school as a nursing student, and pursuing my modeling dreams, I had a full plate but with the grace of God, I seemed to manage well. Read more>>

Katherine Evans

I found myself in LA after many years of working as an actor in Canada. I grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and it was there that I started in voice lessons and community musical theatre. At that point, I was going to classes and rehearsals to try to build my confidence as a young person. Acting was an extracurricular before it was a career for me. Read more>>

Ella Scudder-Davis

I grew up in Seattle, Washington. I’ve always been interested in music – my dad grew up singing folk music with his family in Omaha, Nebraska, and when my sister and I were little, we would sing with him while he played his guitar. As we grew up, my sister and I kept singing together: in the car on the way to and from school, in the backyard in the summertime, on family hikes and – well, anytime we could. My voice has always been extraordinarily precious to me. It’s part of how I trace my connections with my family, with my sister and my dad and my dad’s dad and on and on. Read more>>

Natalie Anise Phillips

Since I could remember, I have always had a deep love for acting and an intense calling to the mysteries in this life. I have been performing on the stage since the age of 12, attending the Cleveland School of the Performing Arts where I was rigorously trained in theatre while having many opportunities to perform in historical Theatres. My impact in the Cleveland and Philadelphia Communities as an artist, educator and organizer. In Cleveland, I served as the Vice President of the Mayor Frank Jackson youth council. As well as being a Teaching Artist, offering the healing arts as a tool for inner city youth. Read more>>

Megan Holeman

While I technically began my dance journey at the age of three, I’m convinced dance has been central to my being since I took my first breath. As human beings, we’re granted a soul and a body to inhabit and harness. Our bodies serve as gateways between who we are at our core and the world. Movement in the form of dance allows us to explore this gateway in the most intimate of ways. I choose to dance because of this. Of course, I didn’t come to this conclusion when I drew my first breath or attended my first dance class at the age of three. I came to this conclusion after nearly two decades of training, performing, and exploring. Read more>>

Morgan Stoddard

I picked up my first camera in 2012 while attending junior college in my hometown on the central coast. Looking back, I remember this being a personal period of growth and transition. Most, if not all of my friends at the time had already moved away and began their new journey to college. I felt stuck at home and stagnant – unsure of where I wanted to go next but certain that wherever it was, it was going to be on my own terms. Read more>>

Rebecca Johnson

I’ve always had a curiosity about what drives people’s behaviors and a natural sensitivity to others’ emotions. This natural curiosity led me to study psychology, and I grew particularly interested in social and abnormal psychology. I envisioned myself working in in-patient psychiatric wards, and indeed that is where I landed after graduate school, but by then, I had begun to become aware of a major gap in access to mental health care. It seemed to be something of which most people in my field were totally unaware: Read more>>

Jasmine Ruiz

I started my professional career after college in the marketing field but I jumped between multiple jobs looking for something that felt fulfilling while hating every moment of the corporate experience. I had taken photography classes in college and would escape to my favorite hobby, photography, every weekend learning how to master the art of it. I really fell in love with wedding photography when looking for my own wedding photographer and had never really considered it as a potential career up until that moment. Read more>>

Emily Maya Mills

I’m kind of a knobby, twisty tree. (Lights shift to a soft spot, a fog machine spurts fartily across the stage..) I was born at home in San Francisco, just moments after mother emerged from a lukewarm, wood-paneled hot tub. That pretty much says it. Atheist hippie parents, latch-keyed city kid, and long story short, I arrived in LA in the late-aughts with a BFA in acting from Emerson and a severe case of social anxiety. Read more>>

Adrienne Kinsella

I grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles. My mother’s family lived in the area for several generations, and my father is a descendant of the Gabrielino/Tongva, native to the LA region. This makes for some pretty deep roots in the area. I was very fortunate to have a mother who regularly took my sisters and I to the local art museums. Pieces in the LACMA collection are some of my earliest memories, along with the visual backdrop of public artworks by Millard Sheets, Kent Twitchell, Rip Cronk, and Robbie Conal. I was exposed to an array of visual expressions from a very young age. Read more>>

Alex Nguyen

Believe it or not, the recipe for Hot Boi Chili Oil came to me in a dream. During peak quarantine, I wanted to make some chili oil for myself because I couldn’t find any that really peaked my interest at the supermarkets. I found a recipe online and tried making it, but unfortunately, it was not very good… I felt a little disappointed and took a nap and dreamt of golden chunks of fried garlic and shallots and immediately woke up to go straight into the kitchen and experiment. Even though the first batches weren’t amazing, we still had friends and family telling me to start a business after they had tried the product. Since I’ve always wanted to start a business, I decided to give it a shot. Read more>>

Vee Reyes

I left my corporate job after having my second-born son. After a year of being home, I decided that it was time I did something for myself and follow my passion, which belonged in the beauty industry. I have always loved makeup, but I knew I did not want to be in the makeup industry. I decided to enroll in an Esthetics program at a local beauty school and decided I wanted to focus on enhancing people’s natural beauty. Prior to started the program, I had already completed Lash Extension Certification Program with Sinful Lashes Academy and a Lash Lift certification program with SugarLash Pro and loved everything about those two services. Read more>>

Cassius King

As a filmmaker from the Bay Area, I really started off from photography, filming home videos, and parties with friends (and a bunch of other random videos). That transpired into doing music videos for the homies, which other artists saw these videos and so that’s when the inquiries started to come for me as a professional. Corporate videos and Commercials always have inspired me along with also trying to implement a Narrative as a baseline for music videos. Fast forward to now living in LA and having a whole network of professional creatives each with different skill sets really allows a market for hiring specialists, and that’s what we are exactly aiming for. Read more>>

Stevie-Jean Placek

My initial draw to acting was the power of story telling. Growing up I was always around or apart of telling a story -Wether that be through the local community theatre, family movie nights, putting on a play with my younger brother and cousin, or listening to my grandparents talk about our family history. Although it wasn’t until I took a theatre class my junior year of high school that I discovered the connection story telling can inspire. During a basic Stanislavski exercise my scene partner and I had to repeat back “help me” “I can’t” over and over again. Read more>>

Lauren Barnett

I’ve loved fashion for as long as I can remember. I don’t know any other 6 year olds that got up early on Saturday morning to watch “Style with Elsa Klensch” on CNN. I love good design, especially in clothing. I love seeing the energy shift in a person when they put on a new piece of clothing that you can tell makes them feel amazing. I graduated from fashion school and moved to LA from Chicago 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked as a costume fabricator for both live action and stop motion (miniature costumes), had a line of 1950s-inspired dresses and aprons, and worked in the beauty industry. Five years ago I started reflecting on what I was really passionate about. Read more>>

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