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Meet Dante Velasquez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dante Velasquez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dante. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I think I can trace my journey as an artist back to one specific moment. I was maybe 6-years-old, sitting on my bedroom floor as my dad taught me how to fold an origami paper crane. We took some sheets of regular printer paper, cut them into squares, and after 20-something folds, we had created a piece of art. As cheesy as it sounds, it was then that I discovered the magic of creating something from nothing.

Years later, when I was in high school, my dad gave me his Canon Rebel XT camera. It was a dull grey, made almost entirely of cheap plastic, had a whopping 8 megapixels – and I thought it was perfect. With that camera in hand, I started my journey into the world of visual storytelling. I brought that camera everywhere, took terrible photos of all my amazing friends, and, as cliché as it sounds, I fell in love with this newfound ability to capture life’s fleeting moments.

My love for visual storytelling led me to Boston University, where I studied Film and TV Production, with a concentration in cinematography. In all honesty, I wanted to go to art school somewhere and study photography, but you try and convince a Filipino mother that art school is a good idea! During my time at Boston University, I worked my way up to become a director of photography on two thesis films. As a DP, I learned how to manage and utilize equipment, how to light intentionally, and most importantly how to lead a team towards a common vision.

After some rough first couple of years in LA, I landed an assistant position with the french photographer, Odessy Barbu. Odessy took me under his wing and taught me everything about being a commercial fashion photographer. I learned how to use strobes for the first time, how to work with models and their agencies, and I thankfully found that a lot of my set experience from film school translated well into this visual medium. I fell back in love with the still image and decided to pivot my focus from filmmaking to photography.

About a year after assisting Odessy, he landed a director of photography position at FashionNova, and he hired me as one of their studio’s lead photographers. My time at FashionNova taught me so much about being a professional photographer, specifically about what it takes to run an e-commerce studio. Still, it also taught me that I wasn’t made for the e-commerce world. The photos I was taking daily were mundane and monotonous. I had dove headfirst into this industry where one’s story was overshadowed by their looks. I realized I wasn’t telling stories but was taking good photos of beautiful people. I don’t mean to throw shade at the fashion e-commerce world, but my point is that I realized this world wasn’t for me. I craved depth, I craved vulnerability, and I craved to create photos that empathized with people and moved them more than to double-tap. So, after two formative years working at FashionNova, I left. I now work as a freelance photographer, focusing on creating stuff that would make six years old Dante proud.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest challenges that I face are mental ones. You can never really be prepared for the awkward transition from college life to adult life. It’s like everything you’ve known around you starts changing and you try your best to keep up. It’s even harder as an artist because you have to figure out how to keep your creative spirit while making enough money to stay alive. It’s tough! No one prepares you for life as a freelancer. The biggest challenge is being able to budget your energy to be able to have time to focus on your own creative endeavors. On top of this, you have to find the confidence in yourself to stand your own in this city full of talented individuals with eyes as wide as yours. There’s a quote I read somewhere that said, “We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated by purpose.” I think in this day and age of social media, where we are constantly comparing ourselves and our work with our peers, it has become so easy to become discouraged. In these moments, we have to fight for our authenticity to shine through.

Dante Velasquez Jr. – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I specialize in portrait and fashion photography, but I truly love any photography that has a human in it. I’m an extreme extrovert, and I love how each photo shoot with a new model teaches me more about human emotion and our collective shared experience. I think that as humans, we all innately have stories that we’re meant to share. I love working with people and capturing moments that reveal a part of their story – even if it’s just through a genuine smile for one fleeting second.

I’m most proud of my work with local LA musicians. I love the challenge of helping them conceptualize and produce album art that parallels the emotions in their music.

What sets me apart is my film-like style. I’ve always been a fan of film photography, but have always been too poor to afford shooting it professionally. So, I’ve developed my style to emulate film. I embrace vibrant, saturated colors and I never shy away from that beautiful film grain. I’ve always admired how film photography has an innate nostalgia to it, and I’ve become obsessed with sprinkling as much of this nostalgia in my work as possible.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success, to me, is unconditional love for yourself so profound that it bleeds into unconditional love for your community. I don’t believe that success can be measured by anything monetary, but is rather measured by the number of people that you’re able to reach with the stories that you decide to tell.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Abbie Koopote, Jordy Shulman, Will Jay, Mariama Diallo, Olivia Magdaleno, Jenny Venture, Kiki McBeth, Kayla Jo Pichichero, Evan Linsey, Toria Rainey, Adrienne Rube, Clémence Pluche, Noëmie Carrant, Clementina Marini Clarelli

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