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Meet Dustin Giallanza

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dustin Giallanza.

Dustin, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, I grew up in the West Texas town of El Paso. Some might remember it from the Matty Robbins song but now El Paso is mostly known because of the current political conversations regarding the border and immigration. During the 18 years, I spent there it was just my hometown. El Paso was never known as a city with much of a creative community. I think a bit has changed in that regard since then. Khalid is probably the biggest artist to come out of El Paso and I love the way he has embraced it. But to be honest, back then, I was never really inspired by my city. The harsh desert sun flooded the whole city in such a relentlessly intense, blinding sort of light that even tho I love being outdoors, summers were mostly spent trying to stay in pools or indoors since being outside was mostly uncomfortable.

I grew up closeted and gay in a very conservative evangelical christian community where they had a very clear stance on this issue. I sadly grew up being taught and believing it was a choice. I even had a pastor try conversion therapy on me, so you can imagine it wasn’t a safe environment for me. What I watched on TV and in movies, listened to in music, or read in books or online was heavily curated and monitored. I really grew up in a bubble. The task of staying just far enough outside mainstream was easier to accomplish at that time since the internet wasn’t like it has become today. I also didn’t really know many people working in or having creative practices, so in many ways, I feel like I grew up in a desert both literally as well as metaphorically.

Despite my lack of freedom in many areas, I was encouraged creatively by my family and my mom especially. Being creative was cathartic and it became my happy place. I mention all this because I believe this is really where my journey into photography started. Art became the outlet for whatever was going on inside me and a clear way in which I could engage with the world around me. I felt compelled to create something new for myself. Although I loved and excelled at many art forms, including dance, drawing, and design, there was always something about photography that really clicked.

With a camera I was able to interact with the world and people in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. I could be a simple observer while having an artistic voice at the same time. I could do it all safely from behind the camera, my dream as an introvert. Over the years I have come to love so many more things about it. I love how many skills I get to bring to the table while running my business. I love the small personal moments with friends and coworkers that happen during shoots as well as the big collaborative experiences and the joys of accomplishing a shared or personal vision. I love the ability that photo has to connect me with other humans but also how it gives me space to be alone in post production. Let’s just say it’s a great fit.

I attended school at Biola University and I decided relatively quickly that I would pursue photography as a career path. The art program and professors were amazing although I have mixed feelings about the university as a whole. Many of my strongest and most formative friendships have come from my time there, and have played a major part in becoming who I am today, so for those reasons I am so grateful.

My first ever paid photo job was photographing a friends wedding, which is a very common way to enter the photo world. I began shooting weddings in high school and continued after college. Although I  learned from those experiences, I always knew I didn’t want to continue to shoot weddings for very long. I graduated during the recession so I was lucky to have weddings while I figured out what steps I needed to take to move in the direction I wanted to go.

I took many random jobs, both related and not related to photography to tie myself over in the years after I graduated. Some in film, some in wear-houses, but I slowly built up a portfolio and website. I eventually got my job first in the industry as a digital tech and then shooting full time for an e-commerce company. This is where I started making industry connections for the first time. I used this time to network with models, hair and makeup artists, art directors and such. I would plan my own shoots on a regular basis to build up my books. This is a practice that, although I do less often now, I still continue to this day.

In 2015, I left my full-time position to take a leap of faith. I wanted to work as a freelancer and forge my own path. This was very scary but exciting for me. I jumped out with little plan of attack, but I worked as hard as I could in any way I knew how, learned as fast and as much as I could from anywhere and anyone who would give me an opportunity. I grew my business skills and learned that I actually love this side of my work as well. This, in many ways, brings us to where I am now. I am still and will always be shaping or honing my artistic skills. I’m fairly obsessed with growth, not necessarily just monetary, but overall growth. I never want to stop learning and growing. I love my career and my life, struggles and all.

Has it been a smooth road?
Smooth is not the word I would use to describe the road I’m on. I think there are very few if any professionals who could say it has been all smooth sailing getting to where they are. To be a true professional, I think is to have bumps, hickups, failings, and shortcomings, and to be able to not let that discourage you from moving forward.

My path, in particular, has its own challenges, sure! I would honestly say that one of my biggest struggles over the years has been finding my path. There is no map, there are tips and pointers from the photographers who have come before you but no one can tell you which way is the right way for you. Right now I’m struggling in narrowing my focus. I love and am good at shooting many kinds of things, and I would says I am really adaptable. So trying to narrow my portfolio to focus on getting the type of work I want, has proven to be challenging as I could see myself doing a great many things.

Another challenge is the constant change of pace. There can be intensely busy seasons where I’m moving at full speed, and then seasons where time is at my disposal, which can be very jarring when they are back to back. There are times where I feel creatively excited and times were I have to encourage myself to push passes drudgery.

I love the challenges and what they have taught me about myself and wouldn’t trade it for anything. The struggles are what let me know I’m moving forward.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Dustin Giallanza – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I am a sole proprietor and don’t currently have representation, so I basically do everything myself. I’m proud to say that largely I am capable to and enjoy doing it all. Although I am interested in being represented assuming I find someone I trust, I feel no urgency as work is going well for me, tho I do think an agent might be able to help me get opportunities I couldn’t on my own.

My interests and skill set is broad, which I mentioned is one of my struggles, but I also see it is as a strength, because it allows me to dip my toe into a lot of pools. I love the whole spectrum. I even love to retouch. I see myself as a storyteller at heart so I also think I shine when I have photo opportunities where I have a hand in crafting a feeling or mood. I love how photo can be used to create an empathetic response in people. It can communicate so much in a moment.

I would say I am known for my personality almost as much as my work. I get a lot of feedback from clients and collaborators saying how much they enjoy being on my sets. I like to make people feel at ease while challenging everyone including myself to one-up themselves. I would also say that the people who I work with, largely know how capable I am of most anything you can throw my way. I love when it feels like a marriage between photographer and collaborators. It’s all about that balance.

I am really proud of my work ethic, or my overall ethics, and the way I engage with others. I have worked in corporate environments and I was always very disappointed at their disregard for their employees well being. My father was also a small business owner and I think I hold myself to a very high standard in regards with how I treat people. I am proud to have the opportunity not only to work for myself but to create a business that I can ethically stand behind as well. I think I’ve done a good job setting some ground level standards that I would like to always carry with me.

What really sets me apart from others is my drive to not only improve my work and my business but also my dedication to improve myself in a holistic sense. We would all be better workers if we were healthy in our personal lives as well. I don’t think I have ever understood people who will do anything to get ahead. I want myself and the people I work with to bring their best selves to the table so we can really make something we can be proud of. I think sustainability at work requires that the rest of your life is sustainable as well. I know we all are in a constant battle to balance but for me, I try to keep this in the driver’s seat.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Oh man, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with LA. But don’t get me wrong, I do love Los Angeles.

I love the opportunities here, work and otherwise. I have so many opportunities here that I could never have in other cities. I love having mostly great weather and being near the beach, mountains, and deserts. I’m selective but I also love seeing shows are trying new restaurants. My friend’s have become my family, and I am so thankful for the relationships I have built out here. They remain one of the driving forces in keeping me here and keeping me grounded.

The thing I dislike the most is the lack of personal space, both mentally and physically. Growing up in TX, I am used to wide open spaces where you can get away and have some quiet if needed. I also think LA can be an easy place to lose yourself in. There are so many events and places to be or people to meet. I’ve seen so many people get caught up in that thinking it is what you have to do to be successful but honestly I think it can often get in the way.

I really I do love being here, this has become my home and while I live here, I will try to be as present and as thankful as I can.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Aella, Eunice Cho, Angela Choe, Alejandra Guilmant, Alisha Bailey, Liana Rios, Tova Thomas, James Holmes, Brad Claypool, Vanity Planet, Matte Black, Jaden Smith, Charlie Dixon, Jung Yun, Arjang, Trey Anderson

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