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Meet East Side Photographer: Araya Diaz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Araya Diaz.

Araya, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My photography life began when I was gifted an antique Brownie camera. Looking down the barrel of the viewfinder and aligning the backwards, upside down image was really fun and challenging to make it look interesting.

Growing up in LA, I naturally wanted to become an actress. I studied it for many years and even got myself into LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts) with a major in drama. While in high school, I saw a documentary on young photojournalists converging in Ireland to photograph images for the “A Day in the Life Of” book series. I thought, “That’s it! That’s what I want to do!” So I quickly changed my career trajectory and pursued photography in college.

After graduating from PCC I thought about going to Art Center, but couldn’t justify the cost. So instead, I assisted for about a year. This was the best decision of my career. Learning real life experience and how to trouble shoot on the job, taught me more than anything.

Growing tired of LA, and needing a change, I moved to the Bay Area where I lived for 11 years. While living in San Francisco, I met my mentor who showed me the ropes of event photography and portrait photography. This experience eventually led me to working with WireImage, and then with Getty Images when the two companies merged. My whole world was changed through working with WireImage. I landed a job with Lucasfilm, and regularly worked with Disney and Pixar. I also gained tons of exposure and began landing jobs to shoot CD covers, fashion lines and creative use photography.

After several years, I realized I had outgrown the Bay Area and it was time to move back home to LA. Once I was back, I was ready to take on the LA photo scene until the slap of reality made me realize how incredibly great the competition is here. So, rather than shrivel into a corner and sob, I stood tall, asserted my needs and started banging down the doors. I think in order to have a career in photography, you have to have such a delicate combination of skill, creativity, patience, perseverance and personality.

Currently, I photograph a lot of portraits, musician portraits, actor portraits and promo material, fashion, creative and I regularly shoot for Getty Images/WireImage photographing many big awards shows and parties. I’m one of the weird ones who actually likes people, so socializing at a party while taking photos, or striking up conversations while shooting one on one portraits, fashion and creative work is really natural to me. Richard Avedon always said his work was dry until he started talking with his subjects. Talking is what opened their eyes and face and produced his unique and recognizable style. This is the best advice I’ve ever read from another photographer.

Even with all of my determination, none of my success would have been possible without my support system. I surround myself with beautiful and nurturing people, and I’ve been fortunate to have the support and belief from my loved ones even when I didn’t believe myself. Having a support system is necessary to make any dream a reality.

Has it been a smooth road?
As with any art form, it’s rarely smooth. I’ve experienced sexism, elitism and been snubbed for jobs I was perfect for. Artists are sensitive and learning to take rejection is hard. Once I figured that one out, I was bold and confident enough to bang down doors and accept help. It takes the average photographer 2-5 years to be able to pay their bills with photography. That’s a long time, but it teaches you to be persistent and focus on ones goals. Once I became obsessed with photography, it was like the Universe opened up and I began meeting the right people and the opportunities flooded in.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My plans for the future include learning how to juggle work/life better, spending more time with my family, growing my business and learning to play the Ukulele! I love the idea of a portable instrument and the Ukulele has such casual beach sound that makes it the cutest funnest instrument to learn.

My business is always growing and evolving and my plans are to progress into photographing more creative work. I’d love to have another gallery showing soon and maybe work on a book of sorts. A children’s book has always been on the back burner. I also want to shoot more creative advertising and portraits. Working one one one in a studio setting and collaborating with a team to make the vision a reality, is my passion. I often say I’m a painter with no patience, and photography executes my crazy ideas quickly.

Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
I think the hardest time in my career was about a year out of college when I thought that talent and determination would land me big jobs. I quickly realized how the fierce competition was and that being successful in photography required so much more than just wanting it. What really helped me to steer my focus back, was working on my own projects. Not only did it give me great portfolio pieces, but it keep the juices flowing and I met people who later referred me for paid work. Always, always work on passion projects.

The hardest time in my personal life was when I was rear ended on the freeway by a drunk driver at 5pm on a weekday. My car was accordioned and I had to undergo months of physical therapy to bring the curve back to my neck vertebra that had been straightened by whiplash. The driver was 18 and I had only had liability coverage. I took her to court and she showed up in her pajamas (yes really). She had no job and never paid for the damage she caused, nor did she apologize. When all was said and done, I was left with about 14K in debt from doctors bills, lost time off work, my car being totaled, etc. etc. Plus, my physical condition was damaged. It was a rough one for sure, but I didn’t die and I’m here today, stronger than ever.

Do you ever feel like “Wow, I’ve arrived” or “I’ve made it” or do you feel like the bulk of the story is still unwritten?
The biggest moment that always pops into my head is the first time I shot Brad Pitt at the premier of “Moneyball” It was my first really big premier and I was shooting in front of the lines with only two other photographers. I shot a photo of him with a producer and as he walked away, I took another photo. He turned and waved his hand at me and I thought he was annoyed that I’d shot him while he walked away. He came up to me, gently held my arm and whispered in my ear, “You are the calmest photographer I’ve ever met” He and I shared a conversation at the after party and he remembers me each time we’ve worked together since. I’m not a fan girl, but the fact that such a mega star would take the time out to come back to me and say something that thoughtful meant I had made an impression. If I can make an impression on people who are at the top of their game, I can make an impression on anyone.

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:
Al Pacino
Courtney Stodden

CeeLo Green (with Shani James, vintage stylist)
Von Smith

Green Orchid
Alicia Vigil
Vanessa Gonzalez
Dalea Malual

Hair & Make-up:
Destiny Z


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