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Meet David Cruz of Synthetic Color in Palmdale

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Cruz.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My name is David Cruz and I’m a wedding photographer. I’ve been in business for a little over five years, though I’ve been taking photos for at least fifteen years I’ve only started to focus more on my photography business as of this year. Because I owe my success to those around me, I reached out to my clients and friends on Instagram and asked them what they’d would have asked had they been interviewing me. The answers to their questions offer bite sized morsels as to how I started my business, some of the struggles I faced and ultimately how I got to where I am today. I tried to stay on topic as much as I could when answering these questions because I tend to go off the rails rather quickly during any conversation, especially when it comes to current events.

Your main appeal to stand out from a saturated wedding photography market is to use 35mm film, I’m sure it’s an expensive business model, why not switch to digital?
Because my photographic style is cinematic and natural, film allows me to achieve the soft, dreamy look I love seeing in indie cinema. Aside from the magical quality of exposing an image on a negative and waiting for it to be developed into a tangible photograph, film has a magical way of rendering light. In the process of shooting film, I’m present with my clients and models at every moment without the conflict of looking at the back of a digital camera. There’s definitely a strong, personal craft behind being a film photographer. I’m no stranger to digital however, as I use it for certain clients and time sensitive jobs. My sole purpose is to photograph my clients in the best light possible so in the end it doesn’t matter which format or camera I use, but I love how people look on film so I won’t be giving it up anytime soon.

You don’t seem like a thrill seeker, but what has been the most thrill-seeking experience you’ve had?
A year ago my classmate asked if I would help out with this editorial, something I do often do for classmates. He wanted me to hold his cameras while he photographed his model in a flying helicopter. The helicopter was the size of a small car with no doors on one side and to my great fortune, I got the side without the door. Boy was I scared to fly out of that thing, not to mention the heavy ass air flow that prevented me from moving around and seatbelts that felt as if they would snap at any second. Thankfully I didn’t fly out and managed to take a few good shots of both East L.A. and Echo Park while flying by them. Would I do it again? Heck yeah, but I would like to have a high-end digital camera on hand next time.

While on the subject of thrills, do you believe in the supernatural?
I’m Roman Catholic of course I believe in the supernatural. The bible is jammed packed with references of angels, demons, ghosts, aliens, resurrections, etc. I’ve had my fair share of strange and usual things I’ve seen over the years and I even believe a shadow person has been following me around since we lived on the house on 64th street back in South Central. I’m not the only one that believes the house had a supernatural presence, so did my family. In fact, one of my Aunties refused to set foot in that house for a few months after the lettuce she was cutting levitated and flew across the kitchen. My own experience with the house spans a few years, so I might dedicate a blog post for the subject sometime soon. There’s nothing more that I love than to listen to people’s accounts of the bizarre. I want to have a YouTube series of these stories, but I can barely get my Mezcal show off the ground let alone get two.

Your editorial work is known for that bright look to it, where do you get the inspiration to create this look?
When I took the advance photography class at ELAC a year ago my instructors were amazed how I would create beautiful editorials based off horror movies. Often with the body of work having nothing to do with my source of inspiration. Most photographers get inspiration from famous photographers or artists, not me, I don’t care much for famous artists and photogs. Ask me about a famous photographer and I would know as much about them as my Grandmother knows of Donald Trump. I mean it makes sense from technical standpoint why I get my inspiration from indie cinema, since most horror movies are made on a shoestring budget and I mostly work alone or with a small team in natural light. I study how these film makers create something out of nothing. I take the basic, bare bones approach of storytelling of this genre and mold it into my own editorials. When it comes to The Twilight Zone series in which I draw heavy inspiration from, I take mental notes on wardrobe and acting, as it helps me direct my own models when I guide them through a scene.

What first sparked your passion for photography?
The spark was lit after I read an article in Men’s Health stating that being a photographer was the sexiest job for men back in 2003. However, I’ve always been into cinema especially horror and I wanted to be a film maker as a kid, but since my parents didn’t have the means to throw me into an affluent school, I managed with what I was given and went with photography instead. I graduated from Washington Preparatory High School in 2005 a school located in the Athens sub division of South Central. LAUSD never gave the school enough resources to have its own media arts department focusing its limited resources towards the football team instead. Which was a shame since the school was filled with many talented artists. I was fortunate however to have my Mom pay for disposable cameras and the film processing at our local Sav-On. The photos consisted of my friends doing stupid teenager stuff. After picking up the prints I would cut (because I didn’t know how to do it on Photoshop Elements) and scan them to upload them to our very own Yahoo! GeoCities website. I’m talking way back in 2003 when having your own free website meant you can only have ten visitors per hour ‘cause it would crash. The web page itself had the aforementioned photos of my friends, along other photos of random folk around school. Each photo had a snarky and sometimes very offensive caption that eventually had me thrown into the dean’s office a handful of times, based off the complaints the students made. They could never pin it on me since my name was nowhere to be seen on the web page. Not to mention I was the only kid with a disposable camera in the whole school. The web page was the Perez Hilton page of Washington Prep two years before Perez Hilton. I only wish I had sold the idea to him. Oh well. I do have a book version though if you ever like to see.

Additional rant: You know how it’s said that you should create your own table if they don’t let you sit at theirs? Well, that’s exactly what I did high school when I ran and won my Senior Class President campaign in hopes to sway the popular opinion of supporting the football team (which never won anything) and focus instead on our student artists. It didn’t work, since I was forced to give opening pro-football speeches at games and school assemblies. At least I went down trying. However, what sparked the business side of photography was the local punk and ska scene after a friend of mine ask if would photograph his ska band for a few months at local venues, specifically at The Allen Theater in South Gate. 2003-2004.

What were you goals in the beginning of your photography journey and what are your current goals now?
After my short-lived career of being a local band photographer in 2004, I wanted to be a Quinceañera photographer because I was tired of seeing the same cheesy, outdated poses in the Quince photos my friends would show me. Not to mention the awkward poses the photographer had us in when I was a chambelan, I only hope those photos are lost forever. Unfortunately, I’ve since stepped away from this market when I switched to an hourly fee business model. On account that photographing Quinceañeras requires you to be there all day and no way in hell will a client pay me to be there all day.

I was a late bloomer when it came to alcohol as I had my first drink at age 25 at a house party. A year later I educated myself as much as I could on the topic of Mezcal, alongside other ancestral drinks, i.e. Tepache, Pulque, Tuba, Aguardiente etc. I have since self-proclaimed myself a Mezcal Connoisseur and have made it my life goal to teach others about this spirit. With the financial help from my clients and fan base I uploaded my first Mezcal show episode of // dix・ee・be // a mezcal show. You can find it on IGTV, YouTube here: My hopes with for this show are to get others exited for Mezcal and hopefully land a coveted brand ambassador gig from one of my favorite Mezcal labels back at home in Oaxaca. I do want to have my own label in the not so distant future as well. At the same time, I’ve been traveling with clients as of 2017. This service invites my clients to take me with them on their vacations. They get to enjoy their vacation while I take photos of them walking around, relaxing, exploring the sights of the location and even driving them around acting as a faux tour guide. It was a goal I gave myself three years ago and I’m happy its finally coming into fruition.

Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’m Mexican of course it hasn’t been a smooth road. It’s in our nature as Mexicans to swim against the current. Let’s face it, being a working artist of any sort is more of a rich white kid thing seldom for Mexicans and even in Mexico these jobs are usually held by the wealthier class. I put the blame on my own culture however, as being a photographer is not a real job in the eyes of most Hispanic parents. Because Hispanic parents expect you to either one, go into the workforce right out of high school or two, go to school for a real career i.e. doctor, lawyer, teacher etc. Anything outside of that is not a real job and thus seldom affords the same level of support from parents as say for a child that takes the aforementioned career choices. Which leads to the whole, limited Hispanic representation in Hollywood. It stems at home, where Hispanic parents don’t support the children who want to go into the performing arts. The only ones to blame are ourselves.

Which lends to the difficulty of being a photographer in the Mexican market. Because it’s seen as a hobby by most, people don’t initially pay what you ask for. I’ve done nothing but push to break through this mentality and although I still face clients like these, in recent years the younger Hispanic culture is coming around and is seeing the value of paying top dollar for a photographer that cares about aesthetics. A reason why I use 35mm film as a key selling point when I sit down with potential clients. To offer them something other photographers no longer offer. It’s been a very rough career choice, not the sexiness I was promised from that Men’s Health article those many years ago.

Because my parents didn’t have means to have me attend Brooks Institute of Photography (no longer in business) after high school and because I couldn’t sign up for the Air Force on account of my flat feet and poor vision, I went straight into the workforce after graduation. Which was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got a job at Ritz Camera in the Beverly Center and hung around for a year until I got fired. During that year I learned a lot about being an adult. I took the bus at midnight just to get back home at times. I learned how to drive and bought my first car. I had my whole life ahead of me. It was my first job. It was the first time I genuinely fell in love…. with two people. I understood who I was meant to be and it breaks my heart realizing I haven’t felt that way since.

I noticed you know your way around Los Angeles like no other person, is it because you’re a photographer?
To be honest I know the city in and out because I’m poor and I’ve had to move around out of necessity. I was born in Oaxaca and grew up with practically nothing, not even a real restroom or a floor it was dirt, both of them. Because of it, I’ve been able to settle pretty much anywhere and work with very little. When we first moved to this country we settled in what is now Historic Filipino Town a few months before the Northridge Earthquake, followed by South Central for a few years up until I graduated from Washington Prep. We then moved to Palmdale and I moved out in 2006 to Downtown L.A. when it was affordable, followed by La Cañada Flintridge, Riverside and finally calling East L.A. home for the following years. Not to mention the countless neighborhoods I’ve worked in during my retail career. Because I’m a people person, I love moving to new places and getting to know the sub culture of each neighborhood in our ever-expanding city. I’m currently living in Palmdale again with plans on moving back to Oaxaca in the following years.

When you’re not photographing clients, what do you love to photograph?
My absolute favorite genre of photography is night architectural photography. Naturally I take it a step further with my own work and photograph on 35mm Kodak T-Max and the now discontinued Fuji Across. I started this side project, Semiotic Nights in 2006 as a love letter to Downtown L.A. and have slowly added to the collection of images. I love this project because what you see is definitely not what you get back on film. There’s plenty of room for error photographing at night, as each exposure takes anywhere between fifteen seconds to two minutes. Not to mention the level of danger one faces if a random killer pops out of nowhere. But I would love to get paid to photograph at night. I’m considering selling prints from this project. I’ll wait to see if there’s interest after the publishing of this interview. Hopefully I can make limited edition magazines when I have a solid set of images. I seldom advertise Semiotic Nights as it’s something I create for myself, although some of these images were on exhibit at the Vincent Price Museum in the Fall of 2018. You can find my second Instagram account here:

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you have been instead?
It’s funny because it took my parents a long time to finally realize that being a photographer was my real job. Even though it hasn’t made me rich or famous and considering my Dad is fairly conservative, he’s still waiting for me to finish the Real Estate License program I dropped out from after one class right out of high school. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve both been very much supportive of my ‘muerto de hambre’ career choice and they’ve both come around as I’m now being paid to travel with my clients. My parents wanted me to have an easy life and I believe they’ve paved the way for it. My life for the most part has been very good thanks to them. But to answer your question I think I might of have gone into teaching or cooking. I’m a rather gifted cook of the traditional Oaxacan pre-Hispanic kitchen.

What advice would you give your younger self about photography?
If I could, I would tell my seventeen-year-old self to sign up for business and photography classes at the local community college. Advice that was given to me by my friend Jeffrey whom I met on MySpace those many years ago, who then introduced me to my very good friend Andy (@andyhairart). Jeffrey not only wanted me to go to school but also open my eyes to have a brighter outlook in life, he’s the reason why I try everything at least once yes, even that. Because of my stubbornness I never took his advice to go to school back in 2005. That was until I lived in East L.A. and I had some free time on my hands in late 2015 and I finally signed up for those business and photography classes at East Los Angeles College. I now hold a degree in Business Management, Marketing, Accounting and Photography. I believe success comes from those around you and I think I would of have reached success a lot sooner had I not been for my stubbornness and listened to Jeffrey’s advice those many years ago when we were sitting at the registration office at LACC. Though he passed away four years ago, I’m sure he would have been proud of my achievements of eventually going back to school.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t believe in luck. But sometimes, things just fall into place.

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