Today we’d like to introduce you to Tori Puente.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Tori. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I always did art in some form but started focusing more on photography around the start of my college years. I never really warmed up to digital formats, and after college worked at a photography supply company where everyone was also into film. That’s when I found out about the Holga camera, a 1970s dinky plastic model that takes square format pictures and gives some naturally interesting effects to each shot. And I’ve never looked back! Before using a Holga, I’d always felt the need to have very strict control over the elements of a finished art piece, which didn’t really fit my personality. But you have no say in that when using a Holga. What started as an experiment in letting go has become my main expression of creativity.
I went from doing straight photography with the Holga a couple of years ago to transferring the images onto various wood surfaces. I liked the idea of usable/wearable art, using an element that reflected my focus as a travel and nature photographer.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Definitely not smooth sailing here. I started marketing my Holga photos on Etsy as prints and cards with limited success. It’s a huge, oversaturated category, and I was trying to sell untraditional photography in very traditional formats. I got frustrated several times, giving up on selling several times over the years and reverting to drawing for a while. I still took my camera and shot it, but didn’t put my work out there.
I was toying with some ideas trying to think of how to get out of the rut; I can’t remember what exactly made me think of putting my images on new surfaces, but I knew I’d seen photos and paintings transferred to jewelry or tiles, and other functional items. Since I mainly take photos while I’m out traveling in the natural world, I decided to try wood. I started with one wood panel and a Mojave cactus image. I loved the results personally but was still so surprised with the positive feedback I got from that! I took a gamble and bought a whole bunch of small and large wood slices for ornaments and coasters. It was right before the 2017 holiday season, and that was the first time I counted it as a success for the business.
Since then, I’ve branched out to Amazon Handmade as well as staying on Etsy, and have done a few local LA craft markets, though high fees keep me to the small ones only about twice a year. I had my cash earnings stolen from one of the craft shows I did last year, too, so am extra vigilant now!
The holidays always see an uptick in business, but I’d love to keep growing and have the demand to put out products year-round.
Please tell us about The Holga Contessa.
So, I called my business The Holga Contessa after my love for the Holga camera format and all things film. I use Polaroid images once in a while too, but everything stays square and stays film. I love camping, road trips, and traveling through nature, and my photos reflect that, with most of my products displaying images from national and state parks or roadside vistas. I also love shooting well-known travel spots, like the Golden Gate Bridge or NYC skyline, and having the Holga frame those places in a way most haven’t seen before.
Doing the transfer of photo-to-wood takes a minimum of 2 days since the transferring adhesive needs at least 24 hours to dry. It’s a cumbersome process, especially doing it solo, but a well-made end result is super satisfying. All my ornaments and coasters (and more recently, magnets) are done with a variety of natural woods, using non-toxic adhesive and sealant. For the coasters, I even cut and adhere the cork bottoms myself. As a user of my own products, I can vouch for their durability against wet cups, and because of the cork, they won’t scratch surfaces.
As a company, I love it when I stand out to a customer, having my images remind me of their own visit to a particular spot or prompting them to ask about where I took a photo. I like to think I’ve inspired them to plan their own adventures. Also, my biggest standout is probably my only staff member: my dog, Morbo! He goes along to all the craft shows and keeps me company working late.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Not been so down on myself when the going was tough. Trial and error is all a part of finding what you’re best at.
- Wood Slice Ornaments $12
- Wood Slice Magnets $12
- Wood Photo Panels $25
- Wood Slice Coasters, Set of 4, $30
- Scrabble Tile Photo Pendants $18
- Website: https://www.etsy.com/shop/holgacontessa/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: the_holga_contessa
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theholgacontessa
Tori Puente, Eric Lebrun