Gina Valona (www.ginavalona.com)is an artist, creative director and producer. Currently, she is the founder of Art & Public Practice Program, a creative studio + consulting company working with artists, non-profits and civic agencies to create art + community engaged projects. She’s is faculty at Otis College of Art and Design, Creative Action and is an instructor and curator at the Los Angeles Center for Photography. As part of her public practice, she serves as a consultant working closely with non-profits and civic partners on a variety of environmental and social issues producing art, exhibitions and large-scale public art events throughout Los Angeles. Most recent partnerships include the LA City Attorney’s Office, Pandopopulous and the Los Angeles County Sustainability Office, Green Maps, the Ethiopian Cultural Center, Freewaves.org, Gender Justice LA, Peace Over Violence, and Painted Brain. In 2019, she was selected to serve as a panelist and presenter to the LA County Board of Supervisors for the Community Impact Arts Grant through the Los Angeles County Department of Art and Culture. She is a multi-disciplinary artist allowing the uniqueness of each project to speak to the appropriate medium, however, photography is her main love. She gets excited about environmental portrait photography and fashion photography because both allow her to creatively connect and play with people to capture a magical moment in time!
LACP Interviews Gina Valona
LACP asks Gina Valona ten questions about her background, career in and beliefs about photography.
Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?
Gina Valona: I primarily love to photography people. I first started out by doing headshots of my actor friends as I was transitioning from a career in acting and modeling to one in photography and art. Headshots, family photography, fashion, editorial, self-portraits, you name it, I tried it. As long as their was people to connect with, I was happy. Nowadays, I love to create environmental portraits and fashion photography. Both genres allow for play, make-up, wardrobe, make-up and hair styling, costume, set design and location scouting. Not far off from my theatrical roots and it’s really fun to play.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
GV: I have been shooting ever since my teen years, however, I did not really get serious about photography until around 2011. I had a big life transition and just didn’t want to be in front of the camera anymore. The camera allowed me to view the world from a different perspective and create outside myself.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
GV: I taught myself a lot through trail and error and worked with other photographers. In the beginning, I photographed lots of my friends, basically anyone who I could get to “photoplay” with me. I got my first official lesson from another photographer under the 6th street bridge in Los Angeles. From there, I took classes at Santa Monica College and did the One-Year Professional Program at LACP. My years at OTIS College of Art and Design getting my MFA allowed me to train my eye and to also use photography to talk about social issues of importance to me.
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
GV: I think it was when I returned from a trip in Europe. I looked at the photographs and it seemed I was no longer just taking pictures but communicating through the camera in ways I could not with words. When I returned home, my personal life was sort of falling apart and photography allowed me to see the beauty in life and especially in other people. My BA is in theatre, so I had been creating stage pictures for a long time and so much of that work crosses over to the camera. Photography allows me to collaborate and connect with people and but I also love that I can take my camera out into the work and create self-portraits, capture the world around me or work on a subject based series that doesn’t involve people at all. An image has this amazing way to be a doorway to opening larger conversations about life and art.
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
GV: I’m not sure if I’d say give up, however, I have taken pause. I believe photographers are artists and different artists have different ways of working. I’ve reflected on what I really want to say with my imagery and have come to the conclusion that I do not have to say anything at all. Maybe it’s just observation. Maybe it’s an expression of a mood or emotion. Sometimes, I just want to play create a beautiful image of a flower or a dress. Sometimes an image has to be crafted, sometimes it does not. That’s the beauty of photography. I have come to realize aesthetics are so subjective and I have never fit into well-defined boxes. I’m multi-racial/multi-cultural so I’m a mix myself and perhaps that explains why I like to mix it up! We are all multifaceted individuals with a multitude of experiences and interests. I’ve had to accept that my work varies in its scope and mediums. I’m a mixologist. At different times, different seasons, the recipe for photography or art may change and evolve. The only thing I have given up is the need to please others through my art + photography practice.
LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
GV: I’ve probably sacrificed more as a photo editor because I can be hyper critical of the work I put out in the world. The question, “What type of photographer are you” is sometimes a difficult one because it is market based. I don’t feel market should dictate artistic practice, although I recognize it is critically important to understand market and be able to use that understanding to make a living in the arts.
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
GV: Photography allows me to see the world more deeply. I see everything in pictures. It allows me to connect to people I may not have otherwise known. I see color and light in a different way that would have previously gone unnoticed. And photography gets my juices flowing – I literally become like a kid in a candy store when it comes to photography. It makes me really, really happy. I have a lot of fun creating images. I have been known to do the “happy dance” a few times during a photo session.
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
GV: I teach Fashion Fun for Teens and Basic Digital Photography for Teens.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
GV: I love teaching young people to use the camera. I have been an arts educator for almost two decades and teaching is definitely an integral part of my practice. Working with teens and helping them hone their skills and find their voice is amazing. The thing I love most about teaching is observing the moments when students are able to think conceptually and constructively about their work and bring those concepts alive in the creation of an image. That’s when I know I’ve done my job. There is no better experience than being witness to those I teach smile with an understanding and value of their own self-expression. To me, observing the realization that their voice and person is an important and integral part of their community and contribution to humanity is priceless. I feel so honored to be part of that process.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
GV: If it’s your dream, do it!