Episode 17

Reflecting Life and Love

Community can be defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, the result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Creating heart felt wedding and lifestyle photography for people of color and the LGBTG+ community is what Cristal Veronica does with her art. Listen in to learn more about why the connection between photographer and subject is so critical, and how that connection creates greater community.

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Having an intimate relationship with the people I photograph allows me to put my whole heart into capturing memories in a way that I can’t describe. Delivering memories made 100% from love is really the BEST gift I know how to give. Cristal Veronica


CCB: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ONEder podcast, this is your host CCB. And today we're going to have a conversation about an initiative that we're involved in currently and some of the reasoning behind the elements of the initiative. So Workplace 2030 is brought to the Bay Area by a consortium of technology, construction, service providers, and advisors to model an environment that folks can be able to walk through in person or virtually, to experience what the office might look like. What are some of the elements that might be included in the office of tomorrow, the office of coming back from the covid-19 situation. The Office of the Future, in the near and maybe moving into the far term. It's intended to be the office as Exploratorium, so people will be able to walk through and feel what that feeling is when you have touchless technology, when you are led through environments that support the activities that we hope will take place in the office, such as collaboration and innovation and creativity. But also offer the "me" needed for some downtime, for some rejuvenation, for some respite. So we crafted, along with all of our partners, a very intentional environment with a number of components. From a sensory standpoint, we're clearly interested in the visual. We have also included scents for work so that there's an olfactory trigger that brings to your mind a little bit more cohesively together, and there will be curated playlists that will be playing. So there's a sound component that evokes feeling. And today we're talking about some of the visual elements of the space. And that is an art program that we've crafted to support the narrative. And the narrative is, "this is the new workplace" and this is where everyone can come in and feel comfortable, feel stimulated, and feel accepted. And so today we have with us one of the artists who is a contributor to our art program, and that's Cristal Veronica. So, Cristal, welcome.

Cristal Veronica: [00:02:57] Hi. Nice to meet you, virtually.

CCB: [00:03:00] Virtually. It's swell to meet you as well. We're thrilled with the contribution that you have made to our Workplace 2030 art program. But first, I'd love for you to just give us a little background on who you are and how you came to be the artist that you are today.

Cristal Veronica: [00:03:18] Ok, so I feel like every time someone asks me how long I've been a photographer, I stumble because I don't know that I'm great with dates, but I think it's been about eight or nine years now. So I am a queer-identified, Chicana-identified woman. And I think that one of my personal beliefs is that the personal is political. So I feel like anything I do, whether that's through work, whether that's through just daily activities, life or my artwork, my photography, it's all kind of political and it's an extension of me. I mean, especially art. And so I don't know, eight or nine years ago, I realized after having gotten two degrees, two higher education degrees, and having been in the workforce for a little bit of time, that, you know, I really was missing something. And I realized that that missing, that I was missing was art. When you're in grade school or in high school, I feel like there's always an opportunity to take an art class. And it was always something that I looked forward to. And then after you go into college, you can get into the workforce. You don't have that thing that you can just kind of zone out or like tune in with your own self by doing. I just decided. I'd seen a friend's engagement photos, and I don't know what it was, but it just, for whatever reason, I felt like I was looking at it, or looking at photography, for the first time. And I realized that what I really appreciated about looking at these photos, having not been a photographer at that point, was that I really saw the people just being who they are. And I really saw themselves reflected back in the images. And it wasn't like this thing where you have fake smiles or everyone's looking at the camera or, I don't know, it just felt real. And I realized that I kind of wanted to see more of that and that I could potentially do that if I picked up a camera and worked on it myself because I needed some more art therapy in my life. And so I bought a camera on the Internet, and didn't know what I was doing. Just basically played around my city of San Francisco, and took walks, and photographed everything I could possibly photograph. Posted them on, Instagram's new back then. So I would post random pictures of like my coffee on Instagram or flowers, and on Facebook.

Cristal Veronica: [00:06:34] I think someone reached out to me and was like, "Hey, we've noticed that you've been posting these great pictures on the Internet, and we're getting married, and we're not even thinking of having a photographer, but we could be interested in having you come join us for the day." And I was thinking, "OK, wait, like, is this ridiculous? This is probably a crazy idea for me to even consider this? I take pictures of outside, of flowers." And they were are a queer couple, and they were having a small-ish wedding. And I just figured they weren't going to have anyone take any photos at all. And I didn't make anything off of the wedding, but I said yes, because I was just like, you know what? Let me just say yes to things. I actually need to be scared because I feel like you can't do anything great without being scared. So I just said yes. And that was the beginning of something that I didn't even know was going to be a part of my life, like wedding photography.

Cristal Veronica: [00:07:49] Up until that point, really, I've never been a fan of weddings or the wedding industry. And I realized that what it came down to for me in regards to photography and shooting couples, shooting families, is that the biggest thing in my life is family. Like family is everything to me. I kind of treat wedding photography in that way. I think that weddings are great days in people's lives where they get to kind of corral all their favorite people together and celebrate love. And it's an opportunity for your family, your friends, your friend-family to kind of be there and celebrate you. But really, it's kind of like the beginning of, or the formalized beginning of, a family, family unit. I just kind of started meeting people across the Bay Area, photographing weddings and then quickly realized that's being true to myself. I wanted to work with people who are like me. I wanted to share stories of people whose stories aren't typically shared. So queer folks, anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, people of color, black people, indigenous people. Those groups, because I feel super connected being a member of those communities. I feel super connected and know that I can do my best work when I'm working with those groups. And I feel like if you are on the other side and are having your photo taken, you want someone to connect with you. And if they are connecting with you, you can be your honest and true self, hopefully as much as you can be in front of a camera and then get the images of yourself that you love.

CCB: [00:10:00] So I'm going to say, first off, we'll point out that we will share Cristal Veronica photography's website on the notes for this particular episode of the ONEder podcast. You'll be able to access this, but when you do, you will notice that what Cristal's talking about right now is so heartfully apparent. It almost is like there's no filter between what's going on in the image and the photographer. It's the feeling. It's the experience. It's the activity. It's the people. And it's the emotion that's there. So first off, I'm going to say you do amazing work and it's absolutely lovely. And it's truly clear how how connected you are with the folks. What do we call them in photography? The content of the image, but yeah, so would you talk a little bit about how, so it's kind of interesting that your life is all about politics for you and and you express your politics and you live in your politics and you get to work in your politics, which is, you know, an ideal combination, I would think. How does that support your life? Does photography support your life or do you have another work gig that augments that?

Cristal Veronica: [00:11:48] Yeah, that's a good question. Thank you so much for your compliments. It really means a lot. I will say that I also do have a full time job. And I realize now, as someone who's been in the photography world for a little bit of time, has a really good friend network of other photographers, that at first I felt ashamed a bit to admit that and I would, it was almost like I was leaving, you know, a part of myself out whenever I would talk about my photography and my art and that I would just enter this photography world and just talk about, you know, the art and what I do. And I realized that by not sharing, but I also have a full time job that's a huge part of me that that I'm forgetting to share. And I realized it stems from this feeling that I think a lot of artists feel that you're supposed to be legit, I guess as an artist. You need to be a full time artist living off of your full time artwork and that it's really kind of not legit unless you're doing that.

CCB: [00:13:12] You're the starving artist, right?

Cristal Veronica: [00:13:14] Right. Exactly. So I think that what I didn't realize was that was a part of, it was deep down in me. And so that's where my reluctance to even bring it up or like I wasn't even thinking about it. It just wasn't a part of my conversation with other photographers that I was also having this full-time job. But then I was at this photography conference and I realized like I just happened to say it out loud, that I work full time. And I think that a lot of them all of a sudden looked at me and they're like, "Oh, my God, you do. OK, so I do, too. Can we talk about that?" And I felt like I made it it gave someone permission to kind of own their story. Right. Because I was also owning mine at the same time. So I have had a lot of people ask me along the way of whether or not I'm going to go full time in photography. And I've never really had an answer because I didn't really know if I wanted to. So I work full time at a university in San Francisco. And I mean, obviously now we're virtual, everything's virtual. But yeah, I am the Chief of Staff and Director of Operations for the Vice President to Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. I've actually been working at a university pretty much since I earned my master's degree. I earned a master's degree in women's studies at San Francisco State and I just kind of stayed. It's not something that I ever thought that I would do. Working at a university was not necessarily my career path. But there is something amazing about working on a university campus that I really love. I've also met a lot of great people along the way, and so I've just kind of stayed and grown. Obviously, I didn't start out as being a Chief of Staff. I started out as a rental like sales clerk, helping people rent rooms at our downtown center. Companies rent rooms when the classes weren't being used. So I've kind of really grown up in the last, I don't know, a number of years since I've been a student. But really, especially today, I feel so incredibly grateful to have a full-time job. And it's allowed me a couple of different things.

Cristal Veronica: [00:15:56] So it's really given me the ability to really focus on, when I look at photography, I've chosen such a specific niche that I can be very, what's the word I'm looking for, picky for lack of a better word. As I was starting out in wedding photography, I share this with a lot of my clients, but I remember being at one wedding where I was photographing the groom and the groomsmen in a straight wedding. And I was in this very small hotel room with a bunch of dudes and I was trying to keep my cool. And it's kind of awkward to be in a space with a lot of people who I don't really feel like I relate to very well, not to mention that they're are all kind of in some sort of undress, because they're all kind of getting dressed from one thing to another. So I just remember that at one point when I started feeling comfortable that someone started making a gay joke. And because I wasn't the primary photographer, I wasn't going to say anything because it wasn't my business, my personal business that was representing. I was there representing another friend. I just realized at that moment that if I have my own business on the side, that I can make the rules because I'm the boss. My decision was to just work with the communities that I want to work with, that I feel most connected to. And so I just put it out there on my website like, I work with LGBTQ folks and POC and that's just the way it's going to be. And I want to attract people to me, the people that I want to work with. And I also want to repel people, because if they don't have the same political beliefs, then I know that I'm not going to feel comfortable working with them, and they're not going to get the product that they want. So having a full time job has really enabled me to be all kinds of picky in my side gig because I can say no, really. Because when I'm taking on work, like I'm not just doing it because I need the money, but I'm doing it because it's something that I absolutely love and I want to spend my extra time away from my own family with these people making art that they will love because that makes me happy. It's not just about the money. It's about doing something that I love with people that I love. So that's basically it.

CCB: [00:19:06] So I was going to ask the question, in our conversation earlier, you had mentioned that you actually do an interview with potential clients. Which is a very interesting process, it's something that, frankly, more organizations, more vendors probably should do because you then understand how well you're going to be able to work with someone. So you talk about that just a little.

Cristal Veronica: [00:19:38] Yeah. So anytime I get an inquiry onto my website, I immediately reach out and I say, "Hey," because I'm a huge coffee lover, "Hey, let's have coffee" or I guess nowadays it's "Let's chat on Zoom and drink coffee together". And really before I book anything, let's have a conversation. Let's make sure that we really feel like we can connect on a personal level. I know what it's like to be on the other side of the camera, I hate it. It's hard for anybody. There are probably a handful of times in your life that you can remember actually being on the other side of a professional camera. It's not like we have professional photos taken of us all the time. So it's a little nerve wracking. And I want to make sure that they feel super comfortable with me. And I also want to make sure that I feel super comfortable with them so we can kind of vibe and create something really great together. It's really crazy because usually when I have these coffee dates, I can usually tell pretty quickly if this is a good date, a good blind date, or if it's kind of going south. There's been only a few times that's gone south, but that's usually when the couple is just asking me all of the typical like photography or technology related questions. And there's no interest in getting to know who I am or vice versa. Or they don't really want to divulge too much about who they are as a couple. On the times that it has been really great, usually by the end I feel like it's been usually over an hour. And we've already talked about a ton of other family and personal things where I feel like we're already friends. And then a handful of times there's been couples who are just kind of looking at me like, "So are you going to, like, swipe right or are you going to swipe left?" Is this going good for you? Because I think it's going good for me and we really want to hire you. But how do you feel about us? Not having ever been on Tinder or anything like that, which is the right way to swipe. But it's always kind of a great feeling when they kind of look at me and they're like, OK, so we really love what's happening here. And we also want to know if you're feeling it too, because we realize that it's not just - we pick you, but it's also like we pick each other kind of thing.

CCB: [00:22:27] Right. So it's just so lovely to think about that building of small community units with each project that you work on. So I can imagine looking back at your “special day” photographs, you do remember who that person was that took them, especially if it's someone like you who is has gone that extra step to make you feel that comfortable. So will you tell us with what photography you have contributed to the Workplace 2030 project?

Cristal Veronica: [00:23:07] Sure. I was lucky enough to contribute four of my images to the project. Three of which are actually some of my travel work, so it's just some of my personal art that I do for myself. And one image is actually from a wedding that I photographed of a couple in the Bay Area. When I was first approached by this project and asked to contribute, of course it sounded amazing to me. And I also had questions because as a primarily wedding photographer, it's kind of hard to think of, like I don't ever think of having my images put up in a gallery, because usually you don't go to a gallery to see a bunch of wedding photography. It's not something that I've ever really considered. But when I was approached by this project, there's one image that actually I immediately thought of because they were talking about really having the community vibe. Really feeling like if you enter the space, you not only feel like you belong there, but you feel super comfortable. It should feel almost like an extension of home in a way, kind of felt like I got the vibe. And this one image that I am constantly thinking about when I hear the words "connection" or "home". This couple that I photographed a couple of years back, they had a really large wedding, these two black women. And I remember they rented out this huge space because they've developed such a large, like friend-family community, and they wanted everyone to celebrate with them on their day. And so as part of their ceremony, I remember, I was standing on a stage and they had gone down below the stage and they asked all of their friends and family to just kind of come up and come around them. And basically, it was hard to remember exactly what was being said at the time because I was probably crying behind my camera. But really, I feel like the room was just all there focused on blessing these two women and their journey together, past and moving forward. And I got this image where all you see is just people surrounding them. And it's just, I don't know, like I was excited when I took it. And it still excites me today because I feel like it's the ultimate wedding image. It's like, it's not just the couple agreeing to be together, love each other forever, but it's really about like, this is what I'm asking. Like, I'm asking to not just support you, but I also need the support of all our friends and family. And I also want us to be a part of supporting all of them as well. So I felt like it was very like a give and take type of situation and full of blessings. And it was just so beautiful. So that's the one wedding image that I shared.

Cristal Veronica: [00:27:00] But the other three images were taken when I traveled abroad. I believe one of them I took in Thailand at one of the floating markets, which if you've ever been to one, it's just unbelievable. When I look at it now, I'm thinking, wow, what a nightmare due to Covid, because there's so many people. And the idea of being that close to that many people is kind of weird now. But yeah, like just so many people in a bunch of boats doing their thing, eating or selling just such a community vibe. And then I believe that there might have been a couple of images that I took when I was in India, which is actually the first time that I took a really big trip away from the United States. And it was also connected to a photo group trip that I went on with a bunch of other photographers, which was also kind of awesome because the whole point of being in India was to really take photos. If you've been to India or even if you haven't, India is just such a colorful country. I think there's a certain image of the Taj Mahal reflected in the water, which I found myself taking all these pictures of the Taj Mahal, because, of course, like you never expect that you're ever going to be there. So it was like a dream of mine come true. And then I realized that I wanted as a photographer, I wanted to take a different picture, but I hadn't seen before. And so I just happened to be looking around and I looked down and there was this pool of water and I saw the reflection of the Taj Mahal with a bunch of people in front of the Taj Mahal. And I just looked down, I took the photo and I realized later I wasn't even thinking. I just wanted to take something different for myself. And it's probably one of my most favorite images that I've taken for myself. So I'm excited to share it.

CCB: [00:29:13] And we are enormously grateful that you have made this contribution and are sharing with us and with our community that will be experiencing the Workplace 2030 environment. I want to say that as your contribution, we are working out how we might offer your images for sale. And if they are sold, a portion of the proceeds are being contributed to an organization of your choice. So you spend a little tiny bit of time and tell us who you picked to make a contribution to.

Cristal Veronica: [00:29:49] Yes. I immediately thought of an organization called the Loveland Foundation. It was founded by a black woman, her name is Rachel Cargle. I've been following her on Instagram for quite some time. She does a lot of work with regards to, mostly directed towards white women about being anti-racist. Since I have been following her for a while, she's created a couple of different nonprofits. But when she started talking about this one, the Loveland Foundation, I just kind of immediately was like, well, yes, this makes total sense. I feel like I shared a few days ago on Instagram along with a lot of other people, a quote by Malcolm X. And Malcolm X said, "The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman." And clearly, that couldn't be more true today. And we just had terrible, terrible news about the Brianna Taylor case in the last week or so. That's even more clear today. And what the Loveland Foundation does is essentially offer free therapy to black women and girls. And I think that especially now all of us, the country, the world is grieving over a number of different things. Therapy has become even more important today. And I think that access to therapy has been hard, not just for black women and girls, but for anyone. And so I think it's even harder for probably black women and girls to get the therapy that they need and deserve. So I'm super excited that if we can find a way to sell the images, I'm going to be donating as much as I possibly can to that organization because I believe wholeheartedly in it.

Cristal Veronica: [00:32:16] Cristal Veronica Photography, we are enormously grateful that Cristal has spent time with us today and sharing your story, which is of community, which is representative of the fabric, the rich fabric that is of the Bay Area, and that is the United States. And we certainly are happy that we have your images in the Workplace 2030, so that other people can experience them, but also it gives us the opportunity to share bits of the story so that it furthers that that message and the idea of dropping the stone in the pond and the ripple that just keeps moving. If we can't be loud, we can be quiet, and we can be consistent. And we are, as I said before, so grateful that you had spent time with us, and that you've made this contribution, and you've become a part of our community.

Cristal Veronica: [00:33:17] Thank you.

CCB: [00:33:18] Thank you. Is there any last thing that you'd like to say before we sign off?

Cristal Veronica: [00:33:25] No, I don't think that there is. I'm definitely excited to hear from the other artists. Hopefully you'll be interviewing them too, because I'd love to hear them talk about their art as well.

CCB: [00:33:36] Yes, we are. So hopefully there'll be a series of podcasts as well as blog posts where we'll share the story. And we love the idea and the opportunity to share stories as broadly as we can through social media. And we will do that. So lastly, thank you again very much Cristal Wallin of Cristal Veronica Photography and the ONEder podcast can be heard on iTunes, Spotify, and any streaming services that you listen to podcasts on. And we will share this information as broadly as we can.