Vanessa DeCardenas: Photographer

Vanessa DeCardenas Self-Portrait | Header Image: El Charro Café – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” ~Rumi

One of the biggest dilemmas creative people often grapple with is the contradicting concepts of what success is. Invariably, in most modern-day societies, artistic success is closely tied to popularity or financial gain. Artists who have achieved some measure of fame or fortune through their craft are automatically thought to have “made it”, regardless of their personal feelings about or connection to the art they are making. Unfortunately, two huge and critical factors are missing in that equation—authenticity and a sense of purpose. We all have a purpose in life, the trick lies in having the courage to embrace it when it manifests itself before us and the heart to pursue it even when admiration and wealth are not guaranteed. That is what living life authentically means. For the creative person, it is making art for the joy of expressing oneself, for the pleasure of exploring and creating something meaningful and honest whether or not it is profitable or well accepted by the general public.

Art Motif Magazine’s next featured artist, photographer Vanessa DeCardenas, is living that challenging yet exhilarating process of artistic self-discovery. Take a look at her work and interview below to learn about her passionate search for creative purpose, truth, and authenticity.

Grow – Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

What is essential to your work as an artist? Color, creativity, passion, inspiration, and depth are essential to my art.

Cactus Wren – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your art? The biggest influence on my passion for art is most definitely my mom. For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have been crafting, making art and making messes wherever we are. Even now, when I go home to Pennsylvania for holidays, most nights you can find us sitting at the dining room table water coloring, painting, or doing something else creative. My mom instilled in me a passion for creativity and a positive way to express myself through art. Art is so much of what makes up my identity. Without that foundation from my mom, I’m honestly not sure where I would be today.

Tea Time – Indiana, PA by Vanessa DeCardenas

How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? My identity, background, and cultural roots influence my art in many ways. As an ethnically-mixed woman, I am constantly exploring what my identity means to me. This definitely manifests in my art in different ways; sometimes very obviously and other times only I know that it’s there.

Puerta de Meyer Street – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? I would say that the themes of my photography vary based on the type of photography that I am creating. My artistic photography almost always revolves around feminism, the expression of femininity, and women. I am surrounded by strong, intelligent, beautiful women and I love that my photography reflects that. While I’m traveling or taking photos on the street of people, I tend to always focus on the eyes. It may seem cliché but I truly believe that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I love photographing strangers in simple portrait form. I think simple portraits capture the essence of humanity more than any kind of elaborate or detailed photoshoot. My nature photography is most often captured on a whim. Sometimes I’ll be driving and see something unique or beautiful and I’ll immediately pull over. Photography has taught me to always find the beauty in whatever I see. I’ve become very focused on details, color, and texture.

Helindo – San Luis, Mexico by Vanessa DeCardenas

Do you have a preferred genre, style, or mediumWith my photography, I prefer digital because I tend to manipulate the photograph in some way.  Whether it’s the lighting, shadows, color tones or making someone magically float, the digital editing process allows me the creative freedom to do what I want. I’ve recently become interested in film photography, but I’m not serious about it—yet. There’s just something about the shutter sound of a film camera.

Saguaro Sunset – Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

What inspires you? I am inspired by so many things; other artists, women, spirituality, nature, the wind, architecture, fashion, consciousness, different time periods, love, old and vintage things, poetry, music. My list can go on and on. I don’t like to box myself into a category or type of photography because it is ever-changing and evolving as I grow as a human. I go through phases and seasons and my interests and inspirations change.

Left: Diné Prayer at Tucson Meet Yourself – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas | Danza Azteca Calpulli Tonantzin at Tucson Meet Yourself – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

What is your creative process? What does a typical day of creative expression look like for you? When it comes to creative photography, my process is different depending on what it is I am trying to create. When I want to create something elaborate or artsy, I always start with research. I’m researching locations, outfits, makeup, hair, props, symbolism, etc. I like to see what other artists have created. I sometimes write my ideas down in a journal and I Pinterest like crazy. Often my creative photography involves some kind of prop that must be created or assembled. I love the intricacies and details of fine art photography.

She Dances – Gate’s Pass, Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your works? I remember the first time someone wanted to pay for one of my photographs. It was one of the best feelings in the world. It was surreal. It was the first time in my life that I thought, “I can actually do this.” Just like all forms and manifestations of art, my photography is not for everyone, but when someone loves something that I put time, effort, passion, and love into, it is the greatest compliment.

Top: RezTruck – Navajo Nation Reservation by Vanessa DeCardenas | Bottom: Barrio Viejo Car -Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Do not compare yourself to other artists and give yourself time to hone your craft. Sometimes it feels impossible to create original content, but the ideas and brilliant projects will come. Masterpieces are not always created overnight.

Top: Blessing – Uganda by Vanessa DeCardenas | Bottom Left: Unbridled Joy – Katwe, Uganda by Vanessa DeCardenas | Bottom Right: Reflections in Namuwongo, Uganda by Vanessa DeCardenas

Who are your favorite writers and/or poets? My favorite wordsmiths (right now) are J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Diana Gabaldon, Rupi Kaur, Kahlil Gibran, and Waylon Lewis.

Sip – Indiana, PA by Vanessa DeCardenas

Who are your favorite painters? Like so many others, I feel a deep connection with Frida Kahlo. She is my favorite artist. I am inspired by her art, by her words, and by her life.

Food for the Dead – Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

Who are your favorite photographers? My favorite photographers are Kirsty Mitchell, Margarita Kareva, Lynsey Addario, Tim Hetherington, and Annie Leibovitz.

Minolta – Indiana, PA by Vanessa DeCardenas

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? I am constantly inspired by many different women: Frida Kahlo, Emma Watson, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, Drew Barrymore, Gina Rodriguez, Lynsey Addario, J.K. Rowling, Winona LaDuke, Ashley Graham, Emma González, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sarah Tripp of Sassy Red Lipstick, Queen Elizabeth, Beyoncé, Amy Schumer, Cardi B and I can go on and on because women are freaking amazing. #TheFutureIsFemale

Turn – Agua Caliente Park, Tucson, AZ by Vanessa DeCardenas

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? My favorite literary heroines are Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Claire Fraser from Outlander. I feel like I grew up with Hermione and the rest of the Hogwarts gang. That story influenced and saved my life in so many ways. Now as an adult, Clare Fraser came into my life just when I needed her.

French Quarter – New Orleans, LA by Vanessa DeCardenas

What is your favorite motto? Currently, my life motto is to live my truth. This is manifesting in so many different areas of my life. I’m leaving a comfortable, stable job that I enjoy in order to pursue a life that I find more creatively fulfilling. I’m officially putting my roots down in Tucson away from my entire family and the friends I grew up with because I feel this magical, beautiful affinity with the Southwest. I have given up trying to fit into the box of what society says a woman should or should not be. I’m more comfortable with who I am right now than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I’ve cut out toxic people and destructive things from my life that do not serve my soul. I’m discovering Truth and Spirit in ways that make sense to me. I’ve surrounded myself with badass women that inspire me and support me. I’ve accepted the fact that I am not who I was 10 years ago and celebrated those changes.

Left: Lake Victoria – Uganda by Vanessa DeCardenas | Right: Loch Alsh, Kyleakin, Isle of Skye, Scotland by Vanessa DeCardenas

What is your idea of happiness? My idea of happiness is to unapologetically be myself.

Vanessa DeCardenas Self-Portrait 2

To learn more about Vanessa and purchase or see more of her work, click on the following links: