Alexandra Valenti

Alexandra Valenti has made a name for herself working within the creative family of Austin, Texas.  Now, the former fashion photography assistant has photographed lookbooks and catelogues for the likes of well-established Free People, and the increasingly popular jewelry line Heyoka Leather.
Her interesting subjects, like the vintage fashion sellers Sisters of the Black Moon, gained her widespread attention in the blogging world.  Though Valenti doesn't update her Tumblr regularly, her work continues to speak for itself and gain a following among image-makers and viewers alike. -Jocelyn M.

Jocelyn M: Where were you born and where are you currently living?

Alexandra Valenti: I was born in Washington DC and I live in Austin, Texas.

JM: How are each of these place different from each other?
AV: Oh Lord, they couldn’t be more different.  DC feels very conservative and mainstream.  Austin feels like a place where people can come to create who they are, be who they are and not be judged by it one bit.  It’s becoming so built up though, that lately, in the past 4 or 5 years, Austin feels like it’s losing its eclectic edge. It’s become so popular or trendy to move here and I don’t think the city can accommodate the influx.  The traffic is getting horrible. And it no longer feels like the small town like it did when I first moved here. I’ll probably move to a smaller place sooner than later.  Or at least a place that has more nature.  More lush. I feel like I came into my own in this town. .. finally…. I’ve lived in many different cities, Berkeley,  NYC,  Los Angeles, Melbourne Australia…

JM: What is you favorite thing about where you live now?
AV:The people, hands down, and the creativity. 

JM:What do you enjoy in your spare time?
AV: I make a lot of art.  I paint. I draw. I’m working on a series of 25 paintings on wood blocks made out of maple. And I go swimming in Barton Springs almost twice a day (it’s the spring fed pool in town that’s freezing cold)… it’s kind of a necessity since it’s so stinkin’ hot here… 

JM: How long have you been shooting photos creatively and professionally?
AV: I think it’s been shooting professionally for about 5 years, 6 maybe. 

JM: What attracted you to the camera, and how old were you?
AV: The first time I realized photography was cool was when I saw a book by Henri Cartier Bresson.  That blew my mind. I think I was about 9 or 10 years old? Can’t remember. 

JM: What’s inside your camera bag?
AV: A Leica, a Nikon,  a point and shoot… lots of batteries,  a bumble Bar, a lighter. You know, the usual. 

JM: Are you a reader?  Have any books or poems influenced your art?
AV: Yeah, I’m a big reader.  The books I’ve read that have influenced my art aren’t art books, or books about art, or artists; they are mostly books about Tibetan Buddism or Taoism.  The one I’m reading now is called “Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.”  It’s a pretty famous book and it’s been one that I’ve been meaning to read for a while…I like being reminded (and I need to be constantly) that what we create comes from our higher selves.  When we are present and creating from a purely motivated place…when you create not for the result, but for the sake of it: for the pure enjoyment of it. And if something does come from it, if a result happens that is desirable, then that’s just the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake.

JM:In this technological age, they say that blogging is an important thing for a creative person to tie to their own work.  Has having a blog affected your visibility, as far as people contacting you for job offers?
AV: Man, the blogging world is so powerful and I really didn’t realize it until kind of recently. .. when other friends of mine would post my work on their blogs, and that just snow balled to where so many more people became aware of my work. It’s insane.  I have a blog or really a Tumblr, which I guess is the same thing… I don’t update it nearly enough because I usually just update my website because I just like the way it lays out my pictures better… I used to spend time on Tumblr but it became such a time suck that I just stopped looking. But to answer your question, yes, blogging has completely affected my visibility.  I just shot the July Catalogue for Free People and I honestly don’t think I wouldn’t have gotten the job if it weren’t for my photos floating around on blogs. I used to spend time on Tumblr but it became such a time suck that I just stopped looking. But to answer your question, yes, blogging has completely affected my visibility.  I just shot the July Catalogue for Free People and I honestly don’t think I wouldn’t have gotten the job if it weren’t for my photos floating around on blogs. 

JM: Your photo’s have a signature feel.  Does the vintage look come from using film or Photoshop?
AV: Both. I treat my photographs whether it’s film or digital.  It’s part of the fun for me. 

JM: Does photography affect your other art?
AV: Not really.  At least, I don’t consciously think so.  When I paint, or make a piece of art, I don’t have a plan really. I just like to sit and turn my brain off… or sometimes those are the moments when I get into a meditative space and process stuff that’s going on in my life.  But really all I’m thinking about is, “Does this color look good next to this color?” 

JM: Quite a lot of your shoots are set in nature.  Does nature inspire you and has it been a setting for important things in your life?
AV: Absolutely.  I feel most at ease and the most grounded in nature. 

JM: Who are the Sisters of the Black Moon?  They’re fascinating.  
AV: The sisters of the Black Moon are fascinating!  They are also very dear friends of mine.  We were friends before they started SOTBM.  When they were beginning that company, they talked to me a lot about what they wanted their photos to look like. The first one was in a studio.  I don’t think we’ve done a studio shoot since. Those shoots are so fun because we all just allow each other to do what we do and no one questions the creative decisions…  we do talk about what the shoots will look like but we really don’t go too in depth other than have reference material.  We agree on a setting and then we just show up and hope it works.  They trust me and I trust them implicitly. I get a lot of emails about those shoots, but really It’s such a collaborative process, lots of spice in the delicious soup that we can then share with lots of people.  I really grew so much in the past year creatively doing those shoots… 

JM: In my own career, I remember that one assignment that made me think, “Wow!  I’m a real writer!”  Did you have a moment like that with photography?  What was the shoot like?
AV: Yeah, it happened a month ago!  When I shot the Free People catalogue.  Mainly because it was the biggest commercial job I’ve done to date.  Doub Hanshaw, the creative director, is ray of sunshine.  So kind and generous and she took a chance on me. I really hope it does well, not just for me but for Doub. Because I would hate to let her down for taking a risk on me. 

JM: Are you interested in fashion and style personally, or is it something you explore only in your work?
AV: I like fashion but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it or even spent a lot of time buying it… at least not lately. So many of my friends sell vintage clothing either on Ebay or in stores in Austin where I live, so I try to sell a lot of my clothes before I buy more stuff.  But I’m kind of one of those people that puts on something on Monday and by Friday I’m still wearing it…I mean, don’t get me wrong, I shower everyday!  Ultimately, as far as a shoot is concerned, I am more concerned with the whole image and I let the stylist do their thing.  We certainly talk about it and many times I will bring clothes from my own closet.  

JM: Is Heyoka Leather your style?
AV: In many ways, yes.  And I represent Heyoka proudly ever day…Leslie made me the most epic leather bag ever in the history of bags.  It’s chocolate brown with a vintage tooled belt strap.  She gave it to me for shooting a Lookbook back in March, and I haven’t stopped using it since. I probably will never need to buy a bag ever again.  She also made me a breast plate necklace that is my most favorite necklace I own.  

JM: When you shoot and design album covers, do you try to capture the sound of the artist?
AV: I hope so.  Most of the time a musician or a band will come to me and tell me the vibe they want, and I try and interpret that the best I can… because design is so tedious, I try to just take on jobs that are really creative.  Otherwise, it’s not that fun to me.  It takes forever and the pay isn’t that great.  But truthfully, if they are happy with the final product, then I am happy. It’s their baby, ultimately, and I always hope to make something that they feel represents them and their sound.