LOS ANGELES PHOTOGRAPHER MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ DUENAS

Photos by Michael R. Dueñas | Interview by CULT OF BEAUTY

What was it like growing up in Hollywood? Any memorable moments that stand out that you’d like to share?

It was an interesting experience because the city is the biggest melting pot of diversity. I was able to have a greater appreciation for diverse people, culture, and beliefs. Yes there is so many…the one that stands out the most, is experiencing and seeing the harassment of the L.A.P.D. Rampart C.R.A.S.H unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), since they made a film trying to glamourize the scandal. The Rampart department took advantage of lots of innocent people who weren’t gang members and non-active gangsters, who were trying to turn their life around. The reality of street life in Hollywood with C.R.A.S.H unit enabled me to develop a sense of street knowledge at a young age.

NY77 (Knate Gwaltney, Victoria Mordoch and Julian Ashley Mitchell aka W Puscie Jones) on Memorial Day Weekend. (Actual Polaroid, not Instagram)

 

When did you first pick up a camera and what images were you capturing at the time? What and who were your beginning inspirations?

I first picked up a camera, when I was eleven years old. I remember someone gave my mother a point and shoot camera with some Kodacolor Gold film. Throughout this time, the Los Angeles graffiti sub-culture started to evolve onto the bus stops, streets, allies and freeways that were bombed with tags, block letters, and throw ups. I remember being amazed by the graffiti around my neighborhood. This sparked my inspirations of taking photos of graffiti.

During the same time, I was given a black/white photo of my late uncle who was photographed deep in thought, a couple weeks before he was killed in the 1980’s brutal civil war in El Salvador. This photo really inspired me to yearn to obtain the skill on how to take an engaging photo.

 

Describe the graffiti in Los Angeles when you first started. How would you describe the graffiti scene now?

The graffiti scene was very raw, organic, and different. Writers were painting everything in sight. They had landmarks on the streets, poles, allies, trash bins, bill boards, freeways, trains, buses and bus stops. The crazy thing, you would be able to go through the city and get a true sense of the graff history and see how styles evolved through the years. Especially, if you had the chance to paint or spend some time at the iconic LA River, the landmarks there were from 1970’s till late 2000’s.  It was something very cool to witness and experience. Now, it survives on photos, books, videos and documentaries.

Graffiti now is on another level with styles, 3d, color schemes, letters, and productions. Writers aren’t just painting in one city or state, they are painting from coast to coast and worldwide. It lives on with the major hitters, who keep painting and setting the path for the new generation.

What types of images are you capturing now?

The images I’m capturing now can range from Fashion, Urban Lifestyle, Music Artist, and Portraits.

Who are some of your favorite photographers and why?

Some of my all time favorite are Nobuyoshi Araki and Helmut Newton, I like how they both shoot women so flawless, raw, and artistic…it draws you in. David LaChapelle, he is a beast with so many original and creative photo campaigns. Ansel Adams for his superb black/white nature flicks. Some of the Magnum cats, for documenting and being a platform for people who don’t have a voice in their society like Gilles Peress and Alessandra Sanguinetti. Some fashion photographers are Ellen von Unwerth and Mario Sorrenti, their use of color is sick and they both shoot in any type of settings regardless if it’s outdoor or studios locations to get the shot.

Upon graduating high school you began working in the Feature Development department for 20th Century Fox Film Entertainment.  What was that experience like?

The experience was my introduction into the film world business. I had the chance to learn and understand how to develop and what stage a script needs to be green-lite from the studio perspective. Also, the structure from the beginning of a project to the end result the dvd release and so forth. Lastly, the ability to network and meet people who worked in various departments, vp’s executives, and assistants within the lot.

Please tell our readers about the short film you co-produced “Elevator People Bring You Up When You’re Feeling Down”. What type of response did the film receive?  

The short is an intriguing sci-fi story about a workaholic fashion photographer and her husband, who both are profusely addicted to using their cellphones. Therefore, causing her cell phone to be burned into her face and her husband has a similar experience. The emotional experience living with their new scars in a society that is driven by outer beauty. As well, having a child that is something else entirely for the normal.

The response from people who are into the genre or not, has been good…which is a good thing. Some people tell us it was ahead of it’s time, since it was shot before cellphones had Internet browsers, facebook, twitter on them.

What was it like working as an assistant to Eriberto Oriol? What did you learn from your experiences working with him? 

Assisting for Eriberto was a valuable experience. I learned a lot from Eriberto and his wife Angelica about photography, art and life. I am grateful for the chance to assist and be mentored by him.

You also worked as an assistant to another accomplished LA based photographer – Estevan Oriol. What type of projects were you involved with? What did you learn from assisting him that has helped you in your photographic work today?

I worked on different type of projects from Music Album covers, Magazine, Street Life, Fashion, Head Shots, Look Books, Artist shoots and LA Women book. Also assisted him on music videos, viral videos, and documentary productions. I learned a great deal from the technical and business side about photography, which comes in handy today.

You recently worked on “Loiter Squad” featuring members of Odd Future. Please share with our readers what that opportunity was like.

I had opportunity to work alongside with the Dickhouse staff and production crew and some of members of Odd Future. Everyone was very hard working, funny, creative and humble during the production.

You also worked on Zes’ promo video for the Excavated Revelations show at Known Gallery. Please tell us more about this project.

The project was a promo video showcasing Zes creating and painting one of his unique art pieces for the show. We achieved this by shooting him from various perspectives to highlight his process, style, technique and fusing it with an instrument hip-hop track.

Where around the world has your photography taken you? What are some of your favorite locations?

I have traveled to Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, and Canada and throughout the US. They all have been my favorite locations, since I love traveling.

 

What are some shots that you’ve captured that are especially memorable?

The shots I took in LA, Central California, through my travels and especially while working on different type of productions are very memorable.

If you could go back to any era or moment in time to document, what would it be and why?

The 1960’s era, it was a decade to many iconic moments and movements. For instance the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, the protesting of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Fashion – Art was heading into a new direction. I would have loved the chance to document some of those moments and the classic rock bands performing, during the era.

 

What do you feel attributes to a powerful image?

The image has to engage the viewer, regardless what the subject matter is.

What advice would you give to beginning photographers?

You don’t need to spend lots of money on a camera to be a photographer. Don’t be shy to experiment, have fun while you’re learning and don’t stop taking photos…

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To view more of Michael’s work, click here.

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