Interview with Donnel Garcia
Lead photographer + studio manager of Street Dreams Vancouver and local mentor of the craft, Donnel Garcia (@donnelgarcia) shares with us his roots as a photographer and a human being that inform his work and his actions within the field. Scroll for the full interview with Donnel and his accompanying TAIKAN Spotify Playlist below.
Tell us about your road to becoming a photographer, the twists, the turns, and the straightaways.
Up until I was 19 years old, I had no interest in photography. I didn’t think I would be doing anything in the arts even though I believed myself to be an artistic person. It was only when I met my two friends Paulo and Francis when I was working at Starbucks. They really opened me up to the art world. We would always hang out and I would just bring a camera along with me. I would just take photos of me and my friends all the time. I was the friend with the camera. I know we all have that friend now but this was 2008, no iPhones, barely anyone owned a DSLR and when you did people would actually think you’re a legit photographer. Nowadays it’s so exciting seeing groups of kids walking around the city with their cameras, jumping on rooftops, taking photos of their outfits haha.
I was freelancing through most of my 20’s but very very minimally. I went to college to be a healthcare worker so I was doing that and at the same time just working on the craft. I just wanted to find my own way with a camera. Not really my own style, just how I wanted to be as a person and a photographer. How could I communicate with this thing? Plus I didn’t really have a template at all of how to become a professional photographer. I didn’t know who to ask. I wasn’t a nerd for this early so I don’t know any photography history or wasn’t even looking at other photographers’ work besides what I saw on Tumblr. In a way my peers that I saw/met through the internet is how I learned my way through eventually becoming a professional. There is one photographer from Vancouver that I really enjoy and I credit her for inspiring me a lot from afar when I was younger and even until now, Hana Pesut (@sincerelyhana). Any chance I get to give her her flowers I take it. Thanks Hana!
Midway through my 20’s I really started going full force and gained more confidence in myself and got a better understanding of who I wanted to be in this space and what I had to offer. That’s when I started to really market myself as a photographer with the birth of Street Dreams Magazine that I’m grateful to be a part of, work for and call that family. Since then I’ve grown so much and it’s nice to have this archive of images called Instagram that I can really scroll back through and see the progress. It’s very sweet. Now I’m here, talking to y’all and it’s honestly a blessing to be able to do this. I press a button on a piece of glass and plastic for a living (I know it’s more than that), but I feel grateful to be able to do this and I can’t ever do my craft a disservice and not have fun with it every single day.
You’re the lead photographer at Livestock Canada, how has the streetwear scene developed your artistic practice?
Livestock specifically was groundbreaking when I was high school. I can’t say I was always into fashion. But dressing well (in my own right) is very important to me on the day to day. I won’t speak on Livestock’s influence when I was younger and what they were doing in the early days when I was high school. But look it up or “if you know you know.” For one, it’s amazing to just be able to do what I love to do with a company that I shopped at in my youth and played a big influence in the streetwear game for a long time in Vancouver. It only made sense really to take my talents there. I appreciate them taking a chance on me who literally had no real photography working experience and it put to test the skills I built outside of an environment like that and see what I could do.
The stuff I’m doing with Livestock, I was doing already on my own. Shooting with my friends, putting together outfits and creative fashion stuff so when I got to perform on the platform that is Livestock, I felt like it was a perfect place for me. Being into streetwear and the nuance of the sneaker world and familiarity with all the brands that allowed me to give them my best work. I was just as passionate about being there along with the products and the craft. I think fashion and streetwear will always play a big role in my practise in some form, it’s part of who I am even if I don’t participate in it as much as a consumer but will always be an observer because streetwear is informing so much of the fashion world in general now, it’s awesome. Much like how Hip Hop is the staple genre.
We love the support you extend to other local creatives; how has a larger community of artists shaped your work and who you are?
A lot of this comes from when I was coming up trying to learn photography, I didn’t have anybody to help me. I didn’t have an example of how to be a photographer. I just had examples of how to live, how to be a good human being. So all I did was tie those values as a person to my practise. My parents are huge with this. Growing up I watched them house individuals and whole families in our small apartment that my mom met randomly and found out they needed a place to stay or had nowhere to go. For free. They are always in service to their community of people. Inviting every new person they meet to our home and are always trying to put them on game on the things they’ve learned navigating their lives as immigrants in this country. So I take a lot of that into photography. My community that I operate in. Before I am photographer, I am a human first. People always ask me about photography advice but I’m more interested in giving advice about life in general.
Because photography is not just about looking through a viewfinder and clicking a button, it’s about building relationships, you gotta be inviting like your grandmother, sometimes a comedian, sometimes a guide and always a keeper of safety and well being in the environment. My door, my DM’s are always open to anyone looking to get a better sense of not just photography but being a photographer. Because I didn’t have a guide on how to do this, I told myself that I would be that guide for someone who is like me when I was 19-20 years old just trying something new and trying to find their way. Photography is not the end all be all for me. It is very much more about the community, and if I quit today, I’m happy with that. I’ll open up a coffee shop where photographers and artists alike can hang out and chill and commune with each other. ANYBODY can learn how to use a camera but not many people are aware of how much more we can do with that thing and the service we provide and the impact we can make in people’s lives around us by thinking more about our community than ourselves.
What are your greater goals as a photographer? What purpose do you want your work to serve?
I just want to keep being a service to my community and who I call my community. Whether it’s photographers or models or teachers. Anyone I come into contact with. I honestly don’t have any personal photography goals of things I want to achieve. I just want to achieve things just so I can give it back. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to where I am and there’s not a job that I do or new experience in photography that I come across without telling another person about it and how it’s done, how I did it, what my experience was etc. I always want to share these things to other photographers so they can have a leg up in their own craft/goals so they feel confident. When they get hired for a job that they can ask me or think back to when I told them about this and that and feel more prepared and easy.
Personally I don’t think my work is amazing in comparison to what’s out there. I love every single one of my photos, don’t get me wrong. But when I think about what purpose I want my work to serve, I don’t look at the actual photos as the work. The work to me is, answering DM’s on instagram about cheap places on where to get prints done, hooking up my friend with a contact for a photographer across the world, checking up on a homie who told me about a project they’re working on and seeing how I can help them, making sure I always have time to give to my best friends who want photos of their weddings or babies because those are the friends that keep me connected to this earth. Lending my studio to young photographers free of charge because I know what it was like being 18 and having all the ideas and no money and no resources. Now I am older, I still have the ideas, but now I have the resources and the money to keep me straight so what is it worth to me to charge a kid $100 to use my studio? This is what I’m here for. To be a resource and to elevate the craft, elevate the people and elevate where I work and live. My purpose is THAT work and my work is to serve.
What inspired the location and theme of this shoot in relation to Collection 008?
TAIKAN bags have this very simple, staple and functional design in all it’s collections. That’s what really informs this shoot and I wanted to showcase the bags in a way that felt natural and wanted to highlight them but still blend with the rest of the setting. I wanted to do something that felt romantic and fun, a little nostalgic in the styling choices and mood because I know the collection is inspired by some 90’s minimalism.
What essentials would we find in your TAIKAN on any given shoot day?
Besides the wallet, keys, phone… Lip Balm, a hundred percent. I eat lip balm basically with how much I use it haha, and definitely a camera. Always have a small camera with me that I use just to capture behind the scenes, more just for my own memories. Depending on the weather I’ll always have a hoodie or a spare t-shirt in case I get sweaty on set. Gotta have the fresh one for after. I always got allergy medicine on deck, and maybe a random snack.
DONNEL x TAIKAN on Spotify
With the most recent mixtape added to our TAIKAN Spotify library, Donnel Garcia took a collaborative route in bringing us the best tracks to accompany his Collection 008 editorial. For those lucky enough to tune in, you would know that Donnel went live on Instagram from his studio during a printing and scanning experiment with a request for music recommendations. Created in harmony with Donnel’s work, enjoy this two and a half hour long set of community sourced songs that can make a listener feel loved at any time.
photos by donnel garcia for TAIKAN Everything connect: @taikaneverything @donnelgarcia powered by #SDMfeatures @streetdreamsnyc @streetdreamsmag contribute to streetdreams.co?