Victoria Cardenas has made a name for herself in, what sometimes feels like, the secret society of fashion here in Denver. She has worked behind some very exclusive fashion shows (most recently NYFW) and focuses on working with creative people of color. This year holds big happenings for Cardenas as she plans to expand more than just her photography and styling. She allowed us to watch behind the scenes at a photoshoot she plans to dedicate to her friend who has lost members of her family from cancer. As a stylist, she continues to capture emotion that has directly impacted her life and the outcome is striking.
303 Magazine: Photography has so many dimension, but what made you want to focus on photography?
Victoria Cardenas: For me art, in general, is about creating dimensions. When I write poetry, when I take photos when I create a piece of art I don’t want it just to be about my feeling or my emotions. For me, when I was just taking photos of people in their normal clothes it becomes about them and their dimensions and their personality and what makes that person them. I think being able to create a story and going further is what got me into the fashion part of photography because I could make these outfits and put them on a person and then the clothes tell a story with the way they look and the way they move. Fashion photography is more appealing to me because it’s like storytelling, and I don’t want my work to be “just because.” There should always be a reason. It should always have a purpose. You can tell the difference between something that has that depth or storyline. With fashion you’re taking someone else’s hard work and incorporating that into the shot, mixing it with hair and makeup, in a studio or on location it’s about creating dimensions. It’s never about one thing. That’s why I like fashion because I like telling stories.
303: When was it that you notice styling was a major part of the photographic experience?
VC: When I got asked to participate in Style Wars. This was way before I considered myself a stylist. I was nominated by Sheila Preshale. She’s someone who I admire and she was already an established stylist. When I found out she was the one that nominated me I knew I had to take this serious now… I went in the style wars and kicked ass with the Ebonee. It definitely gave me that confidence. You never want to walk in an industry and just say that you’re stylist or photographer. Like, what does that entitle? Did you go get a degree? Like how do you get to the point of calling yourself a stylist? Basically, when other people started telling me that they liked my outfits it gave me the confidence to go in-depth with fashion and putting outfits together. It helped me create my look, my voice and my tone.
303: What is the thing about styling photoshoots that have made your photography better?
VC: I guess it makes me feel more prepared knowing what I’m working with. Like the pink dress we shot today. I know when a certain dress is going to hug tight on a body, so obviously if someone is self-conscience about their weight or if someone is curvy it helps me by being prepared. It also helps me highlight or hide something. If I know there is a hole, a tear one side of the garment, or maybe on the garment the sleeves aren’t very nice but the middle is. I can just focus on putting the attention towards just that part. It all just makes me feel more confident going into a photo shoot because I know which pieces are for movement if I want the model to be still or maybe I want the model to hide in it.
303: You recently taught a class with TheCollabDen focused on styling. What was the experience like leading the conversation for aspiring stylists?
VC: That was probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in a really long time because I’m self-taught and I really just do things. Having to not only sit down and think about my process but actually translating and transcribing it into something that I could teach to someone else in a way that would make sense was tough. I had a packet and it involved a color theory wheel, a word bank that was filled with words like airy, light, fluffy, calm and breezy to help whenever you get stuck to find words for your shoot. Then there were basic style questions on things you want to focus on. The response I got was so much stronger than I had expected because it was really just me spewing knowledge at them for a really long time. Trying to explain why doing it all this way works for me. You know, being open and objective to everything. The hardest part was it was geared to stylists, photographers and models. The approach to style for each of those is different. For models it wasn’t necessary for them to change what stylists put on them it was to know how to make the most out of your portfolio and how can you dress better because it’s your job to look good. For photographers, it was meant to explain the importance of what stylists do and why you absolutely need to work them into your budget. I talked about how to communicate and how to verbalize your ideas and how to put them into words. Then for stylists, it was about how to enhance your style and what kind of styling you want to do because there are so many different genres of stylists in the fashion world. It was really hard to put it all into words and then presenting it, but it was extremely encouraging because it felt like they knew what I was talking about. Now they could take anything from the class and apply it to their work.
303: What was the best advice you gave your class?
VC: My two tips were to try on clothes and wear them wrong. If anyone wants to dress themselves or others better — in general — to try everything on even if it’s not made for you. You may think it fits you a certain way but then you put it on and it fits you completely different. It gives you more knowledge. The second tip, look for inspiration outside of fashion.
303: We had the pleasure to watch behind the scenes of your photo shoot and was moved by the way you take care of everyone on set. How do you get your models and assistants to vibe with your flow of work?
VC: I just treat people the way that I want to be treated. I think, especially this last year, I have put my absolute heart into projects and into these really big productions that I wasn’t getting paid on. I was there to learn and to be an extension of that brand. I’m definitely scared that people think I’m a bitch. I’m scared that I come off as bossy instead of a leader. That’s something that I ‘ve dealt with my entire life. I was the captain of my soccer team, I’m the oldest of four — naturally regardless if I’m in that position or not — I instinctively become that leader. Luckily I’m super blessed to work with my boyfriend Eric and best friend who recently insisted in being my assistant. She completely changed my life, so when I see people like myself who are so willing to give up their time and energy on something that isn’t about them it becomes my main focus on making everyone feel comfortable. I want everyone to feel included — whether you’re the model or helping hand — at photo shoots. I want everyone to feel as good about the shoot as I do because if you don’t then why are we all here.
303: In case any aspiring stylists in Denver missed your first class, when will you be teaching it again?
VC: Soon, but this time we will be doing more interactive styling. I have a big rack of clothes and models. It’s specifically styling for photography and about creating an illusion. You could take an old grungy looking sweater and make it look high fashion. I feel that the photography community in Denver is lacking in styling. As fun as it might be to tell a girl to her show up and shoot her in her t-shirt and jeans or have her in her underwear in some Nike’s, that’s not styling. If you’re going to put your time into it why not call some 10 of the best stylists in Denver looking for collaborations who have closets full of clothes and try to something together? Build that community because it doesn’t have to just be you.
303: What does the future hold for Cardenas the fashion photographer?
VC: This year I think I’ll be focussing a lot more on the fashion journalism and photography specifically because I love writing. First and foremost before I am a photographer, I am a writer. I published a poetry book in 2012. Most of my creative nature comes from being a writer, so I would love to give back to that. I struggled in the fashion and photography community for a bit and my grandpa told me real honestly that I’m not getting better at the pace I should be because I had abandoned what I was naturally good at, and that is writing. It slapped me in the face because he never tells me anything negative. This year I want to focus on building my portfolio for Cardenas and for Fox and Foto our graphic design business. Also, I have Option Hall, which is my rental closet that will have it’s grand opening this month. It’ll be a communal closet for stylists, models, and photographers to rent clothes from or donate to. Instead of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars every time you need to shoot we’ll have the closet. It’s basically my way of giving back to people who are starting in the photography industry here in Denver. Focusing on myself and our work. I wouldn’t be able to half of the things I do without Eric. He keeps everything organized, he keeps me calm and that has helped us build a strong working relationship. I want to create our best work and to be able to verbalize the ideas in my head and have someone there to help me put that on screen the way it looks, is amazing. Really, I’m just ready to fuck shit up.
Victoria Cardenas was assisted by her boyfriend and business partner Eric Pande, styling assistant Hiedi Lightenburger, model Eboni Bonee and makeup artist Destiney Curry.
Photos by Meg O’Neill and Emma Pion-Berlin.