It’s a commitment of the best kind. In a world where anyone (and seemingly everyone) can buy a digital camera and call themselves a photographer the title has lost some of its value. Not with one man. Jose Villa is a man committed to the world of photography in a form that is of the purest and truest kind. He shoots in film and produces art that reminds us of the unforgettable work of Annie Liebovitz, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus. The colors, the emotions, the subtle details. Truly he deserves his American Photo given title as being one of the top 10 photographers in the world. He is an artist that cannot be compared to anyone else.
I can’t quite remember when I first stumbled upon Jose’s site, but he since has enamored me. Like a giddy schoolgirl, I have found myself on numerous occasions poring over his site clapping and cheering with each new picture displayed. I have on my list of future goals to attend one of his one-on-one workshops. I cannot think of any other workshop I’d like to attend more.
So, when I was considering whom I’d like to interview for my next Photography Friday I just knew I had to ask Jose. It might not be a ticket to one of his workshops, but it’s as good as it gets today.
Jose, you are so kind and gracious to allow me to steal a few moments of your busy life away. I am indebted.
I must be honest. I feel like I know much of you simply by studying your art, but when it truly comes to your personal life and story I don’t feel like I know a single thing. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to get to know you better.
Were you born and raised in California?
I was born in a small town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico and came to the US at age 5 where my father was working on the “ horse whisperer’s” ranch. I grew up there, lived there for 16 years.
How did you evolve into such a gifted photographer?
Humm, photography styles are so subjective, some love it and some hate it.. I just photograph what I love, which is color, playfulness, love, and life. I think I photograph a lot of how I grew up… large ranch, open fields, lots of color, trees, horses etc. then people started to recognize and connect with the look and feel of my images.
When did you officially start shooting weddings as a full-time photographer?
I started when I was 21, I am now 28.
How many weddings do you do a year?
Well last year I shot 50, this year in the mid 40’s and next year, I plan on 40.. I LOVE shooting, some people think I’m crazy for taking so many, but I can since I shoot film.. I have so much more time to shoot.
What do you do to keep fresh and knowledgeable in the field?
I love to travel and see the world. I also love old vintage cameras and polaroids. One of my favorite cameras is the Holga. I take it on all my vacations. The Holga allows me to think about my images and compose them before taking the shot. There is NO room for overshooting.
Are most of your weddings shot in California?
Yes, but I shoot all over the world.
Have you ever had to turn a job down simply because the person was looking for something “un-you”?
I struggled to find the “me” in photography for a long time. I wasn’t sure what was ME until I started to attract the same type of brides and grooms, same locations, same vendors. I think the most important thing about attracting the clients that you want is to only show on your blog and website those types of weddings and couples that are true to your heart. It’s harsh to say this, but very true.
Do you advertise or rely on word of mouth?
I do advertise, but not much anymore. There might only be 1 website I actually spend money on and the rest is by word of mouth and magazine submissions. Also wedding blogs are very big these days and a handful of my weddings for 2010 are from blogs that have featured my images.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a wedding?
I wake up, get dressed and run out the door… no real preparing here.. Ha ha !
During the wedding do you set-up each shot, more or less act like the paparazzi or a bit of both?
I like to watch the day unfold, there is some direction of course since most of my clients have never been photographed before.
Do you ever shoot digital?
Only for commercial work, which is only about once a month, and I love it that way.
How much post-processing do you do to your photos after each event?
Do you use any artificial lighting when shooting?
Yes, I have a video light I love to use for a more natural ambient look during the first dance and cake cutting. I also use a flash for the fast dancing shots.
How do you keep yourself creatively fresh?
I shoot for my personal love of photography.
How important is blogging to your business?
When you’re not taking photos what do you like to do with your free time?
I like to travel and see my family, of course that always involves taking my camera.
What is the most memorable photo shoot you have ever had?
I shot a wedding in a small island in Belize.. during the ceremony a huge storm came in and washed all the table linens and flowers into the ocean.
Who are some photographers in the field today that inspire you?
I love the work of Sally Mann, and Mary Ellen Mark. I love the look of raw black and white wide angel images.. not to mention the amazing sense of their surroundings and reaction to emotion.
If you could no longer take photos what would you like to do for a job?
I use to say in grade school that I wanted to be a mail man.. I take that back now, and think managing a museum would be loads of fun.
If you knew people would come, where in the world would you like to host one of your workshops?
Ohhh… yikes.. this is a tough one. There are so many amazing locations .. the first that comes to mind is Chile.. why? Not sure.. I think because I have always dreamt of high mountains in Chile.
If you could sit and have coffee with anyone in the world (dead or alive) who would that be?
How do you hope to see your business evolve over the next 5-10 years?
I would love to shoot for Travel and Leisure magazine.
For someone such as myself who has been in the business for 18 months what are three things you’d say to me based on what you’ve learned in your 7 years in business?
1. Shoot what comes within you, not what comes from everyone else in the industry. Find your own way
2. Treat your clients as if you were treating yourself.. give them what they want.
3. Share your images, just make sure they credit you.