How to Reinvent Yourself and Follow Your Passion In Your 30s

I met Alex years ago. The first thing I remember about her was that warm smile. The second was thinking, Where is this girl from?! She was speaking to me in Spanish with a very faint accent that could have been almost not there at all. Later I found out that she had been raised in Virginia and New Mexico. But I never shook off that feeling that she was born a citizen of the world. She’s a gypsy at heart, and she’ll tell you that herself. When I met her she wasn’t a professional photographer or a filmmaker. And here we are almost 10 years later and she’s got a documentary in the works. Alex has chosen her own adventure. Here’s how she did it.

You weren’t always a photographer. When did you start taking photography more seriously?
As a kid, my grandmother gave me a book on Henri Cartier-Bresson, and I was so inspired. I wanted to see and be in all those places he photographed. That started my love affair of travel and picture-taking. I had dabbled around in the high-school darkroom, but it was not until I moved to New York City in 2008 that I made a conscious effort to turn the hobby into something more. Before that, I was living in Los Angeles for a second time and had been shooting on an old Nikon film camera a friend gave me. Unfortunately, one day I came home from work and found that my apartment had been robbed and my camera and laptop, with years of photos on it, were both gone. It took me a few years to feel like even taking a picture again.

Finally, I bought a new Nikon DSLR and enrolled at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Having assignments and structure helped me shape together a portfolio of portraits and graffiti-covered cityscapes. Encouraged by a friend, I decided to submit a photo to an open call for artists and was chosen as a New York City emerging artist out of a pool of 1,500. The photo was Chinatown Graffiti. The entire experience gave me the confidence I needed to believe that my photography had the power to touch people.

How and when did you decide to make a documentary?
In 2012, while reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I was completing a task of taking myself on an artist date. I love to take photos of interesting compositions of architecture and graffiti and really have been [doing it] since I was a teenager. But that day in New York City, I came across something I had never seen before. Two young women spray-painting a piece of graffiti. In all my time documenting street art and graffiti, it had never dawned on me that women were also a part of the movement! I knew I had to dig deeper into this male-dominated culture. That’s really when Street Heroines was born, at least as a photographic documentary. Now we are in 2016 and I’ve filmed over 25 international female graffiti and street artists and am working towards finishing a feature documentary film this year. 

How have you managed to keep your passion project and make a living at the same time? 
My meditation practice, which has been strong for the past year, has allowed me to stay the course. It may seem cliché, but I’ve really tried to focus on the positive and believe that this project landed in my lap because these female artists’ stories need to be told. However, it’s been a challenge to pay rent in New York City while self-funding a documentary. I work as a freelance producer and business consultant, which helps keep me afloat, but with an inconsistent travel schedule, the balance between work and passion slips away. I am a proud believer in the shared economy, so I’ve used Airbnb for years now to rent out my apartment when I travel or my second bedroom when I am home.

Have you made any compromises?
My living situation certainly is a compromise. And romantic relationships are hard to cultivate when I am constantly on the go. At the end of the day, though, I am passionate about documenting and preserving culture.

How has following your passion and making a documentary changed your approach to life? Any lessons learned thus far?
For as financially stressful and frustrating making a creative project can be, I love all the adventurous and magic moments I’ve experienced along the way. Street Heroines has taken me to over 10 countries and connected me with incredible human beings that I would have otherwise never known. I may very well end up with a 9-to-5 job at some point, but I rest assured in the indescribable memories I will have collected. Travel, which brings with it cultural enrichment, is the most important education I’ve had. I think the biggest takeaway is that the simple life is the life best lived. 

Luz PlazaCareer Change