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Defying the Odds

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Defying the Odds with Roberto Valenzuela

Roberto Valenzuela, Kenna Klosterman

Defying the Odds

Roberto Valenzuela, Kenna Klosterman

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Lesson Info

1. Defying the Odds with Roberto Valenzuela

Lesson Info

Defying the Odds with Roberto Valenzuela

Yeah. Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creativelive. Welcome back or welcome for the very first time we are here on creative live TV where we bring you educators, creatives, musicians from all over the world from their living rooms, home studios, kitchens and yours back to yours for mind yours during these times when we are all often at home. And so today I am super excited for another episode of We are photographers. That is our podcast here, creativelive where I take you personally up close and personal with some of our favorite photographers and filmmakers again from all of the world. We talk about their stories and what has made them who they are because, as you know, is a creative. We all go through the ups and the downs and life is a journey, and we're here to connect. So if you are watching us on creative live TV or on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, you can interact with us. I love to give the shout outs to where people are tuning in from, so all you have to do if you're watchin...

g on creativelive dot com slash tv is click on the chat icon on the right and again tell me where you're tuning in from. Tell me how long you've been watching Creativelive. Um, our guest today has been part of the creative live family for I think, over eight years or so let's bring him on. I am super excited again for another episode of Were Photographers. Today's guest is Mr Roberto Valenzuela. Roberto is a photographer and educator and author and a cannon explorer of light. He has written six books, I think, over six books. Um, he has been named one of the top most influential photographers in the world. He judges print competitions at major conferences and, of course, he teaches his own workshops in person and online right here on parade of life. A swell as his own. So please help me give a big creativelive welcome to Mr Roberto Valenzuela. Roberto, how are you? You know what can I when you said welcome to creative life? My stomach Just like I got my stomach just totally every it's your voice announcing me Say, welcome to creative life. You have no idea how much anxiety my stomach went through because that's when you know that those red lights show up in the studio on you start, you'll be preparing, You know, this creative life classes. I used to spend 34 months preparing for them. Uh, no instructor prepares mawr for anything else other than creative life classes. They were the most demanding on. Uh, and I would remember when you said the introduction I remember me just thinking, Oh, God, I hope it goes Well, you know, thank you for doing that. That probably back. Well, it's funny how the brain works, right? We're going to talk talk a bit about that in this on our conversation today. But it's also just it is wild. How? Oh, how? I think it has been eight years since your first creativelive. And we're just getting nostalgic looking at pictures back from those days. And so before we start again some of the shoutouts air coming through Maria, who's from Tucson, Arizona? Yeah, we've got on a ho and we have at somebody from Tone Apollo, Arizona, as well. So keep those coming in those air on creative live TV. But Roberto Okay, so we'll go back to eight years ago, But let's start with today. You are a cannon explorer of light and can in the time of recording, where at the beginning of August, 2020 just released The Cannon are five and are six. The Canon Pro printer and you were hired to photograph campaigns for all three of those. And so I mean, you had this career that has led up to that. We're going to talk about, define the odds, um, and your life story. But what did it mean to you to be hired for? For and probably the only person hired to do campaigns for all three of those? I still don't, and I'm not trying to be funny about it. It's just hard to believe, because you go back to your beginning of your career. I remember going to this little camera store in Tucson, Arizona, called Ritz Camera, and if she's listening in Tucson Ritz camera, they went out of business. They closed on it used to be in the Park Mall on I showed up and I said, I'm a photog. I'm trying to be a photographer. I would like to buy my first camera on my they solved in my first camera. It was a canon 20 D Andi e remember seeing the posters for the camera and all the ads for the camera, and I just thought like, Wow, this is just nuts. Like how crazy the world was so big in the photography world on your just like this little guy in Tucson, you know there's nobody lives in Tucson. You know what? Some people live in Tucson, but it's such a small population. It's just like, What is this? Now? I remember preparing for the I've shot other campaigns for Canon to for the 50 mark for, like, three or four years ago, but this one was like a huge release for Canada. It was as exciting as the five d mark to release when they made video for the first time in an SLR. I remember putting my my team, my team together, and I said, We're gonna be shooting that campaigns for the new kind of printer, the Pro 300 which is a smaller, smaller, smaller brother to the Pro 1000, then the are six on the Super famous are five that everybody was talking about on the R six was still like a secret camera. Nobody nobody knew much about it. You know, it was kind of like, Captain the download on. We spent ah lot of money on this campaign. Tens off thousands of dollars. E had to hire models that were on on makeup artists that were Kobe 19 certified. So everyone had to be covered. 19 certified. You have to pay for insurance for all these people because in case they get sick so that the bills just skyrocketed. You know, I felt I don't know how you feel about that. You know, when I when I took the first picture, I remember I couldn't sleep the night before, I was just anxiety on. I woke up at 4. 30 in the morning, and I was in this beautiful place in Taya, near town California, which is, like Joshua Tree National Park area on. We rented on Airbnb there and I walked out on the entire Joshua Tree National Park was in front of me on I just sat on the little table outside the house and I dragged my coffee by myself at 4. 35 in the morning. The sun was just rising, and I have a photo of that. I'll show up, put it up sometimes on. I was just like what happened between that kid in Tucson on that morning. When you're waking up to shoot three major global campaigns for the largest camera manufacturer in the world, something else can. It's something else. I still think it's this has been such a fun, right? I mean, so yes. So let's talk about that. I mean, what what is eso? First of all, you're still feeling anxiety. Ah, lot of people. A lot of people think that once you get to a point in your career where you are, uh, and having authored, you know, your your wedding books are number one and number two wedding photography in history. You know, and and and, um, we're, you know, doing like you said the campaigns for canon and everything that you've accomplished. But you still why do you think you still feel anxiety? I think because I'm an educator at heart on. You don't want to. You want to always do a good job when you're teaching, and also, when you're shooting campaigns, you don't know what variables we're gonna you're going to get hit by. You don't know if the models are going to be difficult. Uh, in the photo shoot, you don't know if something's gonna go wrong on you, you plant and this is the one day you have to do it, you know? So one thing that I rely on when I have this anxiety is that I can rest assured that no matter how many things go right or how many things go wrong, my practicing my training will always come to the rescue. So you don't have to worry about it. You just do. You worry about it, but you just go like it's okay. I'm going to rely the fact that I'm well trained, I can rely on my training and my skill set. My, my I mean hammering like how to become a better photographer. How to become proficient had become faster, every scenario possible. I have worked it out in my head. I have practiced it. So now it's just time to let it go on produce. You know, I always call for photo shoots like a performance on on your practice sessions, like your practice sessions. So you're practicing for the performance and the photo shoots or creative life or anything. It's the performance you practice for? Exactly. And we've talked a lot about practice in your classes and your books and and, you know, and your book titles or picture, you know, picture perfect. You know, posing and lighting and and practice. And it does go back Thio for, uh, for people who don't know that I didn't know before your first creative live performance, uh, that you were saying? Just called it a performance. Um, that you you were a classical guitar pianist. So we'll put that on hold for a second. And and because I know that's where a lot of the practice came from and and go back in time before you did that. So you were born in Mexico City. And when How old were you when you moved to the U. S. I moved to the United States when I was 10 and it was not for a good reason. You know, my my dad was a fashion designer on He was very wealthy, or I guess I don't know what money was back then, but I was only a kid, but my dad was very wealthy fashion designer. So in Mexico City, when you have that kind of wealth. You attract danger. Eso we There was a lot of threats to our life. We've had assassination attempts made on me on my dad, on my family. We had to go to school with bodyguards and stuff like it was a very scary time. We didn't know when we were going to go to school, and when the kidnappers were going to take us on, they would call and threaten my mom and said, We're going to take your kids when they go to school if they go to a friend's house. So we ended up having to stay at home, Kind of like cov 19. We have to stay at home orders for almost four months. We would. We never left the house. Never. We had to have people bringing groceries and all these things. Um, on then one day, my after four months of being at home because we were trying to protect, you know, he was trying to protect us. Uh, we just got in the car. He said, we're going to the mall. I was like, We're going to the mall. He goes, we're going to the mall. I was like, We haven't left the house. And all this time we get to go to the mall. That's awesome. So we got we got out the car, I didn't bring anything. He just get in the car. We're going to the mall. So we got to the way, Got in the car on we drove. It was like, six hours later, I was like, This must be quite the mall. Like, where is the mall? You know, uh, eight hours, 10 hours went by. We were still in the car on. We ended up driving all the way to Tucson, Arizona. Wow. Eso I did not know that story. I did not know that That was the reason that you moved. Yeah. Nobody to my friends. No, not you guys could bring a box of toys. Nothing. It was. Here's my shirt. Here's my pants. Get in the car. Just go. I mean, you you laugh a lot just as the human being, Roberto and you have you smile a lot, but that's a pretty traumatic experience, E. I mean, how how long did it take? Sort of. For you, thio sort of adjust. Thio, That's a new world. Was your did your father become continue being a fashion designer in the U S. Like what? What happened? The trauma was more in the threats for being kidnapped. The trauma of leaving your house and your friends that you've had since you were born. That wasn't too bad because you're such a young kid. You kind of don't even think about it. Of course I missed them, but I wouldn't say I felt traumatized about it. I just felt sad that I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say goodbye to my family in Mexico either. Like my aunts, my grandma, my, my, my uncles, my cousins, everybody. I had to leave them all behind. That was stuff that friends were tough. But I think when you're a kid, you're so resilient. You know, you're so strong, your so resilient things happen. You don't even realize. When my dad moved to the United States when we moved to the United States, my dad wanted toe start a restaurant. So he started a restaurant called Hey was going to call it Chubby chicken. But that was my idea, and he thought it was pretty good. Uh, it was it was gonna be a chicken joint. Oh, so sort eso he ended up. Thought he thought he was two people. Americans are not gonna like the name Chubby chicken because they don't like chubby. So he says we'll call it Mexico. Ala Carte. So he called it Mexico a cart, which was a complete failure of a name, but yeah, he worked there. We were working there like, 18 hours a day. We were just there. He hired people. But that's a whole different world. That was a tough when he was there at that restaurant. We were in a really bad part of town on my dad put me in a school where I was, uh it was considered the most dangerous school in the state of Arizona. On that's where I went to junior high. Eso actually, somebody stabbed me with a knife on my birthday as a as a happy birthday present. When you were how old? I was, like 13. Yeah, they stopped me a little bit. They just drew blood. They didn't really put the knife all the way in, but they it was like kind of like a rite of passage in that school. Toby stopped on your birthday. So that was kind of like my my operate gig. That's off. Yeah, that was not a good situation. You go from this, like nice kid in Mexico, playing the piano and trying to do these things and having friends toe moving to Tucson, I first I went to a nice Catholic school, but I'm talking about later on when when I turned, like 12 and 13 that's when he opened up the restaurant on that restaurant was in a bad side of town. And that's when my whole life had to be went under some serious tests. Yeah, or their other. I mean, you talked about resilience, so Well, I I know that you, um where there's a new Siri's coming out called Boys State, and we were talking about this, um, we were talking about this in advance of being live, and you told me that you were part of this competition. And at 17 you won. So you're talking about now you're in high school, you're in this dangerous part of town. You're being stabbed at 13. That's forward to you. Win this competition and meet Bill Clinton. And so tell us about what boys state is and how what it took for you to to win this thing. And maybe a lot of people aren't familiar with it. I wasn't. Boy State is a huge competition, its nationwide on, uh, it's ah, it's a competition for pop for political, political savvy students or politically interested students. Um, I was in, I think, what happened before? I start talking about how I want the whole thing. I have to start saying how I think I wanted. And I became very strong in my competition because of that very dangerous school I went to. You see, everything in your life happens for a reason. Um, on that school wasn't my high school, By the way. That was my junior high. That's where the stabbing happened. But I just got stopped. The people have guns in their lockers. It was a drug infested place. You would get beat up for fun on you, and you had to learn how to defend yourself. It was a very rough way toe to try to get good grades. So if you were a good student, so you try to be a good student. You got destroyed in that school. So you really have to manage. How do you handle the Gangsters in the school? How do you navigate that on Also have you How do you recognize assay Young 13 impressionable adult that you don't want to follow their footsteps. Okay, but you want to become a good student. But if you are a good student, you'll get beat up by the Gangsters and you will. You will no longer have protection. It's kind of like being in prison. You need a protection from those people before another group beats you up. So I you you become because it's your teeth and your face in the line. You learn to navigate all sorts of personalities in in a life or death situation, like like it's not like you're trying to, like, get them to give you a promotion at work. You're trying not to get beat up on beat up where you would be hospitalized. So you become very quickly motivated to learn how to navigate on be part off the protection off a gang, but also how to become a good student who is going to succeed as a student in academia. In that school on, I also try to run cross country and track for that school, which can get you beat up. If you're on cross country, you will get beat up because it's kind of like a nerdy sport. So I also have to join track in order for me not to get beat up. So you have to be kind of like navigate both. When Boys State came, I was speak by my by my school, my high school now. So let's move forward to high school now. I was picked by my school. I just applied Kenna. I didn't know I was going to be elected or selected. Okay, I applied. I gave a speech. I said I wrote an essay. I said Why? I wanted to go. I ended up going. I ended up being selected by my school, but so was another guy that I won't say his name because I don't not sure if I should. But there was another guy in that school that was one of the most gifted political students in the whole nation. And he was also selected from my school. So we to people to people from every school in Arizona went so there was 500 participants in this boy state on it was the most competitive thing. Even till today, I have never had a competition that fears in my entire life boy state and the other one that we'll talk about Waas by far something in my brain that I will never forget. I didn't realize humans could be that dedicated toe winning like they would do. Can you tell us, Can you tell us a story of like, what does that even mean? Like, it's the most competitive thing you've ever experienced. You know where the two go to those lengths, like, set the scene? Well, the thing is, these are overachievers to the highest degree. These are anal retentive personalities who have never gotten a B in their life. These are people whose grades on their family names are a big weight on their shoulders every single day. In order to stay up up to the standards that these people are held to, these people are These people are not there to mess around. They were there to win on their level of dedication and their level of, uh just okay, let me set the scene. There was breakfast served in the morning, which many students missed because they didn't want to waste time on our eating so they could stay more time studying. Then those same students would also sometimes makes lunch so they would not waste any time eating lunch on. They would spend that time trying to study rivals they would meet. They would get together with all sorts of people on they would talk to them like they are your friend. But they were really just studying how you were going to vote on what kind of person you wear on what kindof attitude or what kind of words you have to come out of their mouth to get them to like you. For for you toe run a race like one of the first political races on that you will become popular. You would win. They would mess up their shoes so they wouldn't look too fancy so people would relate with them. They would literally grab the shoe and smack it around, beating up. They would wear clothes that their families would pick out so you would not be. You would not be too preppy, but you would also not be too nerdy. You wouldn't be too cool. But you wouldn't be too much of a joke that people wouldn't be able toe identify with everything Waas calculated. That's the C e. Mean, first of all, I last night I went and watched the trailer for boys state on YouTube because, I mean, it's what a fascinating documentary. Um, but But so then you win this thing, you go on, you win, you know? Then you go to Boys Nation. Uh, and then you're sitting with President Clinton in the White House. What did you what What, like, how did that feel, or what did you talk about? Or, you know, what did that mean to you when I was So when I was meeting with the president? You mean like when I was at the White House with him? Um, Well, first it was a little bit scary, because when I walked into the White House, the Security Department people, the Treasury Department, who's in charge of the president security. They said to me, Welcome to the White House. They give you this briefing, then they say where you're gonna be meeting with the president in about 45 minutes. Um, if you put your hands in your pockets. We will take you down. If you make any sudden movements, we will take you down. If you do not listen to what we're saying, we will not let you in. If you laugh at what we're saying, you will no longer be allowed to meet with the president. I was like, Okay. I mean, I'm trying not to laugh, you know? It's like I'm like, Okay, don't laugh. But you're making me laugh because you're acting so crazy. I'm like, 16 years old, and you're, like, in my face telling me you're gonna take me down. It's kind of funny. Um, Then they moved me upto another room, and then they moved me upto another room at that room. This lady comes with a clipboard on, like, a suit thing, and she comes up to me. She goes, uh, you just want to confirm your name is Roberto Valenzuela. Do you have anything in your pockets? So do you have any? Do you have any anything in your health that might make you flinch? I was, like, flinch. And they're like, Yeah, you cannot. You cannot be flinching because we don't know if you're going to attack. I was like, There will be no flinching. I'm not flinching. Okay, so I got in big trouble at the White House, because in very Roberto fashion, I actually had a present for Bill Clinton in my pocket, which I purposely did not tell him I was going to graph. I was going to put my head in my pocket on I was going to be given it to him. So finally, the moment of truth came where they told me to stand up and I was standing and I was facing a door on this lady opens the door and she says, You can go in and meet with President Clinton, and I started walking towards the door. That was it felt like the Green Mile, if I don't know if you know what that is. But it felt like the Green Mile. You're about to meet the most powerful man in the world because you one a very difficult thing to win on you. I was also winning the national competition to So you're meeting with this president who also won the same competition when he was 17. Back in 1969 he met sorry. Back in he met President Kennedy on DSO. That door's open on there. I see Bill Clinton on waiting for me. The first thing he does is he just goes like this to me on. Then I kind of started feeling nervous. Like I felt like I was gonna faint s I was walking, but he actually came up to me. Aun said, Coming in, don't worry about it. And that made me feel a little bit better. And then I sat down. He shook my hand. We there was a photographer on the side. We shook. I was very nervous. And I'll show you the photo. I have the photo. Still, I'm like this aunt. He's like, just smiling on and in my shirt. I had a little button with a picture of him, uh, with a picture of him meeting President Kennedy on. Then I have one in my pocket to give to him. So after I was done with that whole thing, we sat down. He told me What what's what's what water might be. What are my concerns in Arizona? From a political point of view, How did I win? Boy States What did I do? Because he also was there. So we were talking shop. He knew what to ask because I was there and he was there. So we were talking shop. I told them I'm very nervous and he goes, You know what, Roberto? I'm just a guy. In two more years, I'm gonna be a private citizen. Who cares? Just relax. Let's talk. I'm so excited about your Your future is like, Are you going to run for politics? I was like, Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm in my forties or fifties is like you call me. I will. I will answer your phone call. I will. I will support you. I was just like, okay? And he says, and I don't say that lightly was like, No, you're the president. Of course you don't. Uh, so we talked about Arizona. I said, Mr President, I have a present for you in my pocket. But I don't want to get shot by your spy. Your snipers. So can I give it to you? He goes, You dio I tell he goes so he has to tell his people to chill on. I took the thing out of my pocket. And the Secret Service people just shook their heads like this on. I gave it to him on he put it on him and he thanked me on. Then I said goodbye to him. And then I walked to the back of the White House where I was being interviewed by CNN and C SPAN and all these different things. It was a good experience. Have you called him? Uh huh. Eight more years. Okay. When I turned 50 I will begin. Okay. For California Governor. You heard it here first. Creative like here we go. What I'm curious about is this the drive to not only the drive to, you know, win that competition or the Dr Teoh accomplish all the things they've accomplished. But tell me about what you learned about studying people through this sort of thing. Those experience with boys State Boys Nation that you have applied Thio working as a photographer where you have thio sort of study people. Uh, studying people is, uh, probably the thing I do best. I my life depended on it. Winning these competitions depended on it. Andi, I've made mistakes reading people to you. By the way, I've made plenty off mistakes. I'm actually surprised I made those mistakes. I should be quite good at reading people. But sometimes you miss the mark. Andi, Andi. I have examples, but you know, people have, I think, more importantly than people. It's what people have done to me in my in my upbringing that have cost quite a bit of adversity in my life like you. A lot of challenges have happened. Being the first Mexican born winner of Boys State was not an easy feat on going through the discrimination off being the first Mexican born winner off the national one, the poison nation 13 people win that one. President, speaker of the House and chief justice. I want the chief justice, But when you you go through a lot off adversity, you I don't think it's about how do you put this? It's difficult to answer. That's a great question. Can I? It's It's I have such a deep fear off what people are really thinking. Does that make sense? Like I know that everyone smiles and everyone's super cool and I love them all, But I have seen the I have been exposed to the other side off what people are really thinking. Andi, I have You have to become very in tune with something that's very deep in their brain for your survival, basically, at least for my survival. So you become kind of like a chameleon, where you very quickly make a connection with that person's almost inter inter brain on. Then you become a chameleon toe fit that brain wave not to be a part of it, but to not be against it. That is the that is the line it's not. You don't wanna be, ah, part of that wavelength. You just don't wanna be in the in the wrong side of it. Does that make sense? That's made me a very I think has made me a very good educator because you, when people learn something, they learned it in their own way on. I'm not teaching on the surface. I'm teaching deep, deep inside. I tell my students in my posting workshops that I teach that I'm not trying to teach you how to post. I'm trying to. I'm trying to make it so you cannot forget how to pose, not being able to forget. It's because something is very engraved in your brain. It is part of almost your animalistic being, but remembering something is just on the surface. It's very, very quickly to forget it. Short term memory I'm after making you have a hard time forgetting if I can achieve especially imposing where it's the most complicated topic in photography. I think even more than lighting. But if I can achieve you not being able to forget how to do it, I think that's a the deepest level off learning on the deepest level of teaching. I can dio I I think that's so fascinating because Thio the flip of I'm teaching you not to forget versus because there's the like. You said the knowing of something, the remembering of something and then the knowing of something where, like you said, it's so ingrained that you can't forget it. I mean, it's such a It is a beautiful way to put it. I mean, it's like we talk about muscle memory, But does that does that? Is that where the this concept of, you know, practice, um, getting to that point, um, to where you cannot forget something. Is that where that comes from, and if so, I would love for you to talk about. Um I mentioned earlier that I learned when at your first creativelive that you are a you're trained classical pianist pianist, a guitar classical guitar player. And I work I can visualize. I can see it now. You sitting there playing for us. I think we must have live streamed because that's what we did. We live stream to anything. Everything that was, you know, entertaining. Um, and and so tell me about why you became a a a musician in that way. Okay, well, the story is not what you would think, and it's a little intense, and I'll make it quick. But when I won Boys Nation, I was given, uh, scholarships to the state schools that I went to. So any u u of a S u University of Arizona on I also get I can also get the president to give me a presidential nomination to the United States Air Force Academy, which is where I was going to go to school. But when they found out that I wasn't an American citizen, the United States government wiped me wiping out off all by scholarships, so they basically took away every scholarship I was given for winning the national competition. So when I was going to go to the Efforts Academy, they said, Uh, you can no longer apply when I went to the U They they said, You can no longer apply and you can no longer get any kind of help on your scholarship has been revoked, So I waas the 17 year old kid who just accomplished the impossible. I thought my path was set to go to the Air Force Academy and become a four star general in the Air Force on who knows what to. I can't even pay for community college, you know, can I can't even pay for Community college, which in Tucson is called Pima Community College. But I went to the court. We went toe into the court on the judge, said that he decided to wipe wipe me out of all of that and all these different things, and I remember my my heart felt devastated to the highest degree. Uh, and then he did say that I was not able, even ableto allowed toe work in the United States either. So the only way I could pay for college. If I choose to, I will be accepted into colleges if I apply. But I cannot. I will not be allowed for financial aid on I will not be able to allow. I was not allowed to work in the United States unless I was independent contractor. Okay, so I couldn't apply a McDonald's or anything like that. So I said, Okay, so I left the courtroom saying, How am I going to pay for college? This is back in April on I was a high school senior that Sunday I went to church on they were playing the guitar. This band was playing and I was just like watching. I was clapping and singing and playing. I'm watching this entire thing. And it was There were a bunch of Brazilian guitar players on. I said, Like, That's so beautiful on. Then I said, That doesn't so great. And I talked. I talked to a guy after the church service and I said, That sounds so cool. He goes, Well, I can come to your house and I can show you a few things. I was like, Oh, no, really, he goes, Yeah, but he was gonna charge me like $30 for half a Now, er I was, like $30 for half a Now, er he goes, Yeah, music lessons cost $60 an hour or $30 for half a hour. I was like, No kidding. Wait. I could make $30 in half an hour. If I teach guitar lessons on you guys like Well, yeah, but you have to be a professional guitarist. Of course I was like So I asked the church if they could buy me a guitar because I couldn't get like guitar. They were, like, $100. I couldn't afford it. So I got a guitar from the church on. I called a friend from the church and I said, Would you be able tohave your son come to my house and teach me guitar for free on his name was Dustin, which, by the way, he did come to my house and he did teach me how to play aunt. He also just passed away. That guy just died on. He was my best friend, but he, uh it was the worst. Hey, died like a year ago, but he came to my house. He's like, Well, What do you know about the guitar? I I said, I don't know anything. I barely know how to spell the word guitar. You know, on He's like, What's your what do you wanna learn? I was like, I don't wanna learn. I wanna be a class. I wanna be a guitar teacher so I can pay for college. I'm not trying to learn. I'm trying to pay for college. He goes What? It's just like, Are you out of your mind? You know, I was like, No, I'm actually not. And I'm not kidding. And he was like, Do you know how to read music? I was like, No, I've never heard music in my life, so he was like, I don't even know where to start with you. You're crazy. And I was like, start with the first thing. How do you read music? He goes, That takes a long time. I was like, start with the first thing you know, Long story short. He left six hours later. He was completely, uh he was completely in shock off my my my devotion to this to this goal. He says he's never seen someone so determined in his life on I said, It's either that or I don't go to college, you know? So he just kept repeating. So your plan is in three months to pay for college with guitar lessons when you don't even know how to play. It was, like, correct anyway. Three. He came the next week, and he came the week after that on. Then he never came and he didn't come anymore. Andi. After the third time he came, I was already I was practicing like you have never seen anyone practice in your life. I was day and night, the same devotion I used in Boy States and Voice Nation. Multiply that by two. And that's how strong I was going at it with the guitar. Then, about a month later, I was hired as the head guitar teacher for a brand new brand new music store that was opening in Tucson called Beaver Span Box, and I became the head guitar teacher only 30 days after my first guitar lessons. Good times on to make the story even shorter. I paid for college two months later, so I think the fascinating thing about that is your motivation. Mhm. You know, and being in a do or die, essentially, you know, situation, uh, and that that that it was so surprising to him or that, you know, it's a It's a surprising story. Um, but it just so clearly, um it's such an important lesson as Thio. What motivates, you know, what are you motivated by? And and that intention therefore, you know, drives, You know, whatever that thing is inside of you that gets you toe practice and and learn so methodically, I'm I'm curious again. Like going back to your family. And like, where does that come from? Um What? What? I was looking at your instagram account and saw this beautiful picture of you and your mom. Uh uh. And And what implants did your mom have on you and the creativity side? Is it the this motivation side Tell us about her? Well, I think that's an amazing question. And I thank you for asking her about her. She's, uh she is definitely one of the people that I remember. Uh, she probably is the one that is still that motivation in me. That dedication in me on I'm not talking about dedication like I want to learn how to do yoga like I'm talking about, like really do or die. Motivation. People get motivated in two different ways. I'm excited to write a blawg, and I'm motivated to write a blawg or I'm excited to learn how to play volleyball or whatever the skill. Maybe on that there is a side of you that is in you. But very few people will ever tap into that side, which is the do or die motivation side of you. And it is in you. I believe it's in everybody. If you put people through enough obstacles and adversity on challenges where you think the world is just against you, you're just never going to get out of it. And you just hit rock bottom. That is when that ignites. When that ignites, you become a human being like you have never seen. It is a very different side off the human race that, unfortunately not many people will ever experience. It's almost like you have to go through a lot toe to experience that my mom went through that when my mom, my dad, he got arrested for domestic violence against me and my brother and my sisters were mainly me and my brother. So he he was arrested and taken to Mexico and deported all this stuff on. My mom said, Um, well, now, now I'm screwed. I have four Children to feed on. We have no more person that's gonna be able to provide us with any kind of anything. So we got together as a family can. I was about 12 years old. I was 12. My brother was four years older than me. My sisters were two years and mother. My little system was four years younger than me. We got together family and we said, What can we do so we don't starve to death, you know? So we decided, Well, we cannot do anything because we don't know what to do. My mom doesn't speak English. We could barely cannot speak. So we decided, Let's be made. So we decided Thio. We went from a rich family in Mexico with a fashion designer, and we lived in a multimillion dollar house in Mexico City. I used to wear a suit to dinner on. He decided to be made, so we we decided to be made and I became a made for seven years off my life I was cleaning houses. I was in charge of the bathrooms. That was my job. The bathroom. So I always clean the toilets and I scrubbed them on the sinks and the shower and on demand. And I remember how badly I was treated by the people that were in the house. Like I remember one day I was cleaning and I was putting the stuff like the hair products on organizing them. And I put him on the shelf. Remember? The guy came up to me. He was he was a pharmacist. And I will never forget on. He says, Come here, come here. Come here. Come here. And then he started trying to speak Spanish like he's like, Do not move the stuff in my bathroom toe. The thing. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Do you understand? Don't need to speak in Spanish to you too. I was like, Holy smokes, man. Do not blow up, you know? But I went to my mom and I said What happened? My mom told me toe learn to control myself because we need the income on Boy cannot. Let me tell you something when somebody treats you that bad and you have tow eat it for breakfast and control yourself on. Still say thank you for the opportunity of cleaning your house and we'll see you next week. Oh, my gosh. You will learn how your brain just can do things you don't think. Is it? Is it possible? You know, But, uh, we did the houses for for seven years on I Then I did yards for people. I used to go to yards in the summer of Tucson. It was 110 degrees, and I felt that was gonna be hospitalized from how hot it was. But I did people's yards for about four years out of those seven years. So I have been a maid for a big chunk of my life. I made on ah, yard worker. What was the switch like, where? Where did I mean, there's not the switch and that you you did the work and, um, and didn't I don't know if the words rebel or whatever like you, you did it. And again, Now we're here. We are, and you're you're shooting these, you know, massive. The biggest campaigns, you know, for Canon as a canon Explorer of Light. How did you switch to the photography career, or when did that part come in? And is that what push you to become a teacher and author? This, like, methodical? Um, well, that's certainly that methodical practicing is something that has definitely launched me in every way, shape and form. Um, there is practicing and then there's deliberate practicing on with deliberate practicing. You could master skills very quickly. There's no shortcuts. It's just a lot of work. But you could do it like I'm proof of that. Like, you could definitely do it. Um, on I think what happened to us when I was, uh when? Let's just go back to paying for college. When I paid for college, I ended up getting three degrees business degree in international business degree in a marketing degree. So I got an economics degree on a marketing degree and an international business degree, which is what the certificate. So I got three degrees from the University of Arizona. Andi, I got a job as a high school teacher on then in that school, which happens to be the school. I went to high school in I became a teacher at that school. Um, my English teachers, like we went to the teachers meeting for the first, like the orientation of the new teachers on that my English teacher was, and she's like, You look familiar. I was like, Yeah, I'm Roberta used to be your student on. So she was like, What are you doing here? Is like, I'm a teacher now. She's like, here. Just I was like, Yep. So I became a teacher at that high school. I taught guitar lessons for years. I thought 4000 people how to play the guitar. And from that experience, I was hired Assad as a business teacher at this high school on at that high school. I was teaching business on the president of the United States at that time, which was George Bush Jr. He said, um, he wanted to provide a program that will that will motivate students that are in high school to go to business school. So he gave every business teacher in the country I $90,000 grant to have a student run business like a really business that the students were going to run. So I got a $90,000. And I asked my students, Guys, we have $90,000 toe to start a business in this school, and we're gonna have to have a marketing department of Finance Department, a creative department, everything. What business do you guys want to do on? My students said, Well, I said, Think about it. On tomorrow we come and we decide. While the next day those students Kanneh decided on something that changed the course of my life forever because they said we decided to go for digital photography. I did not know that that was the story. I know. Yes, I have a lot of stories. Did you? So how did you learn photography than to teach them photography or as part of this, You know, Grant and Business Program. And And then then how did that launch into was being a wedding photographer? Your first, um, career within the photography path? Sure. Um, I got a grant, and then I got the cameras. When I was buying the cameras, I started calling photographers in my city saying I'm I'm a teacher at this high school. I was enquiring for help. Can you help me? I don't know anything about photography. I actually didn't even know that the lens and the cameras could separate. Like I thought, All cameras where? Like the little the little ones. You buy a best buy, whatever. The ones that have the little thing that zooms in and out when you turn it on. I thought that was a camera. So then the guy, the photographers in Tucson actually gave me the first introduction to the photography industry when they said we don't want to breed more photographers into the city, so they didn't want to help. So I ended up calling a random photography studio in Minnesota. In Minnesota. I called and said Hi, I'm calling you from Tucson, Arizona. I know you're in Minnesota. He goes, I am. He goes you the main photographer in your student. He goes, I am. He goes. I know this is odd, but I need to ask you a favor. Can you please tell me what cameras to buy? I'm a teacher that's supposed to be starting a photography business program and he goes, what you just like, Okay? And he goes, Well, you need to get at least two cameras. They need to get some lights. I was like, Okay when I was running it down lights and he's like, get some strokes. I was like Water strokes. It's strokes. Of the things that flash I was like So So lights flash And how do you make them? Flashy goes. You need to get a trigger. He goes, Oh, my gosh. And he started freaking out. He was like, I need to help you. Let's schedule a meeting So he helped me by all this gear. I ordered about $25, source of cameras on. We need all we did all arrived. It was like Christmas morning, But on steroids on, we had bought strokes and jails and lights and lenses and flashes and all these different stuff. And I was just like, What are all these buttons? What I saw What's all these fractions like Apertura West? The shutter speed backwards? What the help. It was the most overwhelming time in my life on my students that ones that really liked photography. They would call their parents. And they said that if they could stay at the school to 6 p.m. On the six PM went to 9 p.m. So that parents off about 15 kids would pick up their kids at 9 p.m. At night and they would have to drop off dinner to them at the school because they were still with me trying to figure out how the work these cameras. So we had I have a photo of me with my students. We were all learning together. What? All these camera buttons Where Andi I would get home at 10 p.m. I would have to start grading papers and do the whole thing. And then I would go back to the school in the morning on teach all my classes. On that I became so excited about photography I was learning, and also during that time I was getting married. So we had to hire a wedding photographer, which is why I decided to become a wedding photographer. It, like you, said, everything happens for a reason, and it's so fascinating that you can look backwards and see those things. But when you're in the moment, you are sort of you are taking those opportunities as they come, Uh and e mean that seemingly, you know, a lot of people will sit in him and Haulover something. Do you make decisions quickly? Like, are you that person that something supposed to you? And you're like, yes or no? Yes or no? Or this or that Are you? Do you? Do you have a man? Huh? Um, that's a great question again. And I either feel it or I don't Okay, on I mean that in a very deep level. So if I wanna do something, I that's not I feel it when I feel it is like I'm gonna I'm gonna do it. Okay? I get feelings like I get, like, a calling like there's a calling in you to do something that kind off is That's the kind off term I like to say. I have a feeling about this if I have a feeling, is because I feel like there's a calling to do that on interest. All these passions, like I wanna learn how to play the piano. I want to learn how to play basketball. I wanna learn how to be a computer programmer. Those air Not what I mean. I would make a decision on, um when it comes to those things. I actually think about it a lot because it's my time being taken away from what I'm supposed to be doing. So I'm very deliberate on thinking about the pros and cons. Like, right now I'm learning how to be a computer programmer. I'm starting. I'm learning JavaScript. You are. What for what motivation? I don't know yet, but I'm doing it on. This is one of those things where I am not feeling like I'm getting a calling to be a programmer, but I'm feeling very passionate about, so I did have to think long and hard. I want to go into that rabbit hole. Do I really want to spend my time there on? The answer is, I'll double on it. I'll be careful because my wife gets very scared. Once I get into it, it becomes like a full time job, and she's just like, Oh, dear Lord, please do not make this to be like the next thing you know. So I am being cautious about it. I am learning JavaScript. I programmed an entire game a week ago. Uh, I program different scratch. It was about lines of code on. I did it without referencing anything, and I'm very happy about that. I thought that was very cool. But now I feel even more passionate about it. So now I'm like, What else can I program? You know So But no, I think the answer to your question is, it depends if it's if it's something that I'm feeling like it's a calling, then I don't think about it. Just do it like photography. I quit my job as a high school business teacher the same year that I got 10 years so that high school on the state gave me a 10 year job. They say you can now have a job for life on it. It's very hard to get tenured. And then I call the principal, uh, two days after I got the 10 years and I said, I'm going to be resigning after the school year And then she goes, Why? You got 10 years? And I said, I think I'm gonna be a photographer. E. I'm gonna be a wedding photographer on just like what she's like. I want to be a photographer and and then she's like, Aren't you to your only income earner in your family? because your wife's in school. I was like, Yes, that's why I know I'm gonna go for it all the way because my wife was not making an income during that time. She was getting her master's degree in engineering. Um, so I had toe figure out how to get into this and get into it all the way very quickly. Yeah. Yeah. So I want to give your wife your beautiful wife came a shout out, uh, on and And I'm curious because a lot of people when when women get pregnant and have kids and they have their career and it's a you know, people ask like, Oh, how did becoming a mother change your career? I'm curious how becoming a father has changed your career as a photographer. Your beautiful son Lucas, with another one on the way at the time of recording. Um, I can remember. Actually, I can remember seeing a post where you said something about you cannot like that. You didn't know you were capable of the type of love. Um, Azaz until you had a son. It's something like that. Yeah, Yeah. You know, there's like, there's like a potato, and then there's like mashed potatoes on. Then your heart becomes like liquefied potatoes. I didn't. When you have kids, it becomes like liquefied potatoes that have had air installed into the liquid fication. And you just become a big, very much. I don't know how to explain this. It's been fun being a dad. I'm experiencing it for the first time I have. I have three years experience being at that now. I don't know what to say. It's bean. It's been very difficult, and it has been so much fun on then when people say, like, Oh, it's it's it's such a miracle. I know it is such a miracle it is. You can't believe that you made a human being and that that person is you. Um, your personality changes you. You don't act like a goofy person anymore that much, you you start realizing that everything you do and say and how you act actually will be copied by your son. So you don't You actually kind of get slapped in the face in this reality check sort of thing? Um, Andi, even your profession as a photographer, I remember teaching my first workshop after Lucas was born on. I was saying hi to everyone. I started crying because I was trying to I was saying I want to teach this better than ever now, because now I have a son. I just remember like you, you become quite quite focused on you, become less distracted with distractions. Does that make sense? Well, it goes back, Thio. You talking about what you choose, how you choose to spend your time, you know, and and what becomes most important? That's right. That's right. Um, I remember when he was just a little baby, he he was sleeping with us and he was he was like, sleeping. And I woke up and he was He said, turn towards me on His eyes were wide open when I when I managed to open my eyes in the morning on his nose, was about two inches from my face. And when I opened my eyes, I just saw his eyes or looking at me right there on it gave me this feeling like I've never felt before. I was just like Holy smokes like, What is that? That is this little alien sitting there? I don't know. I'm I'm excited to be at that. It kind of makes me feel like you have a new a new chance in life to start over on, be on, become another person from scratch. You know, like I wanna do things I wouldn't do before. Like, um, I want to go get wet. So my son sees me Get away. I hate getting wet, by the way. So if any water ever hits me, I can't stand it. Just so you know, everybody I do take showers. Okay, But I try to take my showers quick on. Then I get the heck out, you know, but water in my in my skin, just Ah. So I Yes, I try to go get wet and my jeans get all wet. And I took him to the beach and I'm like, Oh, like I'm a mess from being wet. My wife was shocked. She's like, you're okay. I was like, Yeah, you know, Lucas is having fun. So it's been cool to experience how your body and your personality changes. You know, it's a it's a beautiful thing. And I'm I'm curious for another time how you've approached parenting in this methodical way that you have done with so many other things in your life or have you or have you just let it let it be? I tried the methodical way and it has kicked my butt really good. Um, turns out my kid is very he's kind of He's a very strong personality child. Andi, you cannot control who they are. You cannot control their personality. So I've actually learning from him how to be a better dad on for my sister Blanca, who's a therapist she's teaching me. But I've learned that no matter how much you study, you're gonna get your butt kicked by being a parent on there's no way around it. So my answer to your question is my approach is learn as I go on, just try to not screw him up. Too bad, but I'm just trying thio. I'm just trying to be a good dad to him. A good example on. It's just hard because, you know, kids specially a three. They are physical, man. There they get frustrated on. They want to show you that they're frustrated on their anger shows, and you're just like what's gonna happen when they're 18 like, why do I have to do to come this creature down. So it's been fun. It's been fun. Uh, you become helpless that no matter how methodical you think you maybe it's useless against them. It turns out we are all human. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. What a fun time. Yeah. Thank you so much, Roberto. When Kind of I just wanna have you coming back around to the photographers who are are listening out there. Like, what's one sort of final piece of advice that you might give yourself again, like, you know, back 20 years ago or what have you When you were starting knowing what you know now, um, like, in terms of photography, You mean like in terms of photography? Um, I think I think I want to say to be smart on do your research about about about marketing gimmicks and product gimmicks and a lot of things that people spend money on. Be smart. Don't be. Don't be a sucker for for stuff like that. I want to say, Like, think about where you spend your money. But I think education and practice is going to always be there for you on by and by education. I mean, like, think about who's really who are you really paying to teach you, like, be careful not to be sucked into their online popularity or or whatever they find out? If that person is truly a good educator, find out if, before you spend money on products, ask yourself, Is your education at a better point before you spend money on mortgage? Ear gear is amazing, and we all love it, and it's fun. But I would have bean in a really bad spot if I wouldn't have prioritized my education first on. Like I said before, study your gear become knowledgeable so that your gear comes alive. Your gear will come alive with your brain. Think of your gear like a piano or guitar. It doesn't do anything on its own. You need a person that's a master to play it. So study your stuff. Um, you don't have to study from me. You can study from anyone that you feel a connection with that you feel strongly about. If you connect with that person and you find them to be a great educator, then put your money there on. That's what I have to say. It's just be smart about photography is a very easy, uh, money trapped to get sucked into with gear and stuff on. I want to say we we don't want to be average anymore. We don't wanna be an average. I think photography is like a world of average. Let's not be an average industry like let's be a a new industry where people say you're you're a professional, your professional photographer. That's amazing. You wanna be That guy is like When you're saying you're a heart surgeon, you're an architect. You don't want to say something like, Oh, God, your your photographer like we wanted to differentiate ourselves from professionals toe the billions of people just having expensive SLR or muralist cameras out there. Anyone that's just basic person. Being a content creator is that's cool. But that's not the skills off a serious professional photographer. So I think it is our duty and you to creative life and Kenya and every educator in the world toe push everybody who's serious about photography. So we make this industry respected again. It's not as respected as it could be. It's almost like if you don't know what to do with your life, be a photographer like, let's pretty good back to being a respected profession, you know, because photography is hard. It takes a lot of skills. I have spent 10 years of my life practicing. I just have a YouTube. I started a YouTube channel for practicing things on that YouTube channel. It's just my name. Roberto Valenzuela. Go check it out because it shows you my practice sessions because and I hope that the people that are listening to that YouTube and they subscribe to it. They actually do the exercises. They're not just watching the exercises. They actually do them. I hope you can follow me on. Instagram is Roberto Underscore photo and if you wanna learn lighting, I'm teaching a lighting conference with Joe Grimes. Practiced Nike, Jen Russell Obama myself in Tucson, Arizona, in May 2021 that's called the photo creators dot com. That's the website The photo creators dot com on its dedicated to helping photographers kick some serious butt enlightening, and it's not like fluffy, fluffy, fluffy stuff. It's like, let's get to it, Let's get serious. Let's play, let's let's have fun, but let's become greater lighting

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


In this episode, we talk to Roberto about growing up in Mexico City and moving to the U.S. under challenging circumstances, learn about Roberto's early life as an immigrant. Hear how Roberto defied the odds winning one of the fiercest competitions for the top politically-savvy students in Arizona state and then the country - Boys State and Boys Nation. Find out what motivated Roberto to overcome adversity every step of the way in his life and career.


Roberto Valenzuela is a photographer, author, educator, and a Canon Explorer of Light. He was commissioned by Canon to shoot global campaigns for the new Canon EOS R5, EOS R6 mirrorless systems, and PRO-300. Roberto’s book trilogy Picture Perfect Practice, Picture Perfect Posing, and Picture Perfect Lighting have become staples in the photography industry. His new book series Wedding Storyteller Vol. 1 and 2 are the top-selling wedding photography books in history. Roberto has been nominated by his peers as one of the ten most influential photographers and educators in the world. He developed his unique teaching style by following the same rigorous regimen he developed as a professional concert classical guitarist and educator before becoming a photographer.

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Vicki Kurasz

Wow. I don't think you can top this excellent interview. We already loved Roberto, now we love him even more.