For Ariella Imena, film photography is a medium for expressing the soulful essence of people and things around her. Her childhood trips to yard sales and thrift stores have inspired her up to this day not only in her fashion style, but also in her vision and approach to photography. She realized a commonality between film and vintage clothing—both can hold a deep history yet have the capability of becoming something new. By combining the two in her work, Ariella opens our minds to the potential of clothing and ordinary objects around us as tools for storytelling.
Hi Ariella, welcome to the Lomography community! May you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello! My name is Ariella Imena, I am an Afro-Puerto Rican film photographer and videographer based in New Jersey and New York City. I am a visual storyteller with an analog soul.
How did you get into analogue photography? And what role does it have in your life now?
I truly got into film photography in 2018 through an introductory photo class in college. I had this Canon EOS A2 that my mom bought from a yard sale sitting in the top shelf of my closet for years. I finally blew the dust off and popped some batteries into it and got to shooting.
Though it was a beginner class, I learned how to develop film, fell in love with the darkroom and seeing my photos come to life, and also felt the frustration of trial and errors like getting blank rolls or not being able to get my film on the spool.
My professor at the time gave us prompts for photos such as “Capturing a photo of yourself: one for you, one for a lover and one for your mom” . That’s when I began experimenting with self-portraiture and seeing how film can hold beauty and a story that spoke more deeply.
Ultimately, at that time, my passion and my dream was to be a painter but the analogue world still had a large influence on that. I would create these large canvas oil paintings and my muse would usually be old film photos I would see and find. I would spend hours looking through analogue photography books at my school from pinhole photography, surrealist photography, tintype photography, film noir and others. I always used elements of them as reference photos for paintings and soon I was inspired to just create my own reference photos with my film camera.
Now, it has evolved to be such a large part of me and my life. More than I could ever have expected it too. It has become my love, my calling and my career. I only shoot analogue and intend on keeping it that way. I shoot almost every other day and every time there is always something new I learn.
Can you tell us the story behind these lovely series?
I love capturing women in a way that is both old and nostalgic and regal and worthy. The intention is typically for the person I am capturing to see the fullness of the beauty in themself; which I feel film always has a unique way of enhancing that.
The model is my friend, Alexandra and we took these in a lovely studio in the Bronx. It was a last minute, a bit impulsive decision to shoot that day but those are always the most fun.
I had seen that 1970s royal purple gown that I got from a yard sale hanging in my closet a few days prior, and had been looking at some vintage Black glamour shots from the 1950s and it all came together.
The set of film photos on LomoChrome Purple are of my close friend and fellow film photographer, Flordalis. She is someone I admire as a woman; someone whom I have bonded with in our joy of taking film photos of one another and our friendship. Those set of photos were taken on a rural farm surrounded by nature and beautiful wildlife.
The story I usually tell in my work is that you can use what you have to show what is beautiful. It's the beauty of being resourceful which is something my mom and abuelita taught me early being someone who grew up going to yard sales every weekend and thrift stores on the weekdays.
How was your experience shooting our film?
I loved it and the results blew me away. I pushed the film and experimented. I really am beyond happy with what I got from it and plan on shooting with it again soon because wow!
What would be the biggest compliment someone could give you about your photography?
That they feel peace when looking at my work. That would make my soul smile.
Besides film photography, how else do you spend your time?
Outside of film, I own a vintage clothing shop named Ari Analog Vintage, selling both online and doing Pop-ups in New York City. I have been doing that for the last five years and have integrated both my love for analog photography and vintage clothing into one. The pieces I usually shoot within my photography are pieces I later sell in my shop. I want to continue to expand both and possibly start having a mini studio set up so I could photograph people who buy pieces and capture that soulful essence that I see in both film and vintage. Vintage clothing enhances storytelling because it holds memories and beauty from the past similar to shooting with film cameras. It is taking what is old and revitalizing it to a spirit of newness.
Lastly, what would you say to younger aspiring photographers who want to find their visual voice?
Learn to respect the process and sit with just yourself and your art. Take moments where you just go out and shoot in your neighborhood or community with no expectations but just because you love it. All things will be more rhythmic and genuine when you truly love your craft.
Also, be patient. When you're shooting, think about what you're capturing and what story you are trying to tell. It's worth more to have wisdom and be more thoughtful with your shots than to rush through it and then be caught in a place where you are negatively comparing your work.
All in all, know that you will journey with it. I feel film has been a mirror for me and my life. Reflective of what's going on in my heart, spirit and soul. As you grow, you might see a change in what you capture or your visual voice and know that is okay.
I feel like my visual voice is always changing but that's because I am too. You got to find and know that peace when you shoot. I pray before all of my shoots so I believe it's God guiding me through and amplifying that voice or story that needs to be captured. It is what creates that harmony in my vision.