Jon Duenas is a fashion and editorial photographer based in Portland, OR who first picked up a camera whilst studying at college – and we are very glad that he did. Jon’s work has been featured by VSCO, Refinery 29, Huffington Post, Lucy’s Magazine, Bisous Magazine and Yume Magazine among many others. A true star on the rise…
Tell us a bit about how you first became interested in photography; was there a particular image or photographer’s work that captured your attention?
It started in college; I’m not sure what specifically sparked the first interest. I think a lot of people go through that ‘phase’ where they take shitty photos they think are artistic. I started with a terrible, used digital point and shoot that I literally had to smack with my hand to get working a lot of times. One of my required classes was a photography class, and I think it was due to my professor for that class that my interest moved on from a ‘phase’ to what eventually became a real passion. If I had to pinpoint the moments, there are two I can specifically remember; the first was when she showed us beautiful mid-century black and white street photography and the subtle nuances of how this particular photographer saw and captured light (I wish I could remember who that photographer was), the other moment was during my final project presentation where, at the end, she praised and encouraged me to continue pursuing photography after the class was over. I had a really great respect for her artistically, so it really meant a lot hearing that.
Sometimes the model inspires the feel for a shoot, sometimes the shoot idea inspires picking a particular model.
What is it that you look for in a model when you are planning a fashion shoot or portrait session? Does the idea for the shoot come first or does the model inspire the direction of the shoot?
If we’re talking purely about their ‘look’, then the short answer is that it depends. Sometimes the model inspires the feel for a shoot, sometimes the shoot idea inspires picking a particular model. It’s hard to define exactly what qualities in a model I’m drawn to though, but it tends to be a combination of conventional beauty but with something different and unique; the types of models who tend to work better in high fashion rather than really commercial styles.
How do you direct the shoot in terms of pose and feel; do you plan ahead or do you rely on a sense of spontaneity and chance?
Again, it depends! I’d say probably more often than not I rely on spontaneity and how the moment inspires me. However, for my bigger shoots, especially client shoots, a lot more is planned. That said, even when things are being planned, I usually still like to keep things nice and loose and allow for the inspiration of the moment to still have a place.
You shoot a mix of digital and analog photography and have said in previous interviews that the cost of film can be prohibitive; do you think that the current resurgence in analog photography will continue or does the cost and dwindling number of manufacturers truly herald the last days of film?
I firmly believe that ‘the last days of film’ are well ahead of us. Sure, the cost will always be an issue from here on out. There will be a lot fewer film stocks to choose from, a lot fewer labs to develop and scan them and supply & demand will drive the price up. Eventually it’ll level out to a sustainable level as long as there are companies like Kodak Alaris and Ilford that remain committed to keeping it alive and enthusiasts who keep buying. In short, I think film will be a niche for a long time much like vinyl records.
Hating your own work is the quickest way to give up entirely but not being self-critical will keep you stagnant. It is about balance.
How do you keep challenging yourself and your work? What are your motivators?
Constant self-evaluation. It requires me being honest with myself, but at the same time not being too hard on myself. Hating your own work is the quickest way to give up entirely but not being self-critical will keep you stagnant. It is about balance.
What do you do to actively build your business; are you represented by an agent or do you prefer to promote your work and manage your client list yourself?
I’m not currently represented by an agent. Right now, I have to do everything myself. I’d love it if I were agency represented though. I’m considering looking into that possibility. But for now, I have to do a lot of cold emailing for potential clients or keeping in contact with past clients for future jobs. It can be very tiring keeping up with it and discouraging the more you reach out and don’t get responses – but its part of the freelance life. Other than cold emails, I mostly am just trying to get my work out there more and networking with people, something I am admittedly not the best at.
Don’t waste too much of your effort on marketing in ways that don’t help you reach that target client.
What would be your best piece of advice for a fashion or portrait photographer starting out in the business?
Best advice would be to know your target client and know them well. Don’t waste too much of your effort on marketing in ways that don’t help you reach that target client. Along the same lines, only show the type of work that you want to keep doing more of.
Are you currently working on any projects that you can tell us about? What does the year ahead have in store for you?
I’ve currently got my hands in quite a few different projects right now. At the moment I’m working on some classes and presentations I’m giving later this month at Photo Field Trip in California and then WPPI in Las Vegas. I can’t quite talk about some other future projects that are in the works now, but there’s a possible print magazine commission and another workshop I’ll be speaking at later in the year.
See more of Jon’s work at:
All images copyright Jon Duenas.