During her freshman year of high school, Anahli Vazquez enrolled in Focus Hope: Excel, an after school arts program that changed her life.
The successful photographer now enjoys a rewarding career working with youth in Southwest Detroit as a teaching artist through CCS’s Community Arts Partnerships and Clark Park Coalition as well as connecting with clients seeking her freelance photography services.
“According to Mind Tools (1998), ‘65 percent of the population are visual learners,’” said Vazquez. “I am a visual learner and this connected me deeply to the arts at a young age. As I began to dabble during my middle school years, I was drawn to the world of photography. I instinctively knew it would become part of my future.
“Focus Hope: Excel was a melting pot of culture, ethnicity, religion and visionaries of students and photography mentors who became my friends and enhanced my entire high school experience. The program helped me break out of my shell and form connections with wonderful people in the Detroit art community.”
Beyond teaching her the fundamentals of photography and connecting her with other artists, Vazquez realizes the far greater impact this program has had on her life. It motivated her to persevere while confronting a number of challenges she faced as a young, aspiring photographer.
“The general public is unaware how expensive photography equipment can be, from the 30 exposure rolls of film to the paper you use and the cameras themselves,” she explained.
“The biggest challenge I faced was not being able to apply for scholarships nor being able to be employed due to my immigration status at that time to buy needed materials. My twin brother, Alhan, was also going to college for mechanical engineering, so my single mother had to work extra hours to provide enough monies for the household and college materials.
“In 2010, I received the Neighborhoods Scholarship Award through the Community Arts Partnership, which covered full time tuition while I was at CCS. My earning of this scholarship becomes precedent that regardless of any difficult situation an individual is placed in, with perseverance and hard work that one invests in their passion into bettering themselves, all is possible. I learned this as a student and continue to share the knowledge I have gained with the youth I teach today in my community of Southwest Detroit.”
Because of her own experiences, Vazquez has always had a special place in her heart for after school programs. However, she admits that becoming a teaching artist was not initially what she planned to do with her degree.
“As I was approaching my final semester at CCS, I planned on working to save money, then relocating to Chicago in pursuit of a position as an E-commerce studio photographer,” said Vazquez. “About a week after graduation, I began working with Clark Park Coalition (CPC), a non-profit organization in the heart of southwest Detroit that provides year-round programming to community youth in various forms: sports, reading, arts and academics. I had previous experience as a photographer assistant and a photography mentor with Focus: Hope Excel students during my last two years in college. Thus, I was comfortable being assigned arts and crafts teacher, and had started a photography program by the summer of 2015.
“After that first summer working with over 100 youth from the programs, I began to reconsider my wishes to move to Chicago. This CPC experience had been extremely rewarding. It taught me what I could gain here from the Southwest Detroit community.”
One of the projects Vazquez enjoyed most with her students involved creating sunprints (cyanotype prints). They used digital negatives to reproduce photographs by exposing them to paper (already coated with light sensitive chemical Berlin Green), sandwiching them between clear plastic templates, and placing them under natural sunlight to expose the image. The students then watched as their photographs came to life once they rinsed their papers in water.
“They thought it was magic! My intent with this project is for the students to understand that light is vital in creating photography."
"After all, the word ‘photography’ comes from the Greek roots ‘photos’ meaning light, and ‘graphé,’ which means drawing with light.”
Outside of the classroom, Vazquez works as a freelance photographer. This aspect of her career allows her to travel, set her own schedule and prices, and connect with people in different ways. She recently worked with Facing Change: Documenting Detroit Fellowship, a community-based photojournalism initiative that partnered 21 local and regional emerging and early career photographers in a fellowship with national and international photographers and editors as mentors. Their work was shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts in late September (2016).
“We are completing a documentary project illustrating the lives of Detroiters throughout the city’s 139 square miles, focusing on daily life, personal stories, and larger social, political, and economic issues,” said Vazquez. “I learned about this opportunity from the manager for the Focus: Hope Excel photography program I was in during high school (more than 11 years ago). She recommended me to the director of the fellowship, and I was the final photographer to be welcomed aboard.”
As she works with clients on new projects, Vazquez often recalls pieces of advice that she learned at CCS or considers how some of her mentors might approach different situations.
“I still find myself asking, ‘what would Bill do in this situation?’” said Vazquez, referring to renowned professional photographer and CCS professor Bill Valicenti.
One of Vazquez’s favorite projects so far was the work she created for her senior thesis, Rising of the Conscience. In collaboration with University of Michigan alumnus, filmmaker/songwriter David Vallejo, she produced a series of images that include written prose to further connect the images.
“While Rising of the Conscience was inspired by personal experiences, it is more about the human condition overall,” said Vazquez. “It explores the journey of how real-life events, rendered to be surreal, only surface back into reality by triggering the subconscious. The changes in landscape portray specific time periods I’ve experienced as well as inner change. Each season is dedicated to four different themes: summer as a time of self-discovery, autumn as a time of unforeseen changes, winter as a time of dormant reflection, and spring as a time of metamorphosis.”
For now, Vazquez plans to continue using her skills as a photographer and teacher to give back to a community that has given so much to her.
“I believe I have found my calling in teaching and mentoring youth in places with little to no art in their schools,” she said. “I don't know where I would be without art. It made me who I am today, and I will always be grateful to my mentors.”
To check out more of Vazquez’s work, visit Behance.net/AniJazPhoto and https://app.blink.la/u/anijazphoto. Her Instagram images can be found at @AniJazPhoto. Learn more about the Facing Change project at