9 minute read

Sequoia Emmanuelle : Photographer

What have been some life experiences that have shaped your artistic vision?

I have had so many things shape my artistic vision, but it all started so early in my life being raised by artists and growing up with such a unique upbringing.

My stepfather, Phil, whom I met when I was 3 years old, was a photographer. My mother was a costume designer and painter at the time, so we all were quite a creative family. I also was very involved with making art and clothing. We would all attend the Minnesota Renaissance Festival each year as vendors, where we sold costumes, clothing, crystal and jewelry, etc. You can still see how the Renaissance has been present through my style.

I grew up doing photo shoots with Phil, with me as a subject/model, and loved being part of his photo shoots. We bonded that way and we would go on adventures and find places to shoot. I loved dressing up and becoming a character. I would watch him photograph belly dancers and other models as well, and eventually got involved in the shoots by styling and posing people. He also taught me how to edit and select the best images out of a shoot.

I have been in love with photography since then. Once I was in high school, I started developing my own film and printing. I continued to pursue photography at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and it really sunk in that I had found my calling. I loved that I could combine all of my interests of art all together. Fashion

design, painting, styling, set design, photography, etc. I could create worlds. After college, I moved to NYC and did internships and independent studies through Parson’s New York Studio Program. I lived in NYC for four years, then I moved to San Francisco after that for four years. Both places I was designing costumes, clothing and working as a photographer/artist. I was painting and doing set design for events as well. In 2007, I was asked to design a women’s line for a clothing company called Eion 2013. We manufactured in Bali, Indonesia, and I began to have new adventures overseas in one of the most magical places I have ever been. My boyfriend at the time, Gita, and I started our own clothing line after that, called S&G (Sequoia & Gita). We were back and forth between Bali, San Francisco and eventually, Los Angeles. We moved to LA in 2009 and opened our own clothing store on Melrose Avenue. At that time, I was running my store, selling at events and festivals, designing clothes, doing photography for my clothing and store, running all of the marketing of our company, and doing photo shoots for other brands. So, as you can see, all of these years of wearing lots of hats and being on all sides of things has shaped my work all together. Gita and I eventually parted ways (we still remain friends) but I decided to focus on just my photography, and to create one of my biggest dreams, which was to publish my first photography book. My book Duene was born in 2014. It’s almost 300 pages documenting about a 12-year span of my work.

You’ve talked before about the importance of marketing, promotion and business skill sets alongside creative vision. What would be some key pieces of advice you would give to an emerging artist trying to prepare her or himself to make a livelihood from their artwork?

I think one of the most important things is that you have to put yourself out there and be seen. I hear it from people all the time, that they get nervous and scared to share their work, because it can be a very vulnerable experience. I still feel vulnerable sharing certain things too, even after all these years of doing it. It gets better the more you do it and start feeling comfortable. Social media is so crucial to our world now and how we market ourselves. Make sure to be consistent with it and learn how to have fun creating your own unique world that helps people identify you.

It takes lots of time and patience to grow your business, audience and fan base. It’s something you have to be persistent in and know that it takes consistency as well as time. Things don’t happen overnight but each step that you put into your work does make a difference. Remember to celebrate all of your achievements big or small. This work will forever be an evolving journey. Remember the tortoise wins the race. It takes years to build everything you’re working towards. You have to put in the time and keep going. It’s not an overnight process. That’s why it’s so important to have fun and enjoy the ride.

What have been some personal highlights of your career?

My biggest highlight of my career was dressing and creating designs for Prince! He was my biggest goal of my life to work with, and I did. It wasn’t exactly how I planned it, because unfortunately I never got to meet him in person. I did see him on YouTube singing Purple Rain at a concert in Paris, wearing one of my signature jackets I designed. That same jacket is one I was wearing to see him in concert at Paisley Park, on a visit home to Minneapolis one year before. Maybe five or six months later, he was in my store buying up tons of my designs and ordering extras in purple.

Some other highlights have been publishing my book, having my own clothing line and store, but also every time I get to photograph people I admire or am inspired by, it’s an exciting milestone. .

Who have been some of your favorite artists to collaborate with and photograph? What is your favorite story behind one of your images?

This is another hard question to answer because I have loved working with so many people. I don’t want to leave anyone out! I do have some people that have been long time collaborators and friends that I love to work with.

My friend Daniella White is the designer of “The Plumed Serpent” Headdresses. We have worked together since 2011. We have shot together so many times over the years, and she is one of my favorite artists to create otherworldly, magical characters with, blending art and fashion. We are creative soulmates and speak the same language! Another artist that I have worked with over many, many years, going back to 2005 is Joshua David. He’s the designer and owner or the brand Majesty Black. Our relationship started around 2005, when I moved to San Francisco. He was a performance artist at the time. I was inspired by his uniqueness and artistry. I found him to be a very magical person and loved doing wild creative shoots with him. They were themed with different costumes and looks he would create. Years later, he designed and developed his brand of couture leather and vegan leather gloves. I have been shooting him, his campaigns, and editorials ever since.

As I said, really there are so many collaborators I absolutely love, but too many to list all of them. Some favorites over the years have been working with Bjorn van den Berg, OTT Dubai, B. Akerlund, Raja Gemini,

Beats Antique, Zoe Jakes, Ivy Levan, Violet Chachki, Rose McGowen, House of Malakai, Jillian Mercado, Khrystyana, and so many more.

Your creative focus has shifted direction in the past. How would you describe that journey and where would you say you are now in terms of priorities and project execution?

I have always considered myself a Renaissance artist. I have always done multiple things and certain ones have changed focus and come back around at different times. I would say that photography has always been my main and number one focus.

Are there any creative elements you haven’t yet explored in your work that you look forward to developing?

I think probably working more as a director for music video and film. I have been dabbling over the years, and most recently I have been doing it a lot more. I’ve been pushing myself to learn that side of the industry. I actually have a few music videos coming out soon that I was director, creative director and for some also the DP. I’m excited to share my photos coming to life.

Also, I am working on a script, based off of my life story. I would like to be involved in directing and maybe even acting in it a little bit.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career and what was your strategy to overcome it?

I would say my biggest challenge has been the roller coaster of confidence. I have had so many ups and downs with believing in myself and then not. My work takes a constant source of energy and creative stamina, as well as being business savvy. It’s not a 9-5 job, so I have to stay focused and highly productive to keep up with how fast our world is changing and competition. The way business works for a few years will change and you have to develop new strategies because things don’t ever stay the same. My strategy has been to keep myself balanced with my health and self-love. Eating right, exercise, sleep, making sure I take care of my mind and spirit. Taking classes and courses constantly to better myself overall. It’s been crucial to learn techniques of how to work with social pressure, competition and rejection. You have to learn that you always do your best, but it’s okay to fail, and there’s not one of us on the planet that doesn’t. It’s an important part of the process and that’s how we grow and gain knowledge.

What do you have coming up that we should look out for?

Currently, I am living Downtown Los Angeles working on several projects as always. Shooting for musicians, fashion brands, and various portraits. I also have a few different fine art series I am working simultaneously. One of the most exciting things for me at the moment is that I am starting my own podcast, called Sequoia’s World. I will be hosting interviews and conversations with the many amazing and inspirational people I work with and photograph. I am excited to talk about issues and triumphs we face as artists, and to learn more about who each person is. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and now it’s in the works!