Hali Espinoza’s photography is currently mounted at The Space Gallery and Record Store in Claremont. She recently answered 10 questions about her work, her philosophy, and her show, El Mar de los Suenos, Sea of Dreams.
1. What’s your name? Where you from? What is something most people would never guess about you?
Hali Espinoza, and you can find me on social media as halilecat. I’m from Fontana, California and um.. I used to play soccer, I stutter, and my photography does not match with my quirky personality.
2. What made you get into photography and how did you get started?
I feel like photography found me. I have this obsession to observe and study the subjects from far away and I always ask myself philosophical questions. Because I stutter, I am sometimes shy to go up and talk to people, only sometimes though, because other times I’m like “Oh hi, yea, whatever.” But I can go days without talking to anyone and I really just like to be alone and think about things. Also, my dad had always his Polaroid around the house and I think that helped begin my obsession with pictures. I have always had this fear, when I was kid, to talk because of my stuttering. My mother taught me it was easy to communicate without words, whether in Spanish or English. When I got older, I took one photography class in college, I just fell in love with it.
3. What inspired your current show, El Mar de los Sueños, at The Space Gallery and Record Store, in Claremont?
I have been thinking about El Mar de los Sueños for a longtime, like years. I knew it was the going to be about the beach because I have this connection with the water, even my name means the ocean. But I did not know how to approach this in a photographic way. I have been going to school, off and on, mostly photography classes, and I asked one of my photography professors, Cameron Crone, if he could recommend a good book to read. He told me about CAMERA LUCIDA REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY: ROLAND BARTHES, TRANSLATED BY RICHARD HOWARD. That totally changed my perspective about how one goes about making images and really blew my mind. Why are we taking this picture? Why are we here? If you had a chance to shoot more, what would you be shooting?
I have also experienced a lot of death in my family, including friends and animals. I remember I opened my Facebook one day, and one of my good friends from high school had died, and I was like “no way, shut up, you’re lying.” I couldn’t believe it, it really effected me, and hit me hard. And after that other events happened in my life, including cancer and losing my aunt and my dog. My mother does not allow us to cry or feel sorry for ourselves. She always tells me things like, “What happened is done. Just move on.”
I had to find a way to outlet all those mixed emotions. In other words, this show “EXPLORES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LOSS AND ENVIRONMENT.” The memories are always going to be there, like you are there still in those moments, but you’re not. I liked the idea of incorporating the symbolism of the water and how it’s calming and that peaceful feeling, you know. Water purifies the soul and washes things away. I realized while working on this series, that it’s the little things, like, hanging out, and not doing anything, that mean everything. Those moments, they are everything.
One day I just took off, I didn’t know where I was going but I just trusted myself and my intuition like “okay go left here, no over here” and when I got to the place, I just knew. I have been working on this project for a long time and I was kinda scared to show it but I was just like fuck it I’m going to do it. The project became like this venting thing, once it’s there, it’s not there anymore. It feels really good to show in a bigger show and I have had some negative comments like a group of guys told me that they didn’t believe that me, a girl, took those pictures. They told me they knew a guy must’ve taken my photos and I was like, “Uh-no! I did.” It feels good to surprise people, I have even surprised myself.
4. Do you have a favorite picture in your exhibit right now?
All of them are my favorite, if they were not I would not print them in the darkroom. When I go in the darkroom I just know everything, I know my subject’s intentions and I know my materials, so I just go in and do it.
5. What is your favorite thing about taking pictures?
Traveling to a place and not knowing anyone, and capturing the memories. I’ve been all over the United States, including Hawaii. I also went to a place, I always wanted to go, Mexico City, where my family is from. I would love to visit Japan and China next. If I had to pick place to live, it would either be New Mexico or Hawaii.
6. What is the most challenging thing about taking pictures?
Honestly, for me, it is time and transportation. Time, because I am getting older and I had not seen the world, and, transportation, because I don’t drive. I have to plan at least a couple weeks ahead or even a month because I can’t just get up and go somewhere.
7. Have you ever doubted yourself and how do you push through those negative thoughts to continue following your passion?
Everything is a challenge. I just remind myself how lucky I am to be born in the US and to live here. How my mother worked so hard to have a better life, and that’s what keeps me going.
8. What is your favorite subject to shoot and why?
My doggies and my sister are my favorite to shoot. People say that dogs are hard to photograph because they are always moving around. My dogs, I see them like people, so I talk to them like people and it’s the weirdest part, they know how to pose.
My younger sister just fascinates me that she is the brightest, most brilliant person and she’s like a chameleon, in that she could be anything. I guess you could call her like my muse. We are so close, people sometimes think we are twins. We have a really strong bond and that’s why I like taking pictures of her.
9. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want with you?
1. Mamiya rb67 because is my favorite camera.
2. My animals because I love them.
3. My little sister because she is my best friend.
10. Do you have any upcoming shows?
I am still in the process of finalizing the details for a group show. It is too early for a firm answer. I have a couple ideas for my next projects though. One I am thinking about is uses my sister to do cosmetic photography but not like beauty or fashion shots. I want to play with light and then paint on the actual photographs.
*El Mar de los Suenos will be up through September 30 at The Space Gallery and Record Store, 254 W. Bonita, in Claremont, CA.
For more of Hali’s work, just google her two names, Halilecat and Hali Espinoza.