When I first saw Gisel Florez's work- it was a revelation. She doesn't just photograph her subjects. She mines them, extracting their precious essence. There's an energy and vibrancy to her work and a, dare I say, obsession with light, that resonated with me. I felt I had found a kindred spirit.
I was thrilled when she agreed to do a series of photographs for Vespertine NYC. She was able to capture the quality of reflective fabric in an incredibly unique way, unveiling its innate beauty and texture beyond its incredible life-saving reflective powers. Once again, I'm so pleased that she agreed to sit down with our blog director, Evelyn Montes (EM) to tell us more about her journey as an artist from past to future, and other inspiring tales about her life and career, for this piece. Enjoy!
EM: What inspired you to become a photographer?
GF: I went to the Rhode Island School of Design. Going into college what I knew was drawing. I was really into drawing and oil painting. I had been doing it for maybe 10 years before. I studied illustration and was able to experiment with a lot of different majors as well because in illustration you were able to take classes from all over. So I tried pretty much everything from sculpture to digital art to then photography.
Once I realized that photography was developing images on paper, in the dark room- once I realized what it was all about this like magic, I started really getting interested. I took a class in my junior year. It was like photography collage. I couldn’t get into 101 because it was full and I was like crying. So I took this side photo project that still got me in the dark room and I loved it and the magic that it had with the developing blew me away and I was kinda of hooked to it from my senior year.
I was starting to do mural printing, really large prints and also working with a 4 by 5. I was shooting a lot of meat at the time. I had this teacher that was just letting us free reign and do whatever we want, Henry Horenstein. He’s always talking about shoot what you love. So I took that to heart cause I've always wanted to make the art that I love, and this process was really fun for me, so I really just got into 4 by 5. Then as I went on, by the time I graduated I realized with Henry, that I was doing still life. And I was like “i didn’t think of myself as a still life photographer.” I thought I was looking scientifically into seeing all of the details I've never seen before in meat, in the things I was photographing.
That’s the beginning of all of It. From there I worked a little bit at Brown University with virtual reality right after college. And then I went to NYC to start pursuing this photography career and see if I could get into photography commercially. I worked at an ad agency doing very minimal things. And then I worked my way to a photo agency and then was able to go on set with a photographer. That was huge for me, seeing a photoshoot in person was really cool.
The funny thing that really drew me to it was the digital photography aspect of the shoot I was on, working with virtual reality and computers. I had already been very fluent working with computers my whole life, as a kid playing games on it. I thought this is something interesting. It’s photography, but it’s photography with computers.
I was so in love with computers that I saw that there could be a future in digital photography. This was in like 2003-2004. Digital photography was not really anything commercial at the time, because the quality wasn’t there yet. But I was working as a digital technician and helping photographers turn from film to digital, so I was kinda like the liaison of the tech who would troubleshoot a lot of that stuff. I would trouble shoot “why wasn’t the camera working”, “why are the files not coming in”, or making sure that all the backups were really consistent and organized. I came from that background, learning how to network computers and understanding that from being on set a lot and seeing different types of photography.
I was assisting really cool fashion photographers around the world, going with them on cruises, and being on yachts with models eating lobster and things. It was a really fun experience, really different from where I grew up. I didn’t want to be that type of fashion photographer, I really liked being in one place. I assisted this one photographer, Richard Pierce, he was a still life photographer, and I loved the kind of nuances he was working towards. I liked to watch how he would light things. And I really understood it. I loved seeing him do It, and then seeing it on the computer, and helping him.
I realized, that’s what I want to do. I want to make still life. I was shooting meat ya know. I was shooting big giant photographs of meat. So, I related to details in work. I pretty much launched my own photography career from that and started getting different clients. I worked with Barney’s New York. I helped them establish their first in house photo studio which was basically the beginning of e-commerce. It was their first e-commerce studio. Luckily, because of the experience I had before, I was able to equip a whole studio, because I had done that for the last company with. So I was able to order the equipment, knowing exactly what I needed to make it happen for them. And I did, that was a super awesome opportunity.
From there, I taught a few people how to do it with me and then I left because I'd photograph something white and I couldn’t do that for very long. I'm very creative and didn't really want that as my whole life. And I felt the pressures of the corporate agenda coming into my photo studio and saying, “if you get an assistant, can you do double the amount of production?” It really doesn’t work like that. I need an assistant because I need one. My quality is getting better. I could do a little bit more with an assistant, but I felt like I was being treated like a machine. They told me I was a button pusher. And then I actually was like, “you know what? I'm out, I'm gonna start my own thing.”
I started burning Fendi bags. I burned a Fendi bag. I took a lot of photos of it up in flames and that was so exciting. I got to do it with a neighbor in Williamsburg. She let me do it in her backyard. We didn't have any kind of permits or anything. It was really fun. This was like 2006 or 2007. From then on it was just like splashes, fire, breaking glass, water. I mean this is what I loved doing at the time, and I would always try to incorporate it into a commercial job. That went on until 2017, I would say. And then the jobs became very slim. It had its era. Then digital photography started becoming really common. Everybody could shoot. The still life jobs were becoming less, and less detailed and specific, and all of a sudden, people could do anything with their phones. The industry was really shattering, and the commercial pressure to output a whole lot was huge. You could see everything crumbling.
I had kinda gone through a crazy time of reassessing what I wanted to do for the future. I had kids. I became really excited about the different processes of life, and about nature. I had started a fish tank. I really loved the process of its whole ecosystem and how to manage that. We started drinking raw milk with the children, being healthy. I had home births. I was really into very healthy, non-processed foods and everything.
So, I ended up making an ice cream company. I was really excited about ice cream at the time. I started making it a lot for my family. Then I gave the raw milk delivery person a gift of our ice cream. He was like, “Hey you know what, we could sell this.” I was like, “What really?” I'd never thought of being an ice cream person. But my first job ever was working at Dairy Queen, so I felt like there was something there. I can go from there- there're different avenues, I've challenged myself physically, I have done marathons right before that raw milk time. The life of an artist is always challenging who you are and what you can do in this world and that’s something that I've always stood by, or at least tried to live by.
EM: All of your photos are extremely unique and beautiful. Can you tell us how you came to find your particular style and how did you plan your approach when shooting some for Vespertine NYC?
GF: For Vespertine NYC, I had a really fun idea of continuing this concept with the subject moving and a multiple amount of light Because there’s something with Vespertine NYC that, the whole Vespertine NYC feel is about being seen, reflecting into the darkness, bringing light, it’s something I've always been interested in my art, to be able to express like to be able to analyze. Looking into the fireworks, what is this brightness of our existence
So Vespertine NYC, it was almost an inspiration to see there’s this new way to see safety clothing. As a woman who has marathoned, and has done an ultra-marathon of 32 miles I think it was, in Bighorn Mountain. I've done a lot of running in the city and to be visible is really important and also biking- I've been a biker ever since I was little. Biking everywhere has always been my go to, so seeing the label, was like “oh this is great, wow with stylish vests and things”. I really like Sarah. I really love the path that she is taking, and wanted to help boost the work creatively with a photoshoot, with the reflective materials, to see what can come of it.
EM: Do you still do analog photography or paper prints or are you primarily working in the digital space and NFTs? What excites you about NFTs? Do you see any downsides to them as an artist?
GF: I've recently been inspired to do analogue, to work with color photography dark room type stuff. So, we’ll see. It’s super new for my field of vision for my future. I know it is in my future- but not right now. I do large scale prints if it counts. Mostly the medium that I'm working in is NFTS these days and video clips- I'm still working on video clips. I only mint a few pieces that I feel are important to that time of my career, my art path. I do like to put pieces of this on block chain, almost like a story. It’s like a story of my life from now until who knows when.
What I love about this block chain is that these things, theoretically should still be here in the future. Theoretically they’re going to this second layer where we won't have all the issues we have right now, like, there's a problem for artists right now because you need to pay gas every time you make a transaction. There're odd payments that we're just not used to, and they’re very clunky, and weird.
There're a million different sites now, just in the 2-3 years since I've been in this space. When I came in there were just 1 or 2, but now there're so many. I think it’s a strength for artists to be able to learn. There's so much that could be learned for the future. This is just the beginning of what’s going to happen. I think it’s very important for people to try and learn, but there’s so many risks involved with scams. You can lose the money you made. The things in your wallet- you can easily lose them if you click on the wrong thing or if someone sends you something strange and you click on it. All of your things can disappear. There’s a huge problem with safety, which comes with a lot of scrutiny and education to try and learn everything possible- which is where I've been coming from.
On that note- that's exactly why I banded together with a group of women early on. I was like, "We need to look out for each other." We felt this community with each other since we were so rare. It was so rare to have anybody entering this space without prior investing knowledge. Many people came from the investing crowd. These women of that space and I - it was like with my roller derby team- we were laying out the tracks before our game and putting them back in the truck. The things we would do for that team, now for the women of crypto art. We have this wonderful community of amazing artists that are all doing beautiful things, like being able to boost things, like artists in different parts of the world, totally struggling, in a different life that could then be opened up. Their voices could be seen, all of a sudden, if they have the right positioning.
Being able to establish WOCA, Women of Crypto Art, there are 5 of us that established it, we’ve been able to make artistic collaborations that go around the world. We have this one piece, where we made a tarot deck, its major arcana, and each woman made a card of this tarot deck. It’s actually interactive. For the rest of our lives and the future of Blockchain, this system is coded to give a reading, a universal reading, every day. So, you can log in and see the reading of this automated, random nature programming for this art piece. it's a platform that codes layers.
There’re so many possibilities with art that are changing- right off the bat it’s hard to explain it. A lot of the artworks for that platform- they can be coded, they’re coded to different aspects, you have like layers of an artwork, and people can own different parts of those layers and decide what is going to be shown of that layer. I’m sure this won’t make it into the interview. (She laughs.)
The possibilities really do seem endless. It’s really nice to feel that way.
EM: You mentioned that you are one of the founders of the WOCA (Women of Cryptoart) community- could you tell us more about the group and your experience as a woman in the NFT space?
GF: What I like the most about WOCA, that we’ve been able to establish is one: the collaborations we’ve been able to make together with all different people- there's one coming up that’s going to be really interesting. It’s going to be cool. There was one opportunity with WOCA where I was able to speak in Time Square with a few of the women founders of other projects that I found really amazing, at the last NFT NYC in 2020. I was able to find other girls that were a part of the women of crypto art, who were making their own entities as well. I invited them to speak at Times Square.
One of the groups in particular is composed of these three women who have co-founded an establishment that is for poetry for the blockchain. I’m so inspired by the women who have made all these different aspects of what the space can be about. I find it really important to support these kind of initiatives, to support them early on. If somebody has a vision, and you’re on board from early on, and you help them see where they could be- that's really helpful for them. I’m their art advisor now. I’ve been able to help them navigate this world and find new things. I’m actually going to be speaking with some of them at this next NFT NYC, seeing what kind of future we can make ourselves. A lot of the stuff their working with is also with artificial intelligence, so it’s like what can the computer do if it’s looking at this poetry?
You don’t even realize how many of the articles we read right now are actually automated, they’re not even made by people. (This is one is made by real people, btw!) There’s a lot of content made automatically right now with AI, and we don’t even know it. So there’s a lot of knowledge that has to be shared here, for people to realize what they’ve been fed as far as content of any topic. I find that really important and I want to help them spread these ideas of like- what our future is going to look like.
EM: In what ways do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
GF: The most important thing is what you are consuming. Be it physically with what you're eating, but also emotionally with how much baggage you take on from others, and how much despair you let the news give you. It’s a major health issue and for mental health as well as far as it socially is. Not only the physical body, what you’re eating, but also what you’re thinking. I think that’s number one, where you’re putting your energy in this world and your time here.
EM: What Vespertine items have helped you stay active?
GF: I really like the vests, I’ve been wearing them for running, for being visible- so I appreciate that. And the jacket! I love wearing the Vesper Jacket as well. Having that Vesper Jacket is so fun- it doesn’t even need to be functional. I like the style, the cut, the feel, the weight- everything about it. I find it a refreshing take on activewear, I wouldn’t even call it safety clothing.
EM: Do you have any advice for women who would like to find a proper balance for work and staying fit and active?
GF: Taking time for yourself is really important, which is either actively running on your own, or meditation- having that time to yourself is huge. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t allow that, you have to change the environment, and it’s really really hard. I went through it, so I know how hard it can be to change things but it’s really important and non-negotiable.
"Gisel Florez is an artist of manual camera & video techniques incorporating conceptual practice. She explores our interconnected nature within the space of existence through the visual study of waves. Gisel holds 18+ years of experience in the NYC photography scene, working as a commercial still-life photographer for brands such as LOreal, Revlon, ESPN, NYTimes, Disney, and many editorials such as Vmagazine, Surface & The Knot. Prior to this she dedicated her time assisting professionals such as Greg Kadel, Alexi Hay, Fabio Chizzola, & Richard Pierce as they moved their practices into the digital realm. In 2018, inspired by her son who loved trading game assets; she searched into developments of blockchain that were starting to form a new space for artists. SuperRare was an immense facilitator in helping her onboard the technicalities of Web3 & KnownOrigin where she tokenized small editions on Ethereum blockchain. As well as selling her digital artworks, Gisel has been generating a community of support as co-founder of WOCA (Women of Cryptoart), a RISD Photo Affinity Leader, and participated in a number of exhibitions crypto & traditional such as NFTNYC, ETH Denver, PROOFOFART Museum, Grooks VR Metagallery, CADAF, Winkleman Gallery, NYICG WallSpace, Museum of Crypto Art, "She Art" & “Mothers of Ethereum” VR exhibition in the virtual world Cryptovoxels. Presentations with "Bridge to the Metaverse" with Artory by SnarkArt, "Behind the Screen" with MOCDA (Museum of Contemporary Digital Art) & interviews "Behind the Art" with Josie Bellini, & Curating Crypto Podcast, & CryptoArtWeek 2020 w/Coldie "In the Artists's studio". "