Creatives in Conversation: Photographer JV.SLS on how iconic imagery remains his biggest inspiration.
By design, photography is a deeply personal medium where the footage cannot be perfectly replicated in a second shot, as each moment is brilliantly unique in its own way. Through the art of literally capturing moments in time, everyone from seasoned professionals to casual hobbyists to people who try out the camera feature on their phones can become a storyteller and help preserve history, whether on a personal level or in a greater cultural context.
For Los Angeles native JV.SLS, born Brandon Espeleta, the best work comes from genuinely getting to know the subject in question and learning to anticipate the spontaneous arrival of a candid moment. Such a philosophy has led JV.SLS to become entrusted with documenting the day-to-day lives of his clients, resulting in intimate portraiture, whether through still photography or engaging cinematography. His savvy for being at the right place at the right time to capture the right moment has helped turn his passion for visual storytelling into a dynamic career path.
Whether he is working to tell the story of legacy artists such as Kelly Rowland or acclaimed songwriter Nasri Atweh, or finding new ways to express himself visually, JV.SLS’s expertise lies in catching creative-minded people in their natural element where they feel the most comfortable and authentic. By spending ample quality time with his clients, JV.SLS is able to ensure that his work is not forced or rushed, allowing for the opportunity to tell a more intimate, thorough glimpse into the lives of others.
While, in his own words, he’s just getting started with pursuing his passion as a visual storyteller, JV.SLS’s future in the field is exceptionally bright due to his work ethic and drive to continue polishing his craft. With his eyes focused on his goals for the year ahead, JV.SLS took a moment out from his schedule to chop it up with the DropLabs team about how he got his start as a photographer/videographer, his influences in the field and the mantra that resonated with him so deeply, he got the phrase tattooed on him.
What do you do for a living and what helped you get started?
I'm a music photographer. I've been taking photos for about five or six years now. I originally went to college for criminal justice and got my associates degree. After finishing school, I decided to start doing photography full-time. I got my start doing concerts and festivals for a while, and eventually was able to work directly for artists on a full-time basis. I'm currently working with Kelly Rowland, and am covering her day-to-day life, which can include anything from press runs to performances.
What inspired you to pursue photography, especially after initially focusing on criminal justice?
When I was going to college, my girlfriend at the time was pushing me to get a hobby [laughs]. She could tell I was really stressed out by my coursework and whatnot and encouraged me to try out something new. We went to a lot of shows together so when I first picked up a camera, trying out concert photography was a natural step. I've always known I wanted to focus on live music but when I was first starting out, I didn't have any connections and it was really difficult to break in. I focused on doing landscape and urban photography for about two years so I could build up my portfolio and get into the music industry. I've been freelancing since 2016 and I'm grateful for what I've been able to do in a short time. I feel like I haven't accomplished nearly what I want to do yet. I feel like I'm at the start of my career.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I definitely look to the photographers from the '90s or 2000s that took iconic photos of artists such as Biggie or Eminem. There are certain iconic images that you think of when you're listening to your favorite artist, like when you think of Biggie, for example, the portrait of him wearing a crown (taken by Barron Claiborne) immediately comes to mind. Same with Eminem and The Eminem Show album cover. The photographers from those eras, such as Jonathan Mannion or Chi Modu or Jack McKain, inspire me to keep getting better and keep moving forward. I want my images to have the same kind of impact that those images had on me growing up.
What are some ways you get into your creative zone?
I really love food [laughs]. I typically go out to eat by myself and have some headphones on and just tap into that creative space. I also really like going to the gym; that definitely helps my creative process. When it comes to my work itself, I like documenting rather than forcing anything. When I'm with an artist, I follow them throughout their day and observe them in their element. Capturing those candid moments is really important, and those images always speak to the audience the most. At this stage in my career, it's a lot easier to know when those moments are coming and I always make sure I have my camera ready.
What surprised you the most about trying out DropLabs' first product, the EP 01s?
I didn't expect the vibrations and the overall feeling of the shoes to feel the way they did. It's not something you can put into words, but after trying them on, I knew it was something that I needed that same day [Laughs]. Like I said, I listen to music when I try to get into my creative zone and try to come up with concepts for shoots and new projects so I know having those shoes on me would add to the experience and help me to feel more creative.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience?
It’s not something that you can easily put into words, it’s something you really need to try out for yourself. I will say, it's like having your own personal concert, 24/7. You're just in your own little world and the shoes help amplify the way you feel the music. At the moment, I'm coming up with a music video treatment for a song and at first, I was just listening to the lyrics and trying to come up with the concept, but with the shoes, I feel like it helps you really feel the emotion more. You feel the bass, and the strings, and everything in the song that you typically might overlook.
What are some words of wisdom you live by?
One of my favorite artists is a visual artist from Detroit named Zach Thompson. He has a quote that goes,”Tomorrow could be paradise,” and that’s something that I actually live by. I got that tattooed on me. For me, it's like, even though I know I'm not where I want to be at the moment, just keep working because tomorrow could be paradise. One phone call could change my life and tomorrow I could be in the position that I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.
What are some of your goals for the year ahead?
My main goal is to do more editorial or more thought-out shoots. I do a lot of documentation but I would like to work on a big production and execute an in-depth concept. Doing more of those types of shoots is my goal for this year ahead.
JV.SLS can be found on Instagram at @jv.sls.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology™ is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.