Val Duran has traveled from San Francisco to New York and everywhere in between. Serving and working across the United States, Latin America, and Europe gave her the opportunity to volunteer with the Peace Corps, lead and document global service learning programs, develop and implement innovative community engagement initiatives, deliver inspirational talks to diverse audiences, and teach the digital arts. At the intersection of her two concentrations, a M.A. in International Education from New York University Steinhardt School and a B.A. in Media Studies from the University of San Francisco, she aims to be a continuing voice for social justice and seeks to empower women and children around the world to reach their full potential using media as an educational tool. She passionately believes that if you give a girl a camera, you give her new eyes to see her world. Val hosted her first ever solo show in August 2015 at Spark Arts.
(Interviewed by Wolfram Alderson, on behalf of Spark Arts, San Francisco)
At what moment did you realize you are an Artist?
At the end of a long, anxiety filled work day many years ago, I looked at one of my photos in post and somehow it brought a calm to my soul. You see, about a month earlier, I was asked to take a life changing journey as a Media Guide (photographer/filmmaker/program leader blend) to document a team of nine female youth during their service learning adventures in Costa Rica. BIG SECRET: I was terrified out of my mind!! "Would my producers and client like my photos? When will I shoot video vs. photo? Is it possible to meet all these shot requirements? And how in the world will I be able to carry this heavy production equipment in humid weather while hiking up a mountain!?" However, the day I saw this one special photo in post is the same day all my worries and self-doubt started to wash away. I realized, "I got this!" Physically ✔️ Emotionally ✔️ Mentally ✔️ Creatively✔️✔️ Accepting the Media Guide challenge not only pushed me artistically and professionally, but it also opened my eyes to be in discovery and opened my heart again to the power of possibility. In honor of this memory, the inspirational people I met, and what I created with them, I wanted to announce every day since then, “I am an ARTIST!”
Was there someone in your life who provided special encouragement for you to be an artist? If so, who was that?
My older brother Markie, a dancer and choreographer himself, has been a huge influence in my artistic pursuits. As a strong voice of special encouragement, he cheers me on to follow my passions and explore my creativity through photography, filmmaking, and acting. I love him so much. He gifted me the book, “The Artist’s Way,” and I strongly recommend it because it changed my life. It helped me believe in myself and all the possibilities that can unfold. All we need is a little trust in ourselves and in the universe.
What attracted you to showing your work in a community gallery space like Spark Arts?
I wasn’t expecting to show my work in a community gallery like Spark Arts. It was a spontaneous opportunity that reminded me we are always where we’re supposed to be, like experiencing synchronicity. It all happened one summer when I was working as an art, photography, and digital film instructor for kids. Originally, I walked into Spark Arts to take a dance class for a dear friend’s birthday, and surprisingly I walked out of there with plans to hang my first official photography show, “Her Geography.” It would have never happened if my friend didn’t introduce me as a photographer to Angie the owner. I really have these ladies to thank for opening my eyes to the signs and hidden opportunities. Now I see the benefit in sharing my artistic work with the world, and I can’t wait to curate my next photography show.
What medium(s) do you work in? Why do like to work in these mediums?
I really enjoy storytelling through photography and moving images because I see them as strong educational tools that evoke emotion, shape ideas, and spark reflective conversation. These mediums help me feel like I have a voice. Images speak louder than words.
Describe your body of work. What is the central theme or ideas behind your work?
“Her Geography,” shares the experience of diverse female faces and their connection to far-away places. However, my full body of work also thoughtfully captures the beauty in colorful details, displays positive participation in different countries, shares short stories of inspirational empathy, and encourages others to be in cultural discovery.
In the current highly polarized and unstable political climate, do see any special role for the artist? ...or is simply making art - making relevance, or does relevance or context even matter to you - e.g., art is what it is and doesn’t interpretation or context?
Through losing myself in the service of others over the years, I found myself wanting to tell stories of hope in the face of struggle. In the current unstable political climate, I see art playing a special role in reminding our communities that there is good out there. If we keep our heads up and start paying attention to all the random acts of kindness that surround us, a ripple effect of magic can happen. I’d like to continue to collect stories of how ambitious, resilient, intelligent youth of our future are taking action by lending a helping hand to a stranger in need, planting seeds in a garden, building schools in developing countries, serving hot meals to the homeless or standing up to gun violence. I want art to remind others that we are more alike than unalike in order to make a positive difference that our world so desperately needs.
Spark Arts hosts many artists who are coming out or revealing their work at an early or critical stage in their career.
What can you say to young people who are just beginning to explore their creativity, but might be lacking encouragement or confidence to take it to another level, to pursue a life as an artist?
I strongly encourage the young at heart to find the explorer within, overcome fears, keep your eyes open, and go along for the ride. Always remember, you got this!
Anything else you want to share?
To come away with me on my adventures, you can visit my website www.valarieduran.comand follow my on the go journey @valduranphoto. Currently, I have some fan favorite photos up at Philz Coffee on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. It will mean the world to me if you stop by.
Photographer and Videographer