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Irvin Rivera’s journey in the photography world is not just a success story but a testament to the fusion of inspiration, culture, strategy, and sheer determination. From his roots in the Philippines to becoming an award-winning photographer and creative director in Los Angeles, Rivera's path has been shaped by pivotal moments that reflect his unwavering commitment to evolving as an artist and entrepreneur.

Irvin, your journey in the photography world is quite remarkable. From your roots in the Philippines to becoming an award-winning photographer and creative director in Los Angeles, what pivotal moments or experiences shaped your career path?

Thank you for this wonderful question. I think the constant failures behind the scenes, experiencing the lowest of lows (at least from my perspective), and achieving some high points, helped shape my overall career path. I learned a lot about photography, business, marketing, and being a better person through all the experiences that happened to me throughout the years. But a memorable pivotal moment in my life is when I decided to quit my 9-5 day job to pursue photography full time. I think the excitement, with the fear of the unknown really pushed me to adapt and find creative ways to not just survive but also thrive.

As a native of the Philippines, how has your cultural background influenced your work, if at all? Are there any specific aspects of Filipino culture that you find yourself drawn to or that inspire your creative vision?

I think the ingrained hardworking Filipino work ethic as well as the overall concept of community-building (“Bayanihan” in Filipino) influence most of my work in general. From pre-production to post-production, I always ensure that I give it my one hundred percent- that there is no small client or project at all. I am also always aware of how I nurture the relationships I build through my projects as I build communities around me. Visually speaking, I feel like the colorful festivals from my childhood in the Philippines have always been a lingering influence throughout my work.

Your work is often described as a fusion of various artistic influences, from fashion to film to music. How do you navigate these diverse inspirations to create a cohesive visual style? Can you share some insights into your creative process?

I’m like an insatiable sponge that absorbs different aspects of art whenever I sense it.

It’s wild how the various influences fluidly inform one another- a scent from an outdoor walk while listening to music may trigger buried memories that will lead to an idea that can be later related to images I curated on my moodboard. For me, there is no specific formula or way to the creative process. You just do it. You just create. But an essential aspect of creation for me is to feel something deep down in the depths of my being- I have to feel it, I have to believe in it and I have to know it subconsciously in order to create it.

As the founder and Editor-in-Chief of A BOOK OF Magazine, you're not only behind the camera but also shaping the narrative through editorial direction. How does your role as a magazine editor influence your approach to photography and storytelling?

Taking a role behind the camera taught me a lot in terms of the bigger, overall production and storytelling process. You don’t just think of the photos itself, but the intention behind the visuals, how will they fit in the medium that they will be presented on? How can they make a lasting impression to your audience? How do you communicate the story effectively? It’s intricate, there’s a lot of constant moving parts that you have to balance and that’s one challenge that I love about what I do because it keeps me on my toes. I have to adapt and continuously learn a lot through the process. It makes me more mindful and intentional about everything I do, especially in photography.

Your portfolio showcases a keen eye for capturing contrasts, both visually and narratively. Could you elaborate on how you use contrasts, such as light and dark or pedestrian and famous, to convey meaning in your work?

It’s hard to find meaning if you don’t have any contrast at all. You need shadows to appreciate the light as much as you need colors to appreciate the lack of it. Whenever I can, I love to mix elements that seemingly do not belong with each other. It’s fun, it makes the image more dynamic and it will surprise you how a lot of things that seem off together can actually create something fresh and visually interesting.

One aspect that sets you apart is your reputation as a strategist and problem-solver in addition to being an image-maker. How do you integrate these analytical skills into your creative process, and how does it impact the final outcome of your projects?

When you run your craft as a business, you have to be a problem-solver by default. You become mindful of this and this becomes second nature with you that with whatever project you do, you put pieces of the puzzle together, you determine which paint points you need to address, you map out the production, you envision the potential outcomes, and you figure out ways to make the project successful at the same time. Again, this is a big balancing act, a series of techniques and skills you develop by years of experiences in the field.   

Your love for fashion, films, music, and art is evident in your work. Are there any specific pieces or artists that have had a significant impact on your creative journey? How do you weave these influences into your photography?

A lot! I admire a lot of things. In film, I love Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle’s visuals in their films (2046, In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, etc). For Fashion photography, Paolo Roversi’s dreamy works tickles me all the time, and also Tim Walker’s extravagant over the top sets and fashion.

In the beginning of the early portfolio building stages of my career, I would emulate elements from my influences- the lights, the colors, the styles, etc. It was fun for me and I think keeping that fun element in everything that you do helps you find your own voice as you blend all your artistic influences together.   

Let's talk about your approach to collaboration. How do you select the right team to bring your creative vision to life, and what qualities do you look for in your collaborators?

People remember you based on how you make them feel- I always tell this to my collaborators. Be a decent human being, know how to read the room, know your place and don’t be a pain in anybody’s ass and you will be fine. For me, a great collaborator is someone who is open, collaborative, excited and can match mine and the team’s energy.

With storytelling at the core of your work, how do you ensure that the narrative shines through in your photographs? Are there specific techniques or strategies you employ to convey a particular message or emotion?

I just don’t overthink it and believe that my audience is smart enough to provide their own interpretations to the photos if they need to. If, for example, it’s a fashion editorial with a specific theme or narrative, I try to stick to that theme. If it’s a commercial shoot, I collaborate with the creative director or the client to ensure that we are all aligned in our visions. But overall, once all the planning and strategizing is done, you have to let go, and just chill and not overthink the process. That’s usually when the magic happens.

Your career has undoubtedly been filled with highs and lows. Can you share a particularly challenging project or moment that ultimately led to growth or a shift in perspective?

As an independent business owner, I feel like one thing that is often not spoken about as much is the unpredictability and instability of it all. There are good days when you are abundant and there are days with dry spells. And there’s a lot of these contrasting moments that will push you and definitely change your perspective in how you approach life and business in general.

These moments teach you to create healthy boundaries for yourself, being more intentional and selective in how you spend your energy, and just being more mindful of how you create art, relationships and communities.   

Looking ahead, what excites you the most about the future of photography and storytelling? Are there any emerging trends or technologies that you're eager to explore in your work?

Everytime a new technological advancement in image-making emerges, I genuinely get excited. I always remember back when I first got interested in photography in college where I had to borrow my classmate’s 3.2 megapixel camera and edit photos using Adobe Photoshop at a rental computer in an internet cafe. I can’t afford a DSLR, but Photoshop allowed me to be creative, and I found ways to make my photos look somewhat decent back then. Obviously, things have advanced way better since then and I’m just excited with all the ways and possibilities presented on how a lot of people can create images and art. AI and other technological advancements help democratize the creation of art, making it more accessible to more people and in a lot of ways, although nuanced, makes it exciting.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring photographers and creatives who are looking to carve out their own path in the industry?

If you decide and fully commit to being a full-time photographer or creative, you have to remember that it’s a whole expedition- equip yourself with grit and the knowledge, the tools, and social skills, the business skills, and everything in between that you think you will need. Then get ready and be open to embrace the unknown and push through your destination.   

Imagine you’re a car, or someone holding a flashlight, traveling on a pitch-black road. There is no way for you to see the rest of the path. You only see wherever your light hits its limit. So if the unknown is way more vast than you can imagine at the moment, keep pushing, keep moving, and eventually you’ll reach your destination.


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