Denver-based Flor Blake is a photographer and multimedia artist who has made striking portraits of Misty Copeland, Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, and many more beautiful faces. Each image tells a vibrant story, and in this Q+A, Flor shares her passion for photography and how her mom's career has helped inspire her purpose.
I saw that you got an advertising degree. When you were in school, what did you think you were going to do with it?
I thought I was going to start as an entry-level employee in an advertising agency, and in five years I was going to be an account manager and be the bomb. Or, I was going to be a copywriter and be the brains behind an advertising company. But neither of those two things happened because, well, life.
I moved to New York and worked at a public relations agency. I finally thought that path was going to happen for me. But it was a small boutique PR agency and closed eventually, and I didn’t get to be this big thing that I thought I was going to be.
The reality is that I wanted to study arts. My dad said that wasn’t practical enough, which is true. He’s an immigrant, and he wanted us to be successful. So I thought, okay, I’ll do advertising.
I always wanted to go and take a drawing class or a painting class or a photography class, and I never did because I thought I would never be good enough. So when I stopped working at the PR agency, I suddenly had all this time, and I thought, I’m going to go and take a photography class. I haven’t looked back.
Why did you choose photography over another medium?
It’s going to sound cheesy, but I think photography is our time machine. We have this fantasy that we’re going to get into a machine and go back in time. You get to do that when you have an album full of pictures of your family.
My parents don’t have any pictures from when they were little. My dad, when he graduated from high school, had a picture with his cap and gown. But my mom actually didn’t have a picture taken until she was 20. I think photography is really powerful in the way it can connect you with your past. My parents didn’t have enough money when they were little. It was a luxury to have a camera. Even when I was little, it was a luxury to have a camera because you had to think really carefully of which pictures you were going to take, because it cost money to get them developed. So, I don’t know what they looked like. So I guess that’s why I chose photography.
Your mom is a fashion designer. How has she inspired you as an artist?
Well, my mom is the bomb. I didn’t think that when I was little because she was working all the time. And when you’re a kid, you want to spend time with your mom. But my mom has the greatest work ethic that anyone can have. She’s been working since she was 15. She has built her business three times in two different countries in her lifetime.
Seeing her working so hard for us, to make sure we didn’t need anything, it really inspired me to have my own business. Even though I have a full time job as well, I know that it is possible because she’s been doing it since she was 15. If she did it – and in a time that was harder – I think I can do it too.
You have taken some really powerful photos. Can you tell me about one that was particularly meaningful to you and the story behind that photo?
I took a portrait of Gloria Steinem, which was really cool in the sense that she is a feminist icon. One of my good friends has a nonprofit called the Blossom Project. It teaches girls about feminism and activism. She brought Gloria Steinem in about three years ago. She emailed me to do event pictures, and she casually mentioned that Gloria Steinem was coming. I picked up the phone, and I was like “What? Why don’t you call? You can’t just say that! I need 15 minutes with her.” She said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Of course, I didn’t get 15 minutes with her because that’s the world. I had 3 minutes and 45 seconds with her. Even though I had set everything up, the flash wasn’t flashing. And meanwhile, I had a line of about 60 people outside of the room that had paid to get a picture with her because it was a fundraiser. Apparently, I was prepping so hard that I drained the batteries of my flash. So it was really stressful, but I just kept talking to her. That helped me calm down. As soon as I saw I had at least two pictures that would work, I started to do the pictures of the 60 people waiting outside.
Are there things that you do as a photographer and artist, the way that you see the world, the way that you ask questions, that others might be able to use in their lives to achieve their purpose or grow in some ways as an individual?
I think you have to see everybody as your equal. When you meet somebody like Gloria Steinem, if you treat them equally, they are going to respond to that. Because of my work at the Denver Foundation, I photograph the Denver Mayor or the Aurora Mayor or the Governor or Senators all the time. Because of that, I guess I don’t get intimidated by them, and things move quickly and smoother. Whenever you’re taking pictures like that, you have probably 3 minutes with them before their next meeting. If you’re too caught up in, “Oh my god, I’m going to take a picture of the Governor,” then you’re going to literally lose your shot.
Is there anything else that inspires your work that you’d like to share?
My core group of women friends inspires me constantly. Because of them, I am here. They, of course, are the ones who pick up the pieces when something doesn’t go as planned. I think it’s so important to have a really strong group of friends who are actually there for you and that help you. And that they call you on your bullshit as well. Every time it’s hard to hear. But it’s important that I have very honest people around me because that just propels my work to be better.
Flor Blake is a portrait, editorial, and commercial photographer with a style consisting of imaginative, vibrant, and dynamic imagery. Her professional background includes all aspects of theater, documentary coordination, video production and editing, and a degree in Advertising from the University of Puerto Rico. Learn more about her work here.