Amanda Villarosa is a Filipina American, Southern California-born, brooklyn-based travel, lifestyle, and hospitality photographer. Her work emboldens diverse communities, showcases creatively designed spaces, and tells stories of destinations at home and abroad. With the bulk of her work revolving around international travel, the pandemic marks a major shift in how Villarosa works. This includes how […]
Amanda Villarosa is a Filipina American, Southern California-born, brooklyn-based travel, lifestyle, and hospitality photographer. Her work emboldens diverse communities, showcases creatively designed spaces, and tells stories of destinations at home and abroad.
With the bulk of her work revolving around international travel, the pandemic marks a major shift in how Villarosa works. This includes how she photographs, takes on assignments, and thinks about her career. Beyond using this time to recalibrate, she’s working on a new project highlighting women of color in the creative industry.
The Luupe speaks with Villarosa to learn more.
The Luupe: After working on many creative teams, what inspired you to become a full-time freelance photographer?
Amanda Villarosa: I was itching for bigger professional and personal growth. I learned a great deal while working on these teams. However, I felt that I was settling for something that didn’t feel entirely authentic. I went to Iceland in February of 2018 and came back with an overwhelming thought of, “wow, how amazing it would be to do this unrestricted and on my own terms.” Two months later I left that 9 to 5, and it’s the best career decision I’ve made.
The Luupe: What was it like photographing in Columbia with El Camino Travel & Condé Nast Traveler?
Amanda Villarosa: Incredibly exciting. And exhausting, but in the best way. El Camino Travel, in partnership with Condé Nast Traveler, hosts trips to Colombia, as part of a group called Women Who Travel. I’ve been very privileged to have traveled to Colombia three times with them, and each time was so special. The assignments consisted of documenting the itinerary, which focused on the importance of learning and supporting local culture and businesses, engaging with those groups and communities, and of course, a little bit of salsa and island adventure.
So that means I’m photographing local chefs and restaurant owners, travelers taking salsa lessons, beautiful interiors of boutique accommodations, boat and island excursions, and landscapes of the Colombian countryside. On top of that, I’m also part of the group – getting to know each traveler, conversing with the Colombian people (poorly because my Spanish is less than mediocre), and even salsa dancing myself! The gig is truly immersive, not just for the travelers, but even for me as the photographer.
The Luupe: Do you have a specific highlight or memorable experience from photographing in one of the many countries you’ve traveled to?
Amanda Villarosa: I can recall a multitude of memories, how do you choose! I have to say that the majority of these memorable moments involve meeting new people in these places. My boyfriend and I took a trip to Puglia, Italy last summer (2019) – an area I had been dying to see and photograph. On personal trips, I tend to over plan and over-prepare, but we had a free day in Lecce without any itinerary or commitments.
We decided last minute to join a pasta making class held in someone’s apartment. We arrived and joined our host, a Lecce local of course, and she took us through her 2-hour pasta lesson where we made orecchiette by the dozens. Naturally, I photographed the entire process. The class ended but we were so involved in the conversation with each other that it turned into a 4-hour aperitivo. Our host told us about the varieties of Italian tomatoes, let us taste her and her boyfriend’s homemade liquors (turns out rosemary liquor is delicious), and we all shared stories about our personal lives. We’re still in contact from time to time, and I’ve shared the photos I took of her lesson with her for her business.
Perhaps moments like these seem small to some, but I walk away feeling so fulfilled and connected to the world around me. It feels extra special when intimate experiences like these happen unplanned and I get the opportunity to photograph it. I’ve experienced many moments like this while photographing in other countries, and they’re absolutely the ones I cherish most.
The Luupe: With so much of your work centering on travel, have you had to switch gears during the pandemic?
Amanda Villarosa: Unfortunately, the pandemic affected my work pretty significantly. I had a few travel assignments scheduled that had to be canceled – understandably so, but still disappointing. Travel photography is a large part of my income, so I had to find ways to pivot. Luckily, I have a background in product photography, so I was able to switch to that for a few months, in addition to receiving unemployment.
I also tried to slow down, since the world around us was essentially forcing us to. I took inventory of my archives, re-edited and revived some old work, and revamped my website (multiple times!) I also joined Zoom portfolio reviews, hopped on calls with photo consultants, and started a very personal passion project.
The Luupe: Have things picked up at all?
Amanda Villaosa: Work started to pick up around August and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself fully booked in September. But with the end of the year and holidays approaching, work is currently pretty silent. I spend most days sending out promotional emails and having conversations with potential future clients for work in 2021.
Being a part of the gig economy is a tricky game on its own. That’s something you accept when you decide to freelance. The pandemic has definitely added on extra challenges that I’m still learning to navigate.
The Luupe: Can you tell us about your new project that highlights women of color in the creative industry?
Amanda Villarosa: I basically want to not only learn more about the creative women in my own circle but to hype them up, especially in a time where our voices and talents are starting to be amplified.
I’ve been in the creative industry for almost a decade – now as a photographer, but previously in creative departments as a photo editor, retoucher, and supervisor. The majority of the time, I’m one of few women of color (sometimes the only) on these teams. It’s something I always noticed and felt, but rarely made noise about.
And now, there are open conversations being had about race and racial inequality, in all aspects of our lives. I’m feeling emboldened to speak my truth as a creative professional.
The Luupe: It feels like there is some hope. Where do you hope to take it?
Amanda Villarosa: I’m looking to connect with other women who feel similarly, learn about their struggles and successes in work as women of color, and snap a portrait while sharing stories. The hope is also to inspire WOC who are looking to enter the creative industry. Show them we are here and we are creating work that matters.
The Luupe: What have been some of the biggest learnings or challenges so far?
Amanda Villarosa: After photographing a few women already, I’ve found the most challenging part to be reaching out to potential participants. For some photographers, it’s easy to start up these conversations, but I’m quite introverted in that way. And this project is incredibly personal to me, so I have some insecurities attached to it. However, that’s also part of the reason why I started it to begin with. I want to be able to break the silence and meet other women who understand, and who want to be loud about their joy and pain as well.
So far, the experiences with those who I’ve already photographed have been nothing short of incredible. The BS we endure (especially in the workplace) to be seen and heard is ridiculous! I’m learning that I’m not alone in my past experiences. These women are eager, excited, and READY to make lasting change.
I still have a long way to go with this project, but I have a list of women that I hope to connect with soon. I’m very much up to the challenge of growing this series and community.
The Luupe: Is this an issue you want to explore in your own work as well?
Amanda Villarosa: Absolutely. I’ve had a number of assignments in the past few years that focused on women’s stories in business, highlighted and celebrated female personalities. I come from a very large matriarchal Filipino family. No joke, the women are forces to be reckoned with. So that strong female energy has always been around me. I hope to portray that in my personal and professional work for years to come.