The Mystical, Magical Photographic Art of Sequoia Emmanuelle
Well, not quite the Renaissance, but close: Renaissance fairs and festivals—which her parents were very involved in when she was a child. “My mom was a costume designer, painter, and all-around artist, and my stepfather was a genie, photographer, and jewelry maker,” she says. “I grew up doing all the things I do now—I’ve been doing them since I was little.”
THE ARTIST’S PATH
Having grown up in such an artistic household, Emmanuelle can’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating. While her parents were painting, taking photos, and making costumes, she was working alongside them and pursuing her own art: “There was never a time that I wasn’t doing some kind of artwork, because that’s the kind of household we had,” she says. “It’s very deeply embedded in me.”
But although Emmanuelle describes her childhood as “creative and amazing,” she acknowledges that there were difficult, tumultuous times, too, and times when money was scarce—her parents struggled to make a living as artists—and those times also had an impact. As a teenager, she went through a very dark period.
“When I was about 15, I saw no future, and I really thought I would never do anything with my life,” she says. “I really didn’t see any opportunities. Then I read this book, You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay—an amazing self-help book about using the power of your thoughts, and about how things might happen to you in your life, but it’s how you react to them and your decisions that are important…. At that point I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to let all of this stuff stop me from creating the kind of life I want.’ It was really important, and something I want to share with people is their ability to change things and the power of believing in yourself.”
Emmanuelle says that reading this book encouraged her to apply to art colleges—she ended up attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which she says was “the best thing” she ever did.
A WORLD IN A PHOTOGRAPH
The photographs Emmanuelle creates are dramatic, dreamy, often surreal, and rich with story. She traces parts of her style and her aesthetic back to her childhood, pointing to Renaissance-inspired elements and a penchant for mixing time periods and genres—something she has done in her work since she was very young. She is also drawn to underground art scenes and subcultures: before moving to Los Angeles, she spent time in both New York City and San Francisco, and those environments shaped her point of view as an artist.
She adds that her process and the techniques she employs change from shoot to shoot—whether it’s a new digital treatment or experimenting with traditional media. Change excites her, and she sets herself creative challenges that help keep her work fresh. For instance, as a photographer known for color, what might happen if she does an all-white shoot?
“I don’t like to be too predictable,” says Emmanuelle. “I like to keep changing the game.”
Working out of a sunny 13th-floor Los Angeles loft with wraparound views, art of all kinds on the walls, a mix of modern and vintage furniture, and two Chihuahuas, Emmanuelle splits her time fairly evenly between self-initiated and commissioned work.
Her striking photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including Vogue Italia, Paper, and Vibe; on album art; in advertising campaigns and music videos; and much more. She enjoys working with fashion designers (and has designed apparel herself) and other artists.
Emmanuelle recently released a gorgeous book of her life’s work—almost 400 pages of photographs—called Duende. It’s a project she has dreamed about since she was a teenager.
“I was at a friend’s house, and he had a David LaChapelle book. I picked it up, and I was just amazed. His images—they are worlds,” says Emmanuelle. “I said, ‘This is exactly what I want to do. One day I want to have a book like this.’”