By Katie Nartonis

Cover photo: Desert Night/Walk with a Friend – Having fun with my art

De Anna Valdez is a bright, creative, and emerging artist in the high desert. She has been building a life for herself that includes a dedicated art practice. I’ve watched over the last few years as her art photography work has blossomed. In the last few months, she has created a generous new studio space on the Mesa and has hatched a plan to take part in the 2023 Highway 62 Art Tours this coming October. I had the pleasure of conversing with her for the Joshua Tree Voice.
How did you start your art journey?

I discovered photography in high school. I took a basic photo course and fell in love. My mom bought me my first 35mm set up for Christmas I and started my journey and love with film. She was a huge inspiration to me, driving me around places so I could look and tell her when to stop the car, so I could capture a shot. I was blessed that my high school had an amazing art facility, and a photo teacher that took me under his wing, helping me develop my craft and grow as an artist. Teaching me analog and the wet photographic process. We had an amazing dark room with 4×5 capabilities, as well as learning how to shoot slide film and print ciba chromes. I had no idea just how lucky I was. I was “raised” on Dorothea Lange, Mary Ellen Mark, Ansel Adams, Weston, and my all-time favorite, Jerry Uelsmann.

Fire and Ice – Transferring the technique to images I envisioned selling.

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When I was a junior at Watson, my photography teacher, started to take a group of us to portfolio reviews at different art colleges. This took me to New York right after high school at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). I studied for a year before returning home to the West Coast. I worked at Bay Photo Lab before venturing to L.A., where I started working at A&I Lab. Watching all the photographers drop off film and ask advice on whether to “push or pull” the film brought me to the decision to apply to Art Center…and I was accepted! It was here, in a fine art class, that I fell deeply in love with abstract art. I was introduced to Kandinsky and nothing was ever the same. I finished my B.A. in Photography and ventured out into the world ready to photograph music and amazing portraits.

How did your Photography develop?
For a long time, I photographed portraits. I’d meet people and ask if I could photograph them. I loved capturing them in between poses, it’s when they were themselves. I’m a “go big or go home girl” and 4×5 format was my love. I’d carry my studio mono rail 4×5 around to capture these portraits. At Art Center, I had a teacher that introduced me to the Graflex camera and sold me a 1950s portable 4×5 and I was in heaven. I so loved the images I captured and to this day still have the camera. I photographed weddings, live music and events. But when I became a single mom of two very young boys, my photography started to take a back seat. I needed a stable income to support them. I photographed landscapes and things that caught my eye but had a hard time trying to sell my work.

I created this image by playing with layers and multiple images (or pieces of them). In taking away a layer, this image was seen, and took my work to a new level.

In 2015, I moved from the low desert to Yucca Valley. I journeyed here with a man I was in love with. We bought a house and 2 1/2 years later my world started to unravel all around me. I found myself in an abusive relationship with someone who used drugs, gambled, and was just lost. After 4 1/2 years of dealing with the hurt, the disappointment, and just craziness, he was served a restraining order to leave the house, not contact me or my boys. I was left to pick up my pieces and somehow put them back together. This was when my current work came to life.

He was more than a hoarder, and my property was riddled with cars, furniture, appliances, and just about anything and everything you could think of. I went through 11 months of therapy dealing with PTSD, nightmares, anxiety, and sleepless nights. I still had unresolved internal things that needed to be expressed.

In a conversation with Watson, who always remained a mentor and friend, he told me, “You need to walk your yard and photograph how you feel.” So, I did. I spent 3 months photographing my reflection in car windows, glass, any reflected surface left behind. At the end, I have around 100 images. I titled this “Project 2021”.

In figuring out just how I wanted to present this project to the world, I was introduced to a more in-depth use of Photoshop, and I sat and played for over 6 months and created a technique that altered my work. I found a way to tap into my abstract side, and it really fit with what I was going through and trying to express. I was able to add texture and enhance color to the compositions I created. Now that the work popped and resonated a sense of my inner being, I was healing through my art, and it felt great.

I was then given the opportunity to start showing my work. I was up against a wall – as the images were not a conventional size, I could not just go and buy a frame. So I started to build frames that added to the composition and meaning of each image. The project was framed with things left behind in the yard and that started a path of where each frame needed to be individual to the image. They all have their own composition and voice, and this is how I now finish each piece I create.

What are your hopes for the future?
For the past 9 months, I have been displaying work in the galleries of the High Desert and that is a dream come true for me. I feel that this journey of finding and incorporating my abstract side has brought out a version of my work that I’d like to explore more and create images that strike an emotion with the viewer. Through my story and visual interpretation, I feel others are allowed the freedom to relate to their own emotions and journey. I feel I’ve just started to explore with framing and creating these abstract images and I am excited to see where this process takes me.

Applying what I learned to create abstract forms that make a statement.

Katie Nartonis is a writer, curator, art + design specialist and film maker. Her exhibit “Edwin + Lloyd” based on the founding of the Institute of Mentalphysics’ Retreat Center and the Lloyd Wright architectural treasures there is open 10am-5pm March 3, 4 and 5th. Her most recent documentary film “Jack Rogers Hopkins: California Design Maverick” premiered at the Palm Springs Art Museum Annenberg Theater during Palm Springs Modernism Week, 2023.

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