Kyra Santoro had grown up in the Valley expressing herself through competitive dance or doodling while struggling to focus in class at school. She danced competitively from eight years old through high school, snowboarded in the winters, wakeboarded in the summers. She doodled aimlessly—black and white line designs, suns, a lot of flowers, a lot of butterflies, even mushrooms in high school—but how to channel her creativity came into a sharper focus when her friend got a film camera.

"That was it for me. As soon as my friend got that Leica, I was like, 'Oh my God, I need a film camera. I have to have one. I can't not have one.' As soon as I saw the photos, it was a wrap for me. So I asked my mom, for my [22nd] birthday, 'Can you get me a film camera?' She was like, 'Is there any kind in particular?' I was like, 'No, just get me a film camera.' She got me a Canon AE-1. That camera, to this day, is still like my baby. I love that camera. I have a couple now, but that one is my baby. I love that camera so much." 

Before that, she found herself on the other side of the camera. "When I turned 18, I went to open calls for agencies, and I then got signed to Wilhelmina, and then I started modeling. I feel like I've really lucky that I've done a minimal amount of e-commerce, sort of like the boring modeling, and I've done such a large amount of the creative, magazine editorial, fashion, lookbooks, where you really do have a lot of room to create something with the stylist, the makeup artist, the photographer [to] create a really dope image."

Unfortunately, Kyra's first film roll with her Canon AE-1 didn't produce any images. "I was so excited. I shot all these photos. I couldn't wait to see them. I was so stoked. And then, I took it in to get developed, I took it to Sammy's, where everybody goes. They called me, and they were like, 'The whole roll is blank.' I was like, 'What? What do you mean the whole roll is blank? How is that possible? I shot an entire roll. Different days, different places. How?' ... The whole roll, all 34 shots, were blank. I was so sad. I was so upset."

The failure only fueled her to figure out how to shoot film and shoot film well. She began taking a film camera with her everywhere she went, and she still keeps one in her car at all times "just 'cause you never know where you're gonna end up. I always keep a roll of film in my purse. I just live like that, I guess. You never know where and who you're gonna be with, and if you're the person with the camera, it's kinda dope."

Kyra remembers some of those first shots, using the fact she had a group of girlfriends who were also models to her advantage and developing a style of "capturing moments versus creating anything," and they are still some of her favorites. But she plans to keep pushing for new favorites. "I have a goal board. Like a vision board, but I write stuff on it. I have all these different goals because now I've progressed my personal career. I still model, but now I've progressed it more into acting and music. But my photography goals are, really, I want to shoot for a magazine. I would like it to be an indie-feeling magazine more than something high fashion. More of a very cool, very natural shoot. All film. And then I also have a dream to go with an artist for a music festival and shoot them at a music festival. Shooting an artist at a music festival, I can't even think of anything better."

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The first trip from his hometown Petaluma, California, to Europe that Dan Franco can remember happened when he was 13 years old. His parents, both immigrants from Bogota, Colombia, had family in Lago Maggiore, Italy. His parents gave him a disposable camera for the trip.

"When we got back, I really treasured those photographs. Being able to see a photo I took in Italy, I was like, this isn't something I see every day. That was mind-blowing to me. Like, oh man, this is beautiful. I'm literally capturing these vivid memories from my life, and I can almost remember the memory better. And then I realized, whoa, I live 40 minutes away from San Francisco. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. My dad works there. I just started sneaking out behind their backs when I was 13, 14. I would take the bus that's a block away from my house for an hour and a half long to go to the city, and I would tell them I was at a friend's house, but I was really shooting photos because I was obsessed with it."

His parents' love for traveling, and how much he traveled in his childhood as a result, gave him a deeper appreciation for what was out there. He borrowed his cousin's Canon T1i to learn how to capture it all. "I borrowed it for so long that, at a certain point, it was just my camera. That was the same camera that initially got me paid for the first time, and I ended up saving up  for my own camera from that."

Dan enjoyed "the joy of being new at something" and labor of learning, of getting better with the camera, experimenting with different exposures and lenses. His parents were strict, but they relaxed when they saw their son doing something he loved that was turning into something bigger. "It came to the point where I started skating, and I realized that there was a lot more to the world than the suburbs and sports. I just was lucky from my parents' perspective, knowing they had been all over. I was just curious, and I guess photography and that curiosity merged together."

The biggest obstacle came from within, though. He struggled to "find a voice through art" and realizes looking back now that he went through several phases before he finally discovered his distinctive style two or three years into shooting.

 "Once I found what really spoke to me, then I was able to make the most of that. The biggest struggle was constantly doubting myself, but at least now I have a foundation of what I like. The hardest part was just figuring out what made my stuff, my stuff. What gave it that authenticity?"

He found that his style was in how he colored his images. "I always liked dark nostalgia but with a lot of vibrances. I know those two are kind of juxtapositions of each other, but ... I think something about that contrast, it just gives it a whole different deal."

After settling into a style and finding his creative groove, which he presents through photography and a clothing line named Never Lose Your Aura, the external validation naturally followed. "It's hard for me to consistently remind myself that a number on an app is real people. It's crazy when I meet people or when I'd get people reaching out, like, 'Man, I love this. I made this [photo] my background.' Seeing people, actually, even at school, wearing my stuff, seeing it in physical form, I think that was like, and to this day, it makes my day if I see anybody wearing my stuff. ... These people actually care, and it inspires them, and they want to go out and make something similar. It's that never-ending cycle I'm implementing an idea into someone else's mind, and then they might do that for 10 other people."

He believes he was meant to do this. Give people an escape, even if it's just to get lost in one of his photos for five or 10 seconds. But he is aware of the realities that come with making art and inspiring people for a living. "Finding the balance between staying true to yourself creatively and making a living and being an adult. It's very easy to say stay true to art, but a lot of times, you have to find a nice middle." And he's putting that into practice. "I'm creative directing for this data privacy company, and that's not necessarily my forte, but I think what's cool about it is they're giving me full creative control. Having a job where you can meet in the middle, and you might not love whatever they're selling personally, but being able to brand it in a way where I might love it is the challenge, and I think that's what makes it special. Being able to add a twist to something, finding a balance between work and play and being able to enjoy play more."

There's perhaps nothing he loves more than playing with film, and the process is just as precious as the final product. "I love my relationship with film. Over the years, it's just progressed a lot from going with a 35mm to now shooting a lot of medium format. It comes in waves. Super 8, Super 16, that sort of aesthetic is something you can't buy. It's just something you have to learn how to do. ... The way it looks is just as important as the way it feels when you're shooting it. It's like when you go to get coffee. I think it's just as important going to get coffee as the coffee itself."

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Pierre grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens. The area is known by locals as New York City's sixth borough because it is isolated from the heart of Queens, and this could be used as a metaphor for how Pierre felt within his surroundings as a child. “You grow up in the hood, you’re supposed to be somebody who’s already smoking, drinking, robbing. You’re mad nice in ball, or you’re mad nice at rap. There’s all these archetypes with growing up where I grew up at, and then you aren't really fitting in those molds. So I think that was probably my biggest obstacle, finding who I really am.”

He participated in some of the typical activities—attending church, playing ball, going to movies, going to parties—but he felt most at home when creating other worlds. “I would write little plays and perform it for my family members. … When I got into junior high school, high school, we had computers. Internet started being a thing. I would go online a lot, and playing video games also was very big in my development. At one point in time, I got so heavy into role-playing games. I discovered this program called RPG Maker, and then essentially I would just legit make my own RPG. My own stories. So it took the storytelling part that I did as a kid with writing these short plays into actually seeing them acted out using these characters in the video game.”

Pierre went to St Johns University to continue studying television and film with the intention of producing, but after graduating college, he noticed a shift in the industry and wanted to take advantage. “People were able to create short films or dope video content using DSLRs.” He had disposable cameras, and even some film cameras, growing up that he used to shoot his older sisters with, but he didn't start considering his relationship to the camera until this point.

So he used the money he saved from his 9-to-5 job AT AHRC to buy his first camera, a CANON EOS 7D. “It felt like the beginning of something actually. I feel like the whole time I was in college, it was just me getting used to even using these technical things, these visual tools. And then, me actually getting it was like, ‘Holy shit, I have it in my hands. Now I have the power to create this stuff.’ Before that, I really didn’t have that power. I was using my camera phone, or actually, I would even rent Panasonic DVX100s from this not-for-profit.”

It wasn’t until nine or 10 years ago that Pierre transitioned from shooting digitally to shooting with film: “I had a lot of homies who were into film, and they would tell me how shooting with film affects your thinking process. It’s a little bit more thought out than it is when you shoot digital. I’m like, ‘Alright, I kind of want to tap into that mentality.’ Take a step back. Not just be go, go, go, but be more thoughtful, more reserved. I feel like film was the first tool that gave me that sense.” 

He researched online, on eBay, for the right film camera to take the plunge with. Finally, he went to a store out of town and invested around $400 in a Fujifilm Klasse. The world opened up to him. “When I finally got my film developed, I was just like, ‘Damn.’ … That gap in time to get my finished product made me grow an appreciation for what I was shooting. The fact I knew it was less shots made me way more thought, way more careful with the shots I was taking. … I really connected with that process.”

Pierre has become more thoughtful not just with the footage he shoots but with the direction of his life’s work. “I hate to say I’m a person who is never satisfied because that holds a negative connotation, but I’m never satisfied in the sense that I’m not where my new goals are. I already reached my first goal, which was making this my career, which is a big goal for a lot of people. I don’t take it lightly. I’m here now, and I’m able to, like, survive off my camera. I’ve traveled the world because of my camera. But now, I’m here, I’ve done it for a bit, what’s next?”

It shouldn’t be surprising that the kid who loved writing plays and creating his own role-play video games grew into a man aspiring to make a motion picture with film. "It really shows when something is really good, it can stand the test of time. Some of the images I shoot on my medium format, I don’t think I could ever get on my digital. It’s not the same. It doesn’t have the same kind of soul or essence that the film has."

Whatever Pierre creates next, it will come from the heart. "The camera then was a tool to, at first, create, then it became a form of business and sustainability, and the camera now has become something that I use to create the things that I love as opposed to doing things that I have to do to make ends meet."

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