As a school kid, Atlanta-based photography Valheria Rocha dreamt of being an actor. And like many aspiring thespians, particularly those interested in the stage, Broadway was never far from her mind. But during high school, Rocha found herself becoming far more interested in photography—specifically, a directorial role behind the camera.
“I had never really thought about photography, ironically, as a visual art,” Rocha explains. “I always thought about it as documentary or National Geographic, or what you see in newspapers. So when I got stuck in this photographic class, and we started experimenting with the cameras and project concepts, I kind of realized photography has so many possibilities; you can do so much stuff with it, that you can approach it like a painter approaches a painting where you create a scene or image.”
At around the same time, Rocha realized she wasn’t destined for the Broadway lights. However, she still loved theatricality, characters, films, scenes, and other elements of staged performances.
“I figured out I could do that with photography,” Rocha says. “I could direct people into being characters with costumes, fashion, set design, and composition.”
As far as the scenes and subjects she shoots, Rocha is interested in evoking film scenes as still images. She loves the idea of pausing a scene in a movie and taking it in as a still image, instead of as a part of a moving image.
“I love to make my images look like they are stills from a movie or scenes from a larger story,” says Rocha. “I think a lot of an iconic image or shot, so whenever I photograph people I usually start with one shot that is iconic that stands out in a specific way, whether it’s the styling or the face that the person is making, and I build the concept around it.”
Rocha primarily shoots with a Canon 5D, but also regularly uses a Canon AE1 35mm film camera. Rocha had always been into the analog film aesthetic, but it was expensive medium in her early photography days. This year, however, she decided to dedicate some money to the medium.
“You can try to mimic it with digital, but I think that the quality of what you can achieve with film photography is just so special,” says Rocha. “And it’s just more personal to me, I guess.”
“Polaroid photography, though, is something I’ve been playing with for a long time,” she adds. “I started playing with Polaroid cameras when I was in college, and I loved it. The OneStep+ opens up a whole new set of possibilities that I hadn’t explored before on a Polaroid camera.”
For Rocha, the OneStep+ camera and app feature that required the most experimentation was the Light Painting mode. Before this shoot, Rocha hadn’t done light painting, so she had to experiment with the app’s exposure length to properly expose the image while capturing the gestural light.
One of her images, titled “Chloe Hall,” is a photograph of her friend, where Rocha feels she achieved her best light painting results. Hall sits on the floor in casual wear with a tiny golden crown on her head. Behind her, the painted light looks as if a wall of luminous graffiti occupies the background.
“There was some light coming in from the window and a yellow lamp on the side, and I had my friend open the shutter from the phone and I went behind Chloe with a flashlight,” Rocha explains. “What I was trying to do was create a halo around her. It looks more like wings than a halo, but this is an example of how you try to do one thing and it turns out to be something entirely different, but I loved it and embraced it.”
In another light painting titled “Wonderland,” Rocha’s model, Kaitlyn Crosby, stands behind a glowing face. It’s like a dreamy, lo-fi remix take on Picasso’s iconic lighting paintings. “I got some cool shots with the Light Painting feature,” says Rocha. “But I want to keep playing with it so I can really perfect it.”
Rocha also crafted several double exposures with the OneStep+. For her shoot, Rocha took photographs of a model amidst a set of palm fronds and a couple of butterfly props. With the Double Exposure feature, she superimposed the palm front atop the model’s face, giving the scene a tight fusion of its staged and organic looks.
“I thought it might be cool to superimpose the texture and shapes of the leaves [on the scene],” Rocha explains. “I was trying to experiment superimposing nature on top of the person and the person on top of nature. I played with it both ways.”
Beyond the Light Painting and Double Exposure features, Rocha worked quite a lot in the Portrait setting. Rocha also focused on Noise Trigger, which helped produce some of her favorite portraits, as it allowed her to play with the Portrait lens while thinking about what types of sounds should trigger the exposure. For some of these experiments, Rocha paired a male model wearing a cowboy hat with soap bubbles, and directed the model to trigger the exposure with a toy gun, which is also featured as a prop in the photos.
In another Noise Trigger experiment, Rocha filled a balloon with confetti and placed it above a model’s head. When the balloon popped, it triggered the OneStep+’s exposure as the confetti fell onto the model’s head and shoulders. Conceptually and aesthetically, Rocha created a playful series of images.
“The key to being successful with this camera is being patient and open-minded,” says Rocha. “If you go into it with a mindset of ‘What am I going to create with this camera?’ you’re going to be excited and appreciative of the results you’re going to get.”