We had the good fortune of connecting with Milana Burdette and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Milana, why did you pursue a creative career?
Every morning before school, you’d either find MTV music videos playing on the television or the morning news. It’s during this time I noticed an abundance of what seemed like pure mayhem throughout the world and was determined to understand the “why.” I made it a goal to study the human condition and to determine what compels us to do what it is that we do. What sets us off, and how are we a product of our environment? This eventually sparked an interest in criminology, forensic psychology and science and for many years, I wanted to join the FBI in hopes of uncovering answers to the many questions that plagued me for the majority of my young life. The downside to this level of curiosity meant I was encircled by constant sorrow, leaving me in a state of anguish and I soon realized this life was not meant for someone who takes on the pain of others so I changed interests, immediately. During my high school years as a introvert, I was unable to communicate effectively with my peers and was in desperate need of something more fulfilling. This is when I enrolled in my first photography course. Years following, I hadn’t thought much of my experience in the darkroom and had become completely engrossed in all that life had been throwing my way during this difficult time. Creativity had become a luxury and I needed to earn money and survive, so I worked measly jobs and was absolutely miserable. Around this time, I met a woman who had plans to start an art publication and she took an interest in the very few photos I had taken for school projects. Initially I didn’t trust her and figured the opportunity was too good to be true, but I took a chance on it and soon my creative desires ignited once again. After years of shelving this urge to create and thinking this was an unattainable feat, I took a chance and never looked back. I pursued an artistic career as a way to not only communicate, but to connect with others more intimately. Creativity is a means of survival, and this is something that I’ve learned to be relevant for many creatives, especially during the COVID era. Without a channel, I am left with an overactive thought process; dreamscapes that would go unshared, and a bottomless pit of questions inquiring on what “it” all means. Without a channel, I’m not sure if I would be capable of functioning. I would survive, but I never want to go back to feeling powerless and unfulfilled.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I observe patterns of light and gather concept inspiration from recurring lucid dreams. Moods within a daze that are nothing more than space manifesting between light and dark. Somber and sometimes sensual, I embrace a minimal frame to evoke a sense of poignancy. Continuous light produces a grim atmosphere, casting aggressive shadows along the subject. I own a Graflex Crown Graphic, large format body. The 4×5 sheets of film provoke me to explore my subjects with acute attention to detail. I expose and develop my own film and I print my own work. Cool tone glossy fiber paper enhances blacks and whites, creating a cold and damp atmosphere. Multigrade matte art fiber paper provides rich tones, surface detail and an overall warm print. In an era of instant gratification, I remain loyal to film for its archival properties. This process forces me to remain present, investing my energy into every image intentionally. I am currently experimenting with alternative processes and ways to combine sturdy, more substantial materials such as steel into my photographic work. The physical aspects of handling film emulsion is a mediative and calming process, being that concentration is needed in order to avoid mistakes. This has enabled me to remain grounded and present. My work touches on themes dealing with desire, love, loss, power, corruption, violence, and the contrast between light and dark, good and evil. Currently, I am developing a cinematography reel as I transition from stills to motion, in hopes of bringing these topics to life cinematically. The road leading up to this point has NOT been easy, and I accept that it never will be. What has gotten me through the inevitable pain of being consumed by creative passion has been my support system. Without the people whom I trust, I could never have worked through the hurdles that have come along the way. I’ve learned that I do have the power to control my trajectory in life. A lot of people get in their own way, or at least I do, where an excuse as to why I can’t do something often comes to mind. But I’ve realized this is all in my head and the tools are there, it’s just taking the first step. I’ve gotten to this stage in my career by remaining humble, loyal, and proactive even if I am feeling less than inspired. What I want people to know about my story is that I pulled myself out from the darkness and have lit my own path throughout my journey. If I can do it, so can you… believe me.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We would start the day at Cosmic Vinyl in Echo Park, waiting for our coffee and morning fuel while sifting through record bins. Lunch at Destroyer LA along Hayden Tract in Culver City is a must, and from there, dinner at Panxa Cocina in Long Beach. If I want to go shopping, while still in Long Beach, we would check out Far Outfit, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, as well as Playclothes in Burbank for solid vintage. If I am in need of a book for inspiration, our next stop would be The Last Bookstore in Downtown. Tacos at Guisados or a burrito at Tacos Villa Corona would be next, since I love tacos. For a nice, quiet day, a hike up in Altadena is where I escape from the noise and on the way home, we would stop by Reborn Coffee in Tujunga. If we were in need of a secret LA adventure, I would take said friend to Murphy’s Ranch, hidden in the Santa Monica Mountains, or perhaps Devil’s Gate near the Jet Propulsion Lab. Honestly, the list of possibilities are endless in LA. Just let me know what you want to do and I will gladly show anyone around my hometown.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge my parents, Teresa and Erick. They dedicated their life to my sisters and I with their tireless encouragement. Growing up with a musician as a father and creative mother cemented my love of the arts from a young age, and I wouldn’t have been able to pursue a creative career without them. To my boyfriend and source of inspiration, Chris Henderson, who as an aerospace engineer is constantly encouraging me to think beyond limitation. I want to shoutout to my good friend and natural-born healer, Rachel Rosenbaum, a talented chef who is currently pursuing a career as a therapist. I would like to send love over to my darling, Andru Perez, a talented graphic and fashion designer who leads a genuinely compassionate and joyful life. He never ceases to amaze me and continues to bless me with his light. I’d also like to dedicate my shoutout to the Boys and Girls Club of Venice, where my creativity was first nurtured by Art Director Eduardo “Lalo” Marquez. Special thanks to the photography professors over at Santa Monica College, without their guidance I would be lost professionally and in life. Much love to Bradley Wilder and John Calabrese. two of many who first trained me as a filmmaker and who continue to ignite the love that I have for the art of film. Over the years, many have shown me the way and for that I dedicate this shoutout to them and I thank them for believing in my capabilities. Creatively, I would like to shout out to Nan Goldin, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Guy Bourdin, Bill Brandt, Catherine Opie, Natasha Braier, Jean-Paul Goude, Albert Camus, Piper Ellis, David Lynch, Salvador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and many many others whose work continues to inspire me.