We had the good fortune of connecting with Wednesday Aja and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Wednesday, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Taking risks is essential to creative and personal growth… it leads to unimagined adventures, new friends, and new obsessions.
On a whim I packed up my Volvo station wagon and my cameras and drove around the country. I ended up in Austin, TX… and stayed for years! There I worked as a graphic designer for advertising agencies, design firms, and a letterpress studio. In the same spirit of adventure and expanding horizons, I moved to Paris, France to work with a friend creating visual merchandising for Lacoste. That lead to collaborating with fashion designers and photographers; documenting the fashion scene, producing behind-the-scenes photos for various fashion magazines. One of the designer’s atelier was just around the corner from the world famous Cirque d’Hiver. Late at night, if the wind was just right, we could hear the roar of the tigers. Those magical moments planted a seed, and when I discovered a small family circus traveling through Paris during the summers I was hooked – got sawdust in my veins, as they say. I now regularly document and shoot for circuses from California to Florida.
Challenge yourself, try something new, you never know where it will take you. Letterpress and tigers and road trips, oh my!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am enthralled by the worlds of sequins and tulle and makeup, drag performers and trapeze artists; the magic that transforms for a song, or a season, inviting the viewer to come along and get lost. My photography is Fine Art with a documentary edge; exploring themes of custom, costume, community, identity… and things that go bump (and grind!) in the night. My camera allows me entrée and gives me purpose. The best moments are when I transcend enthusiastic voyeur and become active participant and collaborator.
A background in graphic design and strong sense of design principles informs my photography; utilizing form, line, and negative space to create engaging compositions that communicate clearly. My UCLA Art History degree bestows an understanding of universal visual language and cultural references that add dimension.
Last year I was honored to be the artist-in-residence for DTLA’s historic Hotel Figueroa. The 3-month-run kicked off with an opening night burlesque show featuring the mesmerizing Miss Marquez, Nikki Dalonzo, and Carolina Cerisola. Thirty-two photographs were displayed in the hotel’s Artist Alley Gallery, and one of my prints was added to their permanent collection.
Lessons I’ve learned along the way, build trust and build relationships. It is an honor to photograph someone, let them know that. And the biggest lesson; show up. And then, show up again!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A tour of LA where the rules of traffic and time don’t apply… and where there are no Covid Closures!
EAST SIDE // Let’s start at the beginning in East LA and head to Los Cinco Puntos for the best tacos. Ever. My family has been getting masa for Christmas tamales there for decades, it is still my go-to when I’m in the area. Then we’ll join Atlas Obscura’s tour of Evergreen Cemetery, LA’s oldest cemetery, for an unique historical perspective on the city. We’ll drive down Cesar Chavez Avenue, passing Boyle Heights’ Norteño musicians in their pointy boots and Stetsons, then over to First Street and Mariachi Plaza. Crossing the freeway, we’ll visit the LA River’s iconic riverbed and sneak a peek at the largest bridge project in LA’s history, the Sixth Street Bridge replacement ,“The Ribbon of Light”, under construction now.
DTLA // I love the mystique of old LA and Downtown; Beaux-Arts architecture, movie palaces, haunted hotels. We’ll join a Los Angeles Conservancy tour of the Broadway Theatre District: The Million Dollar Theater (across from the Bradbury Building), the wonderfully ornate Los Angeles Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre, and the United Artists Theatre. Then we’ll dine at Bar Amá, Broken Spanish, Cole’s for a French Dip, or a late night steak dinner at the Pacific Dinning Car. Cocktails at the Biltmore Hotel, rooftop at Perch, Upstairs at Ace Hotel for an amazing rooftop view of Broadway, and another sip by the Hotel Figueroa’s coffin-shaped pool.
LA has a vibrant night scene, we’re sure to find burlesque acts, drag shows, maybe even dancing marionettes. If we’re lucky we can catch Miss Tosh’s Variatease Spectacular “Beauty of Burlesque” or Miss Donna Hood’s “Tease if You Please”. Toledo Diamond’s weekly jazz-funk-cabaret the “Toledo Show” at Harvelle’s never disappoints.
WESTWARD // Heading west along Sunset we’ll hideout Old Hollywood style for a night or two at the legendary Chateau Marmont. Dinners at Muso & Frank’s Grill, Miceli’s, and cocktails at the Formosa Cafe. If it’s a warm summer night we might catch an outdoor movie screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. If it’s the end of October then we’ll enjoy their spectacular Dia de los Muertos celebration instead. A visit to the Natural History Museum’s famous Diorama Halls is a must. The 90-year-old dioramas are still evolving, the gifted taxidermists have recently made some additions to one of my favorites, the lion habitat.
SOUTH BOUND // Lunch at Michelin-starred Taco María in Costa Mesa, and dinner at El Mercado in Downtown Santa Ana. We’ll finish the week in Laguna Beach, visiting the most beautiful beaches and tide pools in Southern California.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I come from a family of artists; my father was a brilliant architect, my mother, Leslie Aja, is an accomplished fine artist and jewelry designer, my brothers are incredible artists. Grandparents on both sides had backgrounds in arts and applied crafts: woodworking, pattern design, painting, and metalwork. The result was a formative environment steeped in art, design, and an appreciation of beauty.
I want to give an enthusiastic shout-out to Aline Smithson, who’s keen encouragement has made her a mentor to all LA photographers. Also to friend and fellow photographer Kristianne Koch Riddle, she told me to take Aline Smithson’s “The Next” workshops at LACP (Los Angeles Center of Photography) – “it will change your life”. And a big shout-out to Julia Dean founder of LACP, an indispensable resource for the photographic community.
There are many artists and movements that have excited my sensibilities and shaped my tastes from Bob Fosse’s Cabaret to Vivienne Westwood’s punk rock aesthetic, the sensory overload that was 3 weeks spent in India, lucha libre wrestlers in Mexico, and bullfights in France. In addition there are favorite photographers who have left a mark: Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus, Nina Leen, Jill Freedman, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog, and Martin Parr.
All images ©Wednesday Aja