My friend Michelle Rojas came to visit me this past weekend. While she was here we went and grabbed pizza at a local pizzeria, listened to some horrible live music, sat around in our pajamas for hours on end, and talked about photography. Michelle is a fellow photographer, artist, and dreamer. I keep finding I surround myself with friends who are incredibly talented artists. I want to take the time to start celebrating who these people are, and what makes them passionate about their art.
Michelle recently went to California to see some friends. Michelle told me that her friend had been trying to convince her to come visit for quite some time. After recently becoming employed with a photography company, and also working as a second shooter for a few talented wedding photographers in Charlotte, Michelle realized that she could buy a ticket out to visit her friends. Since then, Michelle has vowed to travel more, and is doing just that. Here is more of what Michelle had to say.
Jocelyn (me): Why did you choose California?
Michelle: I didn’t go to San Diego or LA, I went to a city no one has probably heard of; I went to a city called Redding. Have you ever heard of it?
J: No, actually.
M: Exactly. If I asked you where Redding was, you would probably have no idea, would you?
M: There is a bible college there. My friend goes to school there. I also follow a bunch of artists on Instagram that live in Portland and Seattle, so I wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest and see it for myself. My friend in Redding said she has lived there for three years, and never driven up to Portland. It is only six hours from where she lives. I said we will take the car and go. Let’s just go.
J: How long did it take for you to save up and go there?
M: It didn’t take me anything. Before I got the ***** photo job, I kept pushing it off to go up there. Unless a miracle happened, I didn’t know how I was going to get there. The job wasn’t like a regular Eight to Five. I got my first pay check and I called my friend in Redding and asked, “Does this time period work for you?”, and she said, “I’m free.” It was the most liberating thing I have ever done, just spending $550 on a plane ticket.
J: What was one of your favorite things that you captured out there?
M: This empty road on the coast…
J: Was it US 1?
M: No, it was the empty country road to the coast. There was nobody there. I’ve never seen such a dead road before. It was so pretty.
J: Describe it.
M: I can show you a picture if I have it.
J: That would be cool. Was it lot’s of grass or trees?
M: No, it was concrete. What happened was she was trying to get me out to the coast. She got me to an inlet. It was this deserted beach. We took a dead road to this deserted beach. It was beautiful. There was driftwood, glass, shells, sand, it was just so pretty. I had never seen something so beautiful in my life.
J: What did it make you feel?
M: ….. For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. Like there was really more to the world than just the borders of Charlotte, and the Appalachian Mountains. Being on the plane, I was flying during the day and seeing the clouds, flying over the Rocky Mountains, being on the ground, being able to touch the sand, it felt like there is a real world past…. THIS (Charlotte). Seeing the clouds under me as I was flying over the Rockies (Rocky Mountains) was the best feeling in the world. That turned a corner for me in my life. Now if I want to go someplace, I go. Some kind of chain broke when I bought that plane ticket.
J: Those clouds are your symbol. They represent you. Going places. Perspective. Freedom. Travel.
M: EXACTLY. You know how some people use social media to destroy people’s lives?
J: (I laugh) Yeah!
M: Well, when I travel, I use social media to help bring people together. I have made a bunch of friends through Instagram. Most of my closest friends I have met through Instagram.
J: That is really crazy!
M: Yeah! So I will put a picture on Instagram, and I will put a hashtag like #socal and then put the city on it and I will tag the picture, and say: “Hey guys, I am coming to this city, if you are in town and you want to hang, then let me know, I will be there.”
J: That is awesome!
M: I have met some cool people through Instagram.
J: Where is the next place you want to go?
M: I am saving up to go to Greece! My goal is to go to Greece before I turn 26. I have never been out of the country before.
We talked some more about religion and family at this point, and then came around to talk about Michelle’s religious beliefs and how she feels it ties into her art. Michelle wants to work on creating a ministry for artists.
M: I would love to teach one day or start a ministry for artists. When I was in college, I got this rap as being “the Christian Girl”, because I went to church. I enjoyed going to church. I took a fine art class and had a professor that asked me to do something that no-one would expect of me. She gave me a whole day to think on it. She really wanted me to push myself. I came up to her and told her I wanted to do nude photography. The whole class went silent when they heard me say that. They looked at me like, “You are going to do nude photography? You, “the Christian Girl”? Yeah… Let’s see how that works.”
J: So you can’t photograph someone in the nude because you are Christian? That makes no sense.
M: Well, here is the kick. In Christianity, the naked human body is only meant for the eyes of your spouse. Well, I understand that, but I believe God created the human body to be the most beautiful piece of art on the planet. I don’t look at the statue of David with lust. It was created for the beauty of the human body. I started photographing sections of my own body. My hands. My legs. My shoulders. My stomach. My face. Whatever. I got an A on the project. I then started to battle with myself wondering if what I was doing was sinning. I took the prints and placed them out in front of two of my pastors and one of my mentors. They looked at the images and they told me they were beautiful. That they didn’t feel like they were created with lust or giving off feelings of lust. I know there are other Christian artists that battle with creating art. I hope one day I can be a part of a ministry that will help kids and young people find the balance with being Christian and creating art.
J: You think that a lot of Christian people feel limited in the art they can create?
J: Do you think that there are Christian people that don’t feel they can make art because of the rules of their religion?
M: I think that young Christians, Millennial Christians, will sit in church and go have fun afterwards. We will go to church and then go to a club. We just want to go have fun. We don’t want to hook up or anything, we just want to go have fun. I mean, that’s who we are. We can be different. We want to have fun. Where is the harm in that? We realize it is about our hearts, it’s not about the rules. That’s where our grandparents and our parents went wrong. Beating everyone so hard with the rules, people turn away from faith. You can be yourself and go to church and have fun. I think I have grown a lot and pushed myself to see the beauty. I am seeing things differently.
Michelle Rojas is a portrait and special event photographer in Charlotte, NC. She is a graduate of The Art Institute of Charlotte.