I am not a Photoshop photographer. – Mitzi Valenzuela
Mitzi Valenzuela has been into cars since a very young age. “When I was a kid, I collected Hot Wheels instead of playing with Barbie Dolls,” Mitzi recounted. “As I grew up, I had posters of exotic cars on my walls: a panoramic photo of a silver Lamborghini and a Red Ferrari. Of course, back then, I thought I would eventually own one of those exotic cars. I still love exotic cars, my favorite being the classic Porsche. However, my dream car has changed, my current dream car is now a 1937 Ford pickup.”
“My favorite experience every year is attending Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in August,” Mitzi told us. “There is nothing like the photos and the overall experience. The place is truly magical.”
As for photography, it’s also been a passion of her’s since she was a child. “My dad bought me my first camera at the age of 16,” Mitzi explained to us. “I enjoyed taking photos of my friends and also going on family trips and taking landscape photos. At the time, I admired Ansel Adams’ work. He was a big inspiration to me when I first started out.”
Going into college, Mitzi decided to pursue a career in photography, and had some important influences along the way. “During my college days, I got a job working for an architectural photographer in Venice Beach,” Mitzi told us. “Tom Bonner was one of the best in L.A., working with clients like Frank Gehry and Eric Owen Moss. I ran his studio for him and assisted him on occasion. I learned a lot about lighting from him. At the same time, I was attending Cal State L.A. and working on my Bachelor’s Degree.”
“My photography instructor, Jack Butler, was really into hot rods, so he understood my passion for pinup photography. He always encouraged us to go out there and shoot what we loved. I started shooting pinups at the end of my school term, and got lucky when I graduated to go right into my profession.”
The Melding Of Passions
While she’s been specializing in pinup photography since 2004 through her own company, Mitzi & Co. Photography, it wasn’t until Mitzi started photographing for Koolhouse Publishing (Ol Skool Rodz and Car Kulture Deluxe magazines) that she really saw herself dive into the car world with her career. In fact, her earliest memory of being part of the automotive industry is from just 2014, when she was attending the Viva Las Vegas show, covering the event for Koolhouse and working with model Emily Marilyn for the first time.
Mitzi started her Pinup Beauty Academy in 2010. “I have always taken pride in working with some of the best stylists in the industry. Because I don’t do Photoshop, its important that my models look picture perfect in camera every time,” she explained. “For a lot of gals just starting out, we wanted to offer them a place to learn new techniques and a bit about the pinup industry. I love sharing my experiences and knowledge, and helping girls get a better understanding of pinup style.”
Nowadays, shooting at car shows and automotive events is a major part of her schedule, with between 15 and 20 shows on her annual circuit. In addition to attending shows, she also does commercial and private pinup shoots, runs her own studio in San Dimas, California, and even hosts a monthly “Pinup Beauty Academy” at her place of business for anyone interested in learning about pinup fashion, hair styles, and makeup.
“More than 80-percent of my clients are regular women,” it states on Mitzi’s website. “You don’t have to be a model to be a Pinup for a day with us! I also shoot hot rods, customs, and bikes for various publications including Car Kulture Deluxe, Ol Skool Rodz and Classic and Kustom Bombs Magazine.”
Taking Photography To A New Level
When you think about photography these days, in the era of digital cameras, photo editing software and manipulating so-so images into amazing masterpieces, you may think that every photographer uses all the “cheats” that they can. Not true!
For Mitzi, photography has always been about creating the perfect image in front of and inside the camera instead of relying on things like Photoshop, like so many photographers these days do.
“I think the one thing I take pride in that most people don’t know is [that] I am not a Photoshop photographer,” Mitzi explained about her artistic choices. “What you see is what you get. If your subject is lit properly and you refine your angles and make sure everything looks good in camera, your post-production work is minimal. I have always believed in creating the perfect image in camera.”
“I have always been a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to photography,” Mitzi continued. “I spent a lot of time in the darkroom before digital cameras were around. I learned every aspect of photography from E-6 processing to mural printing. I constantly surrounded myself with other photographers who knew their craft well.”
I have always believed in creating the perfect image in camera. – Mitzi
“I trained myself to see details and composition before taking the photos. When digital and Photoshop developed, I felt in many ways it took the essence of what it meant to create a photo. I love being able to see something in its true form and beauty, and being able to capture that moment in time.”
Mitzi learned her lighting techniques not only from studying some of the greats, like Ansel Adams and Helmut Newton, but also getting a ton of hands-on experience when she worked for Tom Bonner during college. “The best training was working for an architectural photographer and getting that hands-on experience working in the field with an expert at their craft,” she said of her lighting prowess.
Let’s be honest – some of the pinup shoots (or any model shoot for that matter) you see in mainstream media are lacking a bit when it comes to class, bridging more on the risque. Mitzi certainly understands this and works hard to capture the appeal and allure of the pinup models she works with, without diving into the less-than-classy side of things. After all, we’re talking about 1940s and ’50s style and poise here.
“For one, I think wardrobe is a big part of it, even down to the simplest details can make a difference,” Mitzi explained about portraying her models in the best way. “A pinup can be wearing the classiest dress, but have the wrong shoes. The heels may be too high or perhaps the skirt is a bit too short. I take into consideration all these aspects of what a women wears and how she represents herself. There is also nothing wrong with a classic swimsuit. I prefer one piece over a two piece swimsuit. I also think the way a women carries herself during a shoot is also important. The poses must remain classy. Especially with shoots in public, it’s not lady like to bend over or show too much to your audience. It has always been about leaving a bit to the imagination.”
Thoughts On A Flourishing Career
While some women might be intimidated by working in a male-dominated industry, it doesn’t phase Mitzi (and that’s part of what being a Leading Lady is all about).
“I have never been one to let anything hold me back,” Mitzi told us when we asked if she had any trepidations about jumping into the automotive world with her career. “I pursue my dreams and what I am passionate about. I understand and see the majority of my fellow photographers are male, but that only pushes me to be better at what I do.”
“I think my biggest challenge when it comes to running my business is always finding a balance between my personal life and my work,” she continued. “I work everyday, with days off being a rarity. I shoot a lot on weekends and spend a lot of time on the computer during the week. I don’t remember the last time my husband and I took a vacation. However, its important to me that I take time off and spend it with my family. It rejuvenates me and keeps me motivated. I get burned out sometimes working too many days or shooting and traveling and being on the road for long periods of time by myself. I never want to lose my passion and love for what I do. I just need to tell myself to slow down sometimes and enjoy life too.”
Speaking of enjoying life, Mitzi just purchased her dream house and is currently working on designing and building her dream 1,500 square-foot studio on the same property. Her goal is to have it built by the end of the year. Then, she’ll start working on getting that dream vehicle of hers – that 1937 Ford pickup.
For Mitzi, the best part of her career is being able to travel to shows she wants to attend worldwide. “It’s pretty awesome that I can choose where I want to go and most of the time make it happen,” she explained. “I have been very fortunate to do several shows overseas including Mooneyes Japan, Beach Hop in New Zealand, and Rods and Rockabilly in Australia. This year I am hoping to make it to Indonesia or Finland.”
“I have a 1937 Ford pickup sitting at a shop right now with my name on it,” Mitzi divulged. “I just hope I can afford it when it comes to making the offer. I want to get back on the road a lot more and finally get to experience it in my own hot rod,” she concluded.
As far as advice for anyone looking into a career like hers, Mitzi had this to say: “I always recommend finding a mentor or someone that is willing to take you under there wing and show you the ropes. I was fortunate to work for an architectural photographer for nearly five years. The hands-on experience was priceless. I learned how to run his photography business, how to deal with publishers, and most importantly, I learned all aspects of lighting from him. He had a studio and darkroom in Venice Beach, that I was able to use at any given point. I was also very fortunate to be in a thriving new art district. I was able to make various connections of my own before going into business for myself.”
What The Future Holds
With building her dream studio, working on various photography projects, and getting her dream truck going in the near future, you might think Mitzi has enough on her plate, but that’s just not the case. In addition to those projects, Mitzi has a passion for local sports (Mitzi and her husband are season ticket holders for the L.A. Rams and love the Dodgers and Lakers), her two dogs, and the organization The Animal Hope and Wellness Group.
“They have been fighting to help save and protect dogs that are being killed in the meat trade in China,” Mitzi explained. “I want to help spread the word about what’s happening out there and encourage others to donate to this amazing organization.” Mitzi would also like to publish a book of all her work some day, as well as be published in The Rodders Journal.
As we mentioned above, some of Mitzi’s classy work will be featured here on Rod Authority in the revamped “Babe of the Month” series. You can also view her work on her website at MitziandCo.com, as well as in her 2018 Hot Rod Pinup Calendar being released this month.