It’s seven in the morning, I’m waking up expecting Jovan’s arrival within a few minutes. I get up, go to the kitchen, and I click the on button on my coffee machine. As the coffee starts pouring my phone rings. Jovy is outside.
This past SXSW was probably number one in the books and part of the reason why is because I got my friend Jovan to spend that week here in Austin Texas. I’ve known Jovan, or as I like to call him, Jovy, for about four years now, but we’ve only met in person until the day he showed up at my doorstep that early Wednesday morning. Following him through Instagram has given me a pinhole perspective of the incredible person he is. Seeing his work progress from those four years has not only been inspirational, but eye opening. As you look through each picture you really get a sense of understanding and composure. Scenes from dramatic desert landscapes and an outlook of Las Vegas life are all present.
His visit couldn’t of been more exceptional. The sun was shining, dew was still stuck on the freshly cut grass, but Jovy was tired from his flight. We said our hellos and quickly chatted about how unreal it was to finally meet each other, and honestly, despite the fact that it was my first time meeting him in person, his presence felt conforming. After Jovy’s thirty minute nap and Javier and Vickie showing up at my apartment, we stepped outside into what would become a day filled with Austin Texas SXSW activities.
Breakfast tacos from iconic food trucks, iced coffee to keep us energized, walks around some of Austin's most known streets, and of course stopping at every mesmerizing wall or corner for some sweet pictures. We did what any other Austinite would do, you get the picture. But this blog isn’t about our day and how we walked into the sunset holding hands, this piece is about Jovan Sotelo aka @jovy.y and what he does and why he does it.
Jovy’s love for photography started when he was only in high school. An out, but shy teenager, Jovy has always been the kind of person whose goal is to find the truth within his surroundings. After purchasing his first camera, a Nikon D40 to be exact, Jovy went out into the wilderness and started shooting landscapes, mountains, and rocks. These first images included areas such as Zion National Park and Death Valley, which represented his state of emotion and later he’d incorporate people with dramatic body expressions. As any other person who sometimes lacks self-confidence, Jovy’s interest in being in front of the camera wasn’t a question, but after five years of shooting and a development of self-understanding, he finally did it. He began applying himself as the protagonist and later he got more and more people to play different roles. The scenes of course were out in nature, a merging of human and earth. It’s a way to show people how beautiful the world is through his eyes.
“Go outside and let nature take a hold of you, just be free.”
Jovy’s take on photography for the most part revolves around nature and the idea of being one with one’s senses. It’s a concept that has stuck with him for the longest time and he only sees it getting stronger over time. Using subjects and himself as a template for emotion within dramatic landscapes is what he does best.
“I want to interpret nature through my own body and seeing other people portraying themselves in this way is simply amazing. Ultimately, I want the landscape to transform the person being portrayed”
Throughout his photographic progression he's been able to master the ability of shooting with his smart phone.
“I went through the landscape phase where I thought it was all I wanted to do, but taking pictures with my phone has transformed the way I present the idea overall.”
From here another concept came about, storytelling. Before, his images portrayed a vague description of what was going on, but what shook things at the time was Jovy’s need to express his feelings of worthlessness. As mentioned earlier, Jovy just like the rest of us, had dealt with a low self-esteem and sense of unimportance. What came from this was a series of pictures where he managed to cover himself in sheets with holes an almost ghost-like personification that represented his state of mind. From here “The Days of Thran” came about, which is another series of pictures that represent himself in the desert as the character in search of nirvana. The series was shot in Death Valley and as he describes it, one of his most favorite shoots so far.
But the series is not yet complete. Jovy is satisfied and wouldn’t mind showing people what he has so far, but would love to keep it going. He even has an actual giant wooded cross, which he plans on using for the series.
“It’s really hard considering all the variables that are present in making projects like this one. I definitely want to shoot more, I want to add more, and maybe I will. I just need to find the perfect person to do it with. You see the pain and you see the drama, you’re standing at the edge of the desert, ultimately being received by heaven.”
And what does the series mean to him?
“It’s my story, I’ve alway been into religious imagery, drama, pain, sacrifice, blood, and everything. I was shooting me, I was shooting my story in my setting. Everything I do is me.”
Once complete he would love to show The Series of Thran within a gallery space printed in huge format to show the details
To understand Jovy’s photographic style and message, one has to step in his shoes and see the world through his perspective. Growing up within an open-minded household, he was able to embrace his sexual identity at an early age, but the world outside sometimes didn’t take him with open arms.
“I was a turtle and was super picked on so bad that my mom would have to drive me to school. It was that bad. Sometimes I would have to miss school... I was so afraid of expressing myself.”
Expressing himself was something acquired over time as he became more and more exposed to the people that loved him for who he was and still is. His message is that if people could take away from being themselves they could do much more. If everyone could just be okay with presenting who they are deep down, everything would be much better.
“I used to be so scared of that, but today I just embrace it and I want people to do the same.”
Life in Las Vegas is another distinction that makes Jovy, Jovy. Life in the hot, neon city is filled with so much to take from, especially as a creative person. There’s art, tourism, lights, night-life, music, old and new buildings, food, and of course the bleak desert surrounding.
“People don’t know how much is out here. There’s so many epic places to take inspiration from. El Dorado Dry Lake, Red Rock National Conservation Area, which are all between a thirty to forty minute drive from town.”
Besides Las Vegas being a place where Jovy takes inspiration from, visiting Austin Texas was an explosion of culture and authenticism. Meeting people in real life he’d only followed on Instagram was dream-like and only added more to the positive vibe he got from exploring the city.
“Being with you guys was very special to me. It was my favorite part of the whole trip.”
That along with taking epic pictures of what he experienced and the people he met.
Until next time Jovy. Hopefully it’s us in Vegas in the near future as you show us around all the things that make up who you are.