Life in Color: Photographer Lirica Castañeda
With each carefully curated shot of her camera, Lirica Castañeda reveals a different perspective of beauty. By drawing inspiration from her own dreams and the lived experiences of people of color, this DIY photographer reflects our world in a more vibrant light. Castañeda explores themes of ethnic difference and increases representation in art by photographing models of all backgrounds. Her trademark style utilizes popping colors and delicate portraiture to tell a glamorous story of diversity with each photo. The result is a body of work that draws the eye and enlivens the mind. Castañeda’s thirst for creation and eye for detail pushes her to new heights every time she picks up a camera.
Apart from a brief stint in an introductory film photography course in high school, Castañeda is a self-taught artist. Her passion for visual arts sparked in 2017 during an offhand photoshoot for her friend, and her potential began to reveal itself. Words of encouragement from her close circle pushed Castañeda to pursue photography. “They gave me the confidence to actually go for it,” she says. In its adolescence, her photography featured models posing in various urban settings across town. After a few shoots, Castañeda realized the landscape lacked the vibrancy she craved. She began to experiment with color and its ability to create a narrative by creating her own, DIY sets. “Utilizing color sparked a joy in me,” she says. “I felt like I was going down the right path.”
After embracing the spirited impacts of color, Castañeda started making DIY props and backdrops for themed photoshoots. Makeshift clouds with beaded raindrops and thrifted velvet curtains add to the captivating ambiance of her work. Each material is carefully curated to portray a feeling of either seductive intensity or innocent charm, two of the many themes explored in Castañeda’s work. Adding elements to her art that invite interest without distracting from the main focus is a precarious process for Castañeda. “I call this the “marinating” or “baking” period when I’m working to put a shoot together,” she says. “It makes more work for me in the end, but it does make the photos look well put together.”
“[I want] to show that people should work in a diverse mindset in general, that beauty can be diverse and unapologetic.”
Brilliant backgrounds can overwhelm a delicate subject, but every model featured in Castañeda’s photos only intensifies the impact of each visual. Bold eye makeup accentuates piercing gazes, and fashionable clothing flatters posed figures. Active stares fix straight on the viewer, imploring you to interpret the unspoken words they convey. Each subject tells their story, and Castañeda values the importance of collaboration. Every shoot is personalized to accommodate the model, and as the photographer, Castañeda takes care to set boundaries. “[Making sure] the model feels comfortable during certain shoots … is a big factor for me,” she says. Her consideration for the models extends beyond the photoshoot, following her into the editing process. “I don’t think people understand that simple editing can bring so much confidence in a person,” says Castañeda. Noting how ethnically diverse models often feel misrepresented by a poor editing job, she ensures every subject feels honestly depicted in the final presentation.
Grounding her work in ethnic and sexual diversity is at the core of Castañeda’s visual art. As a queer POC creative, her photographs reflect her experience and broaden the representation in beauty. “[I want] to show that people should work in a diverse mindset in general, that beauty can be diverse and unapologetic” she says. Showcasing the elegance of other cultures takes form in Castañeda’s photos in various ways. One shoot features a gorgeous model adorned in a China Poblana, a colorful traditional dress worn by women in Mexico. Her ornate figure poses in front of a radiant field of sunflowers. Other works simply allow POC models to take space, seizing control of the narrative and making it their own. A particularly impactful photo evokes an angelic sense of power, as a model rests her hands on a windowsill and stares into the distance. Her braids glow in the sunlight with brightly-colored butterflies affixed to a few strands.
“[My photos] offer a glimpse of what is going on inside my head.”
Castañeda’s portraits explore the identity of their subjects, while also offering a peek into her own whimsical mind. Inspired by the world surrounding her and her fleeting daydreams, Castañeda’s photography attempts to capture the ephemeral moments in life. “[My photos] offer a glimpse of what is going on inside my head,” she says. “It’s like little scenes randomly come up and then I quickly write them down or else I will forget.” Castañeda’s vibrant imagination manifests in photos of models absently gazing into a fish bowl or smiling into the sun while adorned with a crown of butterflies.
With every diverse fantasy brought to life, Castañeda’s photography expands Utah’s representation in art. She broadens the meaning of beauty and gives a platform to POC narratives. In the future, she plans to refine her talents and ultimately feed her creative spirit. “I don’t want to forget that besides a photographer, I am an individual who just wants to create,” she says. Castañeda has a few projects in the works, and as we wait out this seemingly eternal stage of uncertainty, it’s a welcome surprise to anticipate. Follow Castañeda on Instagram @jeepers.creeper and keep an eye out for upcoming shoots.