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Introverts and the danger of ego with photographer Armando Geneyro
Episode 131st August 2021 • How Art is Born • MCA Denver
00:00:00 00:53:49

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Armando Geneyro has been photographing various subcultures in Denver for the past seven years from the local hip-hop scene to cruisers and lowriders. Originally from Lompoc, California, he spent six years in the military after the passing of his father when Armando was 18. Throughout his childhood and time in the military, he used cameras to document his surroundings, but it wasn’t until the rise of Instagram that he started exploring photography as an art form. In the first episode of How Art is Born, he talks to host R. Alan Brooks about imposter syndrome, the power of the Internet for budding artists, not being afraid to fail and pivot focus when necessary, and the challenges of being introverted as a photographer of people.

Links mentioned in this episode:

THEYSHOOTN, Armando’s collective of photographers who host different events that celebrate the people of Denver while also collecting resources for the community.

Brick & Soul, Armando’s exhibition at History Colorado open now through July 30, 2022.

Armando’s website

Follow Armando on Instagram

This episode contains mature language and content.

Transcripts

R. Alan Brooks (:

Hey, I'm R. Alan Brooks, a writer and professor. This is How Art is Born, an MCA Denver podcast about the origins of artists and their creative and artistic practice. Today I'm joined by photographer Armando Geneyro. Hey.

Armando Geneyro (:

What's up man?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, I know that was an awkward hey, but I wanted you to be able to speak.

Armando Geneyro (:

No, no, not at all.

R. Alan Brooks (:

To start off, can you give us a brief inner view of yourself and your artistic practice?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, man. Armando Geneyro. I am a photographer here in Denver. I've been photographing different subcultures here in Denver, for the last seven years. I know we met a long time ago, back during the Solution and Goodness days. I mean, Goodness is still going, but Solution is kind of on a little hiatus.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, I've seen you cut up the dance floor many a time. I've been lucky enough to be there with a camera, to capture it, just capture the good vibes, at a bunch of different parties here in Denver. Aside from the party scene, I've documented the lowrider community. It's some of my favorite work that I've done here in Denver. Overall, just try to document different communities here in Denver, that aren't really celebrated in the mainstream, when it comes to Denver.

Armando Geneyro (:

I think when you think about Denver, or when you try to search Denver on social media or just online, it's a different world. What's pushed in popular media is the dispensaries and the breweries and yoga and hiking and Red Rocks. All that stuff is great, but there's so much more to Denver. There's so many more communities here in Denver, that make Denver special. I've just been fortunate enough to be able to connect with people, build relationships with people here in Denver, in different communities. They've allowed me to come in and document their lives and their cultures, man. It's been fun.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's really dope, man. That's dope. I'm glad that you gave context about how we know each other. I think it's an interesting thing, just because we've never really sat down to talk. It's an interesting thing where, when you know people from the dance floor, especially me being a nondrinker, I just go straight to the dance floor. I don't really have much conversation with anybody. You can know people for a decade, it feels like, and not really-

Armando Geneyro (:

It feels like we've known each other for that long.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

Anytime I see you, it's like, "Hey, what's up man. Yeah, it's Armando, blah, blah, blah." Dab each other up and it's all cool, but that's the extent of our conversation.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right, yeah. We don't really-

Armando Geneyro (:

The music is so loud, it's like-

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's the thing.

Armando Geneyro (:

We can't sit there and have a conversation on the dance floor, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right. I'll see people out in the real world, that I know from the dance floor, and I'll be like, "That's your voice?"

Armando Geneyro (:

Right.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It's cool to be able to kind of get into who you are as an artist, man. You talk with a lot of pride about Denver. Are you a native?

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm not.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay.

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm from California, originally, born and raised. Born in LA, raised in a town called Lompoc. It's like two and a half hours north of LA. It's a small town, but it's a very diverse town. It's an interesting mix of people. There's a really big Air Force base there. There's a really big penitentiary there. You have those populations that live and work there. Then you have a huge migrant worker population. There's a lot of fields. It's called the Valley of the Flowers. Yeah, you have an interesting mix of people. It's low to middle income families.

Armando Geneyro (:

I grew up super proud to be from California. But I ended up in the military. That's how I ended up out here.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh, okay. What branch of the military were you in?

Armando Geneyro (:

Air Force. Yeah, I did six years in the Air Force, from '03 to '09.

R. Alan Brooks (:

How old were you, when you joined the military?

Armando Geneyro (:

20.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Wow, okay. Before you got into the military, in your earlier years, in California, how did you get involved in art?

Armando Geneyro (:

I guess I always felt like I was a creative kid. My dad was a jeweler. He was always drawing, sketching out stuff. From an early age, that was around me. It was just something that I gravitated towards. My mom, she has an accounting background. I always hated math and numbers. Yeah, so as a kid, I just gravitated towards being an artsy type of kid, trying to emulate what my dad did. From a very early age, like I said, I always felt the need to create. That's how I kind of got into music.

R. Alan Brooks (:

You mean listening to music, or you were making music?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, listening to music. I played in a band, played the bass. Probably wasn't that great, but yeah. From an early age, I felt the need to create. I just always was trying to do something. My mom has books stashed away from fourth or fifth grade, of my poetry from when I was a kid.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, English class made us do poetry. I was just always creative, man. I always felt like I needed to say something, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Let me ask, what did the creativity do for you? For some people, it's an escape. For some people, it's a way to communicate. What was it doing for you?

Armando Geneyro (:

I guess both of those. Escaping into my own little world. Just kind of being able to create something and look back on it with pride. "Yo, I made this."

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

It was just something that helped me kind of gain confidence, in certain areas of my life. With photography, eventually, I'm kind of a shy person, kind of an introvert, so photography really forced me to talk to people, and go up to them first. You know what I'm saying?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

So, yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I've been talking with people about how art can be for yourself as an artist, to work through your pain, or it can also be for what you want to say to the world. For some artists, they're focused on one or the other. Some people do both. Where do you feel like you stand, in that?

Armando Geneyro (:

Definitely feel like I'm falling along the lines of both of those. I lost my dad when I was 18. For the two years in between losing my dad and then joining the military, it was kind of a dark time for me. I wasn't creating. I was living at home with my mom still. I was trying to help her out, just working, and not doing much of anything.

Armando Geneyro (:

Eventually, when I joined the military, I started picking up different things. Started trying to go back to the pen, to writing stuff out, poetry, and then poetry became lyrics. It was a way to definitely deal with the pain of losing my pops. At the same time, I was writing about different ills of the world.

Armando Geneyro (:

Growing up, my parents were super strict. Super strict. Super conservative, South American immigrants. Go to church on Sundays, go to mass. They tried to protect me. After losing my pops, it kind of forced me to grow up a little bit more rapidly. I lost him at a time when I really needed him. I was 18 years old. I was a young man already, but there's still so much more that I needed him to be around for.

R. Alan Brooks (:

No doubt.

Armando Geneyro (:

So yeah, I was finding out all these different things in life that I didn't know about, as a kid. I had moved away from my mom, joined the military. It was a way for me to deal with my dad's loss, but also speak on shit that was affecting me and I seen that was affecting people that I was around, stuff that was happening in the real world.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So your focus then was on lyrics and songs and stuff like that? Is that kind of what you stayed with, through the military?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's kind of what forced me ... Not forced me. It was my choice to join the military, but, ultimately, I just felt like the military wasn't for me. I did my six years. I signed up for six years. I went through with my term or whatever, but I was like, "You know what? I could be doing so many more things than taking orders from-"

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, I get it. So you were 26, 27, when you came out?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, 26.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. Is that when you ended up in Denver?

Armando Geneyro (:

They stationed me in Cheyenne, Wyoming, of all places. I'm from California. It's a complete culture shock. Cheyenne is only like an hour and a half away from Denver, so I would come here on the weekends, on my time off. Yeah, the very first time I set foot in Denver was in 2003.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. That's when I moved here, actually.

Armando Geneyro (:

Okay. Crazy. Crazy. Small world, bro.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

So yeah, I just started meeting people, from 2003 all the way until I got out of the military. I stayed in Cheyenne for another year or so. I had some homies that I was in the military with, that I was waiting to get out with. When we all got out, some of us moved down here to Denver. Then I ended up going to Metro State and going to school for free on the GI bill.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

What'd you go to school for?

Armando Geneyro (:

I went to school for ... I graduated with a political science degree, which is worthless, and then I was a minor is sociology.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right. So you came out, did you have a plan? Were you thinking that you were going to try and do more art stuff? Or were you just like, "I'm just getting out?"

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm just getting out.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm just getting out. I don't want to be in the military no more. Yeah, it was another dark period of time, trying to find myself after the military, what I wanted to do. I thought I was going to be getting into law school, after I graduated from Metro. Then I realized that the money had dried up, and law shool was going to have to be on my dime. Then I was like, "You know what? I don't think I'm going to do law school, now."

R. Alan Brooks (:

That does change minds.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. The last semester that I was in school, I took a photojournalism class. I took a film class, where I was learning how to develop my own film. The photojournalism really kind of steered me in the direction ... I had already been taking photos. I'd been taking photos since I was a kid. Cameras were just always around our family, but it's not something that I ever thought was going to be a creative outlet for me. Like I said, cameras were always around. We always had family gatherings, and so we had disposable cameras and Polaroids. My family was always just like, "Yo, take a picture of the whole family together." So I would do it. I was just comfortable snapping photos. Even in the military, I had a camera with me a lot. Like I said, it was just something that I never thought I could use as a creative outlet.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So let me ask, when you described the family stuff, it's basically like you're just cataloging what's happening. Was it the same in the military?

Armando Geneyro (:

Exactly.

R. Alan Brooks (:

You were just kind of keeping-

Armando Geneyro (:

Exactly.

R. Alan Brooks (:

But then you took the photojournalism class. Is that when it started to shift into something creative for you?

Armando Geneyro (:

Those three and a half years that I was going to Metro, IG, Instagram was kind of popping off, kind of the beginnings of it. I was moving away from being on Facebook and Twitter and got onto IG. At first, I wasn't really posting anything except the music that I was listening to, or whatever.

Armando Geneyro (:

Then, it was right around the time when I got my first iPhone, and I'd see all these different rappers, like Evidence from Dilated Peoples and ... Who else was taking photos? Alchemist. They were just taking photos on their phones and doing really cool, creative stuff. I was like, "I kind of want to do that, too. I kind of want to emulate that."

Armando Geneyro (:

Really, I just was going around. I had just moved here permanently, in 2010, so I was just kind of cataloging the same thing, cataloging the city that I was in, this new place that I was going to call home.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, then I took that photojournalism class. It was right around the same time that DJ Low Key reached out to me. He was like, "Yo, you take pretty cool photos with just a phone. Would you be down to buy a camera and come take photos of my party?"

R. Alan Brooks (:

Wow.

Armando Geneyro (:

I was like, "Okay." It's kind of a stretch, going from shooting-

R. Alan Brooks (:

An iPhone.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, iPhone photos in the streets, of a bench or flowers or something, to photographing a party. It was a professional camera, a mounted flash that I've never used before. I was like, "Sure. I'll give it a try."

R. Alan Brooks (:

This is dope. First of all, shouts to DJ Low Key, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It's dope that just community brings you into the next level of your art, you know what I mean?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Low Key is a specialist about stuff like that. The amount of opportunities and doors that he's opened for other people is insane.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, he cares a lot about the people here.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay, so now you go from doing photos around the city with your iPhone, buying a professional camera, flash, having to interact with people at the party, having to wade through the crowd, get people to pose. That's a whole new set of skills. How was that for you?

Armando Geneyro (:

I mean, the free alcohol helped.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

You know? It definitely loosened me up a little bit. I was able to approach people, these large groups of people that would come out to Solution to go dance, to go drink. Luckily, I was embraced with open arms. It's definitely a golden era of that party, right around 2013 to 2017, '18.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Some of the best pictures on my social media are ones that you took of me at that party, man.

Armando Geneyro (:

I love to hear that, bro.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It's really true. Okay, so then what was it like for you, just as an artist? Now you're doing this job. You've got this new arena. Are you feeling connected to the photography? Do you feel like something is developing? Or is it just kind of like you're still just snapping pictures?

Armando Geneyro (:

That's a good question. I'm just starting to kind of develop my eye. The very first Solution I shot was the Halloween one. Everybody's dressed up, and everybody wants their picture taken. It's super fun. Everybody's like, "Yo, yo, trying to show off my costume." And all this.

Armando Geneyro (:

The following week I'm back there, and it's like nobody has a costume on, right? I'm like, "How do I approach these people now?" Maybe they don't want to get their photos taken. Yeah, so it was all about just developing my confidence and developing my style, more than anything, at that time. Developing the way I edited my photos. It was a struggle. It was definitely a learning process. There was a lot of photographers that were coming up at the same time, and I would look at their stuff and go, "Man, this stuff is really good. I don't know if my stuff can live up to this." Yeah, so it was just all about gaining confidence and sticking with it. Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right, let me ask you some practical questions. Were you doing digital, or were you doing film?

Armando Geneyro (:

For Solution, I was doing digital. Solution and Goodness was all digital.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. Then what were you editing your photos in?

Armando Geneyro (:

Lightroom.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

For people who don't know, what goes into editing a photo? What are you doing?

Armando Geneyro (:

Well, when it comes to ... Let's just stay with the topic of the party photos. Meadowlark is a super small space that I used to shoot in, so I would shoot with a real wide lens. When you shoot in these type of environments, there's a lot of distortion on the edges. The first thing I do is crop. I'm cropping whatever I feel like the subject is in that photo. Then trying to get rid of the distractions. Then I'm just trying to really, because it's so dark in there and the flash is so strong, I'm just trying to make sure we get some good skin tones. Yeah, just not trying to really overdo it. You know what I'm saying? Because that's when you start really making people look kind of silly and orange-y.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Plastic-y.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It sounds like Solution and Goodness ended up being sort of like a bootcamp for you.

Armando Geneyro (:

For sure.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. So then how did other opportunities for photography start opening up for you?

Armando Geneyro (:

Just all the people that I would meet, every night, every Friday night, every Sunday afternoon or whatever, for Goodness. There's a lot of people that kind of go to these parties and have their own thing going, their own fashion brands, their own events, local DJs that go there, that are doing their own parties on different nights. Yeah, so it was really just meeting these people. "Yo, what are you doing next week? What are you doing next month?" It really opened a lot of doors for me. Like I said, Low Key just giving me the opportunity to come shoot for him really opened all the doors that are opening up, still opening up for me now. It has to do a lot with Low Key just taking a chance on me.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's dope.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, man. That's like weddings. I never thought I was going to shoot a wedding. Yo, the first wedding I shot, I was nervous. I was super nervous.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, because you've got to catch those moments, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, exactly.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Those don't get repeated.

Armando Geneyro (:

Exactly. Couples would come, and I would take photos of them. They were like, "Yo, do you shoot weddings?" I was like-

R. Alan Brooks (:

"I will."

Armando Geneyro (:

"I will. I can."

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

First dance.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, so how did you approach it? Did you know what the moments were?

Armando Geneyro (:

I mean, shout out to Google. I was just like, "Yo, what do I need to capture?" The first wedding I did, they were like, "All right, so you can send us a contract and we'll sign it." All right, gotta Google wedding contracts. Gotta come up with the wedding contract because I don't know what I'm doing. You know Blake? Blake Jackson?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Hired him as my assistant.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

He was just starting out. So yeah, not really knowing how to compensate him and how to compensate myself, being that this was my first wedding. Yeah, it was just nerve-racking. But really, bro, the internet. Shout out to the internet. There's a lot of information on there that comes in really handy.

Armando Geneyro (:

Let me tell you about the weirdest thing I've ever photographed. It was a funeral. My friend JC ... You know, Panama? Suero?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, his grandfather passed away. His grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman in the Air Force. JC knew that I was also in the Air Force, and he asked me if I was willing to photograph the funeral. I said, "Yeah, I mean, of course. Of course I would do it." But I had to hit the Googles, bro. I was like, "What am I supposed to photograph, and how do I go about this, being as respectful as I can?"

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

That was an eye-opening experience. It definitely was one of those moments where you feel like you take the next step, in your career, in your creative career. It just really opened up my eyes, to being in the moment, as far as my photography goes. Yeah, just kind of, like I said, being as respectful as I could, given the circumstances.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right. It's interesting to hear this progression, because you talked about when you were a kid, there were cameras around and documenting was happening, right? Same thing in the military. Photojournalism, by definition, this documenting was happening. But then you moved to this next level, where you're doing the parties. You're having to catch people who were drunk, whatever, and convince them, "Hey, let's take this photo."

Armando Geneyro (:

Sure.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Then you move into weddings and this funeral, where it's these precious moments, where you're involved in sort of the most significant moments of people's lives, and your ability to document has an impact, on another level.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

How did that feel to you? It feels like, as your career grows, the stakes keep kind of going up.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Yeah. I guess kind of applying those moments, the weddings and the funeral, learning how to apply those moments, being in the moment, being mindful, being respectful, being able to gain people's trust. Just trying to apply all that stuff, to shooting in the street. You know? That definitely helped out a lot.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Was that the beginning of THEYSHOOTN? Or this is-

Armando Geneyro (:

THEYSHOOTN was a hashtag that I created, right at the beginning of when I was on Instagram.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I didn't know that. Okay.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. I thought it was a clever hip-hop pun or whatever. Everybody knows I'm a Nas fan. Shout out to Nas. He just dropped a new album, which is incredible. So I was like, "Oh, they Shootin', Made You Look." I was like, "It's a hip-hop pun. It's a photography pun, too." I was tagging all my photos with #THEYSHOOTN. Then a couple years went by, and I met Blake. Other people started using the hashtag. He started using the hashtag, and other people started using the hashtag. Then Instagram photographer meetups started becoming a thing. We would go out and do photography scavenger hunts. It was all under THEYSHOOTN. He was like, "Yo, we have something here, that we should try to use."

R. Alan Brooks (:

I've never heard of that. It would just be like "find this thing and photograph it?"

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Yeah. We did one down Colfax, between East High School and the capitol. We came up with the list. We went out, it was just Blake and I. We went out and found a bunch of stuff. It was like, "All right, let's use these as the stuff that we need to have people find." One was like find a pinball machine, or something. So yeah, we ended up having a group of like 20 of us.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's dope.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Then we gave our prizes.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So then Blake says, "Hey, we have something." You guys started doing gallery shows, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. The very first time we did a gallery show was at the Shag Lounge, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Not really a fine art gallery, but it was him, myself, our homie Kevin, and then our homie David, who ended up moving out to The Bay. It was just city-based photography, kind of like some hypebeast photography style shit. But it went well, because we had the homie Mikey Fresh and then, at the time, his name was DJ Bloodsport, but now he goes by Vandelay.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Sure.

Armando Geneyro (:

He was like, "Yeah, you should have a photography show at Shag. We'll spin. It'll be a good time." Like, "Cool." So we made it happen. We got a really good response, man. A lot of photographers came out, that were on the same type of vibe, same type of style. It was just a good time, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay, so I want to ask, because it sounds like there's a change in focus. Up to this point, a lot of what you've been doing has been just capturing what's happening, like at an event or something like that. Now you're going out and finding things to shoot, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

It's all kind of overlapping, you know what I'm saying? The evolution of my style, it hasn't really been linear. It's been kind of all overlapping. A lot of the stuff that I was shooting, like going out and shooting the city, shooting wide portraits of the buildings and trying to play with different perspectives, that was all going on while I was also doing weddings and the funeral. You know what I'm saying?

R. Alan Brooks (:

So when you're doing that stuff, the cities, what are you looking for? What matters to you, as an artist, in those moments?

Armando Geneyro (:

Composition, trying to find different perspectives of how we look at the city. Trying to find different spots that I haven't really seen people in before, like trying to get up on rooftops that people don't have access to. I mean, really, that's what I was looking for, just trying to capture it in a way that I hadn't seen before, capture the city of Denver in a way that I hadn't seen before. A lot of photographers that I saw out here, it's kind of white washed, kind of corny, very straightforward. There was no swag to it, I felt like.

Armando Geneyro (:

The photographers that I was meeting up with and kind of getting to Know at that time, especially that first show at Shag, were all on the same type of vibe that we were on. So it was just fun connecting with them and learning from each other.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Okay, yeah. You talked about this desire to show the city from different perspectives and stuff like that. You know how earlier we mentioned art can be healing for yourself, or they can be the things you want to communicate. At this point, when you're trying to show the city through different eyes, is there something that you're trying to communicate to people who see your photography?

Armando Geneyro (:

I guess at that time, not really. There wasn't really a focus that I was trying to show. But right around that time was when I finished school, so then I had that photojournalism class. Like I said, it all overlaps. Learning about photojournalism and learning the stories that I could tell, the people that I could meet, the communities that I could try to represent, it really shifted that focus from just going out and just documenting-

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's a photography joke, shifted the focus.

Armando Geneyro (:

You know.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right on.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, so going from capturing the city just to capture the city, just because nobody else was doing it this way, to capturing the people of the city and these different subcultures in a way that allows these stories to be told and pushed to the forefront. That's really when everything changed for me.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It's really cool, man, to hear kind of that whole progression. I just think about Solution and Goodness getting you used to approaching strangers and asking to take photographs. Do you feel like all of those skills, when you got to the point where now I'm going to hit these subcultures and walk up to people and be like, "Hey, can I take your photo?" Do you feel like all of that kind of prepared you?

Armando Geneyro (:

Goodness and all that stuff? Solutions?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Definitely. Yeah, definitely. The first time I ever saw lowriders here, the first time that I ever photographed lowriders, was during Cinco de Mayo. I had heard about how lowriders would cruise up and down Federal.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

I had seen maybe one or two before, but I had never shot them so I wanted to document it. So I cruised up and down Federal, and I found Grandpa's Burger Haven. It's close to Alameda and Federal. It's a huge Westside staple, an important landmark for the community there. Lowriders post up there all the time.

Armando Geneyro (:

I met this guy named Kevin from Out of Control Car Club. Super nice guy, had his two lowriders out there. So I stopped, and I was like, "Hey man, you mind if I took some photos of your car?" He was more than willing for me to do that. Then I kind of got brave enough. I was like, "Hey man, you mind if I take your portrait, too?" He was like, "Sure, sure. Let's do it."

Armando Geneyro (:

From then on out, I was jumping on Facebook and finding these different lowrider groups and chats, just finding out where people were going to be at next, finding that there's all these different areas around Denver where lowriders meet up on a frequent basis, just to go cruise, just to kick back and kind of have people stop and admire their cars. That's the lowrider lifestyle, out here.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, so it was important for me, especially because growing up in California, lowriders are such an important part of me growing up. From the lowrider magazines to the lowrider art that I tried to emulate from the magazines, to seeing it in my favorite hip-hop videos and my favorite movies, growing up. Being ignorant to what Colorado was when I first moved here, I never knew that there was a scene here for that. Really it was about trying to find stuff that reminded me of home. The lowrider community out here really reminded me of home. It connected me to Denver in a way that I wasn't connected to the city before. Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's dope, man. All right, so I imagine most people, at least a significant portion of people who are listening to this, are artists who are thinking about their own approach, like how do I get into this place, how do I do this thing. So, some of my questions go that way.

R. Alan Brooks (:

You take these photos of the lowrider community. You get in, you start taking more and more. Where do you show them? How does that come about?

Armando Geneyro (:

I mean, at first I just put them on Instagram. I would share it with the people. I would get their contact information, like, "Yo, here's this photo that I took." They'd be like, "Oh, thanks man." They would use them as their Facebook profile photos.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

It was cool, seeing people appreciate that stuff. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a photographer was, have your own website that you can post your best work at. People will take you more seriously if you have a website. If you have a card with a website you can take them to, and not just an @, like an Instagram @ or handle, people are going to take you a lot more seriously. So I did that. I got a website going and started breaking up my work into different chapters.

Armando Geneyro (:

Then yeah, we started doing more of that DIY-style exhibits. Blake and I started doing the Winter in America series, which kind of allowed us to bring different artists together, different photographers, to kind of showcase work that focused on different societal issues, like homelessness and drug abuse and domestic abuse, just through the lens of up-and-coming photographers.

Armando Geneyro (:

Over time, it just kind of snowballed and allowed us to get to the place we're at now. I mean, Blake is shooting for ESPN Magazine now.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm able to have my work in History Colorado, in the history museum. It's just kind of manifesting what we wanted to do with it. When we first started, it was like we're trying to bring all these different photographers together that may have never gotten the chance to exhibit their work, ever. Including myself, including Blake. It was all about doing it for ourselves, doing it for the communities that we were in. Yeah, just to give us a sense of pride in our work and creating spaces for us, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

Not everybody that picks up a camera imagines that they're going to have their work in a museum. I had my work showcased at the airport. Just trying to create these spaces for new artists. "Hey, there is space for you to show your work, have people appreciate your work, maybe even have people buy your work." Who knows where that can take you, you know? It took us so far-

R. Alan Brooks (:

Good places.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, pretty good places.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, okay. Is that what you wanted? Did you imagine ... Okay, so sometimes people go into art and they don't have a vision. They're just like, "It's cool to create something." Other people go in and they're like, "Ultimately, I'm gonna get in these galleries. I'm gonna get a magazine to hire me." You know what I mean?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

How was it for you? Was it just kind of you just jumped in and felt your way through it? Or did you have a goal?

Armando Geneyro (:

I think it was more of the just jumping in and kind of finding our way. These opportunities come, and you face them head on. I don't know where it can go from here, but I'm going to do it.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. It's just been a blessing, really, a blessing and a privilege. I opened up at History Colorado last week, man.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Congratulations.

Armando Geneyro (:

Thank you. The response has been amazing. Just being able to showcase these communities that are so significant to the fabric of the city, that aren't celebrated as often as they should be. Like I said, it's been a privilege.

R. Alan Brooks (:

The focus of the show at History Colorado, is that the lowrider subculture stuff?

Armando Geneyro (:

There's some lowrider stuff in there. It's broken up into different sections. Basically what's going on at History Colorado is that they're doing a thing called Building Denver. It's an ode, it's a dedication to the built environment of Denver, the architecture and all these different buildings. There's huge maps that are blown up and placed on the wall, from the early 1900s. It kind of just shows how the city itself has developed over time. They have these little sculptures and models of different parts of the city. It's really cool.

Armando Geneyro (:

What they wanted me to do with exhibit, it's called Brick & Soul, is they wanted me to connect the environment to the human element, connecting the architecture to the human side of Denver, and what really gives life to these lifeless buildings. It's the people that are born and raised here. It's the people that celebrate in Denver, and they also mourn in Denver. They protest in Denver, and they cruise in Denver. Sometimes they protest and they cruise at the same time. It's really paying homage to the people that built this city.

Armando Geneyro (:

It's not an overall, comprehensive history. It's based on the time that I've spent here, you know? It's from the perspective of an outsider. It's dedicated to the people that have made my experience here meaningful.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's dope, man.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, thank you.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I've been talking with artists about just the journey. Of course a lot of people listening are trying to figure out what their own journey is going to be. Part of everybody's journey is discussing things that didn't work out, things that we tried and maybe they failed or were discouraging. Do you have some examples of something like that?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Outside of that? No. I mean, I got into music. I was rapping for a while. I opened up for some pretty artists.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I didn't even know this about you, man.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Ask Low Key, bro. Ask [inaudible 00:38:34]. He might have some tracks. I've done songs with Samir from The Reminders. I've opened up for Joell Ortiz, out of New York. Yeah man, different artists. I did that for a couple years. It was fun, and it was a learning experience. Ultimately, I didn't see it going any further than what it ... You know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

You're speaking my heart, man. I won on these rap battles in Atlanta, just street cypher, stage stuff. I came here, and that was a year that I did 52 shows and made enough money to hire a band to back me for all of them. I'm doing them at Walnut Room, Dazzle, places like that.

Armando Geneyro (:

Back when Walnut Room was a really dope hip-hop spot.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Couldn't get no coverage. I was sending press releases. I couldn't get in the Underground Music Showcase.

Armando Geneyro (:

Denver is a hard place for hip-hop, bro.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. People would give me props at the shows.

Armando Geneyro (:

Sure.

R. Alan Brooks (:

But nothing. Nothing was happening, you know what I mean? So, I feel you. I put exactly as much hustle into that as I do to this comic stuff. For some reason, when I do comic books, people care. You know?

Armando Geneyro (:

I came to the realization. I was like, "I don't know how much further I can take this." I don't want to lose the love for the art form just because I had a bad experience with it.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

That was right around the time that I started going to Metro State. So I kind of left it behind, started focusing on my studies. That's when I picked up the phone and was taking pictures of the city. Never dreamed that that would lead me to where I'm at now, with my photography.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I mean, that's the real parallel, man. Okay, my father introduced me to comic books when I was five because he wanted me to read. He's a journalist. So he got me into comics. I've been reading comics my whole life, and when it wasn't cool. When I was in elementary school, I didn't know anybody else in the school who liked comic books. I had one friend, who went to a different school.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Then when I was 10, I started going to comic book conventions, in Atlanta, and it would be me and my homeboy would go to them, the one from the other school. We would go, and we would be the only kids and the only Black people. You know what I'm saying? It would be like 300 people, at the most. Comic book conventions, when we started, were not even big enough in Atlanta that it could be its own thing. It'd have to be like comic book/Star Trek convention.

Armando Geneyro (:

Right. Right.

R. Alan Brooks (:

And they didn't make black Vulcan ears, so-

Armando Geneyro (:

No way. So you were wearing white tips or what?

R. Alan Brooks (:

I didn't get them, but I was like, "I want to be a Vulcan!" But I couldn't do it. I worked a lot of years in hip-hop. We talked before the thing, before the recording. I went on tiny tours and stuff like that. Just nothing seemed to be working. Then I got discouraged, did insurance for like four years. Then I'm like, "Eh, I'm just going to try to write a comic, because I'm not happy in insurance."

R. Alan Brooks (:

Suddenly, I put out the first graphic novel 2017, and I can be a professor, I got to do that TED Talk. All this. If you had told 10-year-old me that writing a comic book would make me a professor-

Armando Geneyro (:

You were at Comic-Con, too, right?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

I remember seeing you at Comic-Con.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Right. All these things have happened. I think what you're saying, about being an artist, loving different things, but being open to trying those different things and seeing how people respond.

Armando Geneyro (:

And not being scared of failing, you know?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Not being scared of failing. I think ego is one of the things that kills artists more than anything. Realizing that, "Hey, maybe I'm not cut out for this." I'm grateful. I'm grateful that I was able to realize that, because if I hadn't, I don't know where I'd be. I don't know where I'd be. But yeah, I'm grateful for those couple years. It was a learning experience. I got to rap on stage with Mr. Lif in front of a few thousand people at the Ogden. But that was it. That was really it. Being able to say that that led ...

Armando Geneyro (:

Eventually, those connections that I made in the hip-hop world here allowed me to cover a lot of these shows and meet other artists that I idolized and be able to take their photos.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So it wasn't wasted.

Armando Geneyro (:

It wasn't wasted.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's the thing, yeah. People have to pay attention to that, right? It's the same for me. All the hustle that I learned in hip-hop, I applied to graphic novels and comics. Nobody's hustling like that, in that arena.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yo, facts. Facts.

R. Alan Brooks (:

You know what I'm saying?

Armando Geneyro (:

The hustle that it takes to try to book a show, trying to sell tickets, trying to sell merch, you flip that hustle around and focus that hustle in a different career, it pays off, like you said. I love that.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I think that whole message of none of those efforts are wasted. That time I spent in hip-hop, the time you spent in hip-hop, those directly feed into what we're doing now.

Armando Geneyro (:

For sure.

R. Alan Brooks (:

We wouldn't be able to do it on this level if we hadn't had those times.

Armando Geneyro (:

Facts, yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's a really dope thing. All right, so, creatively, ideas. They come to you all the time.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

How do you decide which ones you're going to act on?

Armando Geneyro (:

That's a good question. I kind of just go for it. If I get an idea, I just kind of go head first into it and try to execute it. I think it's in the execution that I find whether or not it'll work, whether or not it has the potential of being something more. So yeah, there's a lot of stuff that I've tried to do, that I never really continued with.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Like the stuff with the lowriders, it's something that I was like, one day, "I'm going to go out there and meet people." Then I just stuck with it. Seven years later, the city of Denver, the city council of Denver put out a proclamation, what, two years ago? And proclaimed a day in August as a Cruise Down Fedz Day. My name is in that proclamation.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's cool. Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

I'm super grateful for it. I don't know if I truly deserve to have my name in that proclamation, especially when there was so many people that were left off that proclamation that have way more to do with the lowrider community. Either way, I'm thankful. I'm thankful that I'm able to represent this community, with the photography. I've gained the trust of the folks here, to be able to represent them.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's dope.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right, so one of the other things that I've been discussing with a lot of people is artistic fear. A lot of people who are aspiring artists, they're aspiring mostly because they're afraid. My questions for you are, do you feel fear about your art, and then how to do you manage it?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, definitely.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Armando Geneyro (:

Definitely. Especially as somebody that represents Denver with their photography, that's not from here. I feel that a lot. I feel like I could never represent the city as intimately as somebody that's from here. I haven't spent enough time here. I haven't dealt with the heartache and the loss, growing up here. Seeing the city turned-

R. Alan Brooks (:

And changed.

Armando Geneyro (:

Changed as much as it has. There's people, lifelong Denver residents, that have seen it change. I definitely feel that fear, and I definitely feel that imposter syndrome. But when I see people's reactions to the work, when people reach out to me and say, "I love what you're doing. I love how you're representing the city. I love how you're representing our culture, our community." When they say that it makes them feel like they're seeing photos from their earlier years, you know? It makes them feel like they're home, seeing my photos. That's what makes me abandon all that fear.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. I was just thinking about, fear is just such a weird thing, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

R. Alan Brooks (:

I really encountered it when I was doing the insurance job, because it's sales-based. You mentioned being an introvert. I'm an introvert, too. That's probably why I don't talk to many people, even on the dance floor. I just go-

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Selling business insurance meant that I had to walk into a business, introduce myself, ask for the owner, initiate a conversation, and then be like, "So who's your insurance with?"

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, right.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I would do it, but it was hard. My whole practice was, I would walk to the front of a business, take a deep breath, get myself ready. I decided I was going to go down, park on 6th.

Armando Geneyro (:

Like Cap Hill area?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, yeah. That whole strip, that's all-

Armando Geneyro (:

All businesses.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, it's like mom and pop businesses. The very first one, I park in this brick building, and I was going to do that same plan. I was going to walk in front, take the deep breath. I walk in the front, and it's a picture window. It's a hair salon, and it's all these pretty women turn and look at me. I just walked away, like I wasn't planning on going in. Now, you've seen me talk to women on the dance floor, right?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It wasn't even ... Pretty women, in a different context, wouldn't make me nervous. But for some reason, the fact that I was coming to sell insurance, I just panicked. I was embarrassed with myself. I decided, "Okay, I'm going to go to every other business and then come back to this one last." So I did. I spent a couple hours, I walked, and I came to them last. They're the ones that bought insurance from me.

Armando Geneyro (:

Wow.

R. Alan Brooks (:

What that really taught me was, whatever fear, whatever it was that I was ... It had nothing to do with them. They needed insurance, and I needed to sell insurance.

Armando Geneyro (:

It's that fear of rejection, sometimes.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

It really can stifle you, if you don't just push through it and overcome it. I mean, I feel you, bro. It's never the photos that I capture that I really love, that I think of the most. It's the ones that I was too scared to go capture.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh, wow.

Armando Geneyro (:

That haunt me, yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's really something. Huh. Okay, let me ask you, man. A young Armando pops up on the scene, just a younger version of you, and thinks about getting into this photography game. What advice would you give him?

Armando Geneyro (:

Do it for you. Do it because you love to do it. Don't do it because it's what's popular. Don't do it for the likes or the recognition. Do it because you really enjoy the art. Do it because you feel the need to create something, but don't do it because you feel like people are waiting on you to do something with your art. Don't do it because you feel like you need to drop the next hot image. It'll show through the work, when it's authentic. You know what I'm saying?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Nice.

Armando Geneyro (:

Stay true to yourself. As cliché as that shit is, it's the realest thing, man. Just stay true to yourself and what you love, and the work will be authentic.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Word.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay, what's next? What are your goals? Where are you headed? What you want to do next, creatively?

Armando Geneyro (:

Man, I don't know. I'm trying to get back out and travel more. I love traveling, going to different places that I've never been before, and meeting people and documenting what's going on in those cities. Hopefully I can get back out there soon. This whole COVID shit, I'm ready for it to be over, but we gotta be careful.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, the exhibit [at History] Colorado is up now. It's going to be open for another year. It'll be up until July 30th, which is kind of crazy.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's great.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. Just had a meeting today with the Botanic Gardens, on hopefully a project that we'll be working on for the next couple years. It's kind of a longterm project, but hopefully we can celebrate the Latino agriculture and cuisine, here in the state. It's a longterm project, but I'm pretty excited about it. I have all these ideas that are bubbling up, being the son of two immigrant parents.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Armando Geneyro (:

What else? I mean, we're going to have some things coming up with THEYSHOOTN, hopefully soon. Trying to push that more and kind of get back to the essence of how we started, as a group, and get more of the people that mess with us, kind of get them into these arenas, like these museums. Hopefully maybe do a group show.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right. You mentioned social media stuff. If people want to follow your work, where do they go?

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah. @armando_geneyro.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I'm going to encourage you to spell your last name.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, yeah. I will spell my whole name.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right, all right.

Armando Geneyro (:

A-R-M-A-N-D-O, and the last name is G-E-N-E-Y-R-O. Then my website is just armandogeneyro.com.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Dope. Hey, Armando, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, man.

Armando Geneyro (:

Yeah, man. Thank you for having me. Thank you MCA, man. This was really fun. Appreciate it. I'm glad that you and I were able to have a full on conversation.

R. Alan Brooks (:

After years.

Armando Geneyro (:

This is the longest conversation we've had, ever.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Without music playing, that's what it takes.

Armando Geneyro (:

Right, yeah, with those loud-ass speakers.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Thank you to today's guest, Armando Geneyro. Visit MCADenver.org/podcast to learn more about his work. How Art is Born is hosted by me, R. Alan Brooks. Cheyenne Michaels is our producer and editor. Courtney Law is our executive producer. How Art is Born is a project of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

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