Meeting Arlene Ibarra can be quite intimidating, and rightfully so. When we showed up she was chilling at the bar, whiskey in her right hand, DSLR in the other. When you're one of the most sought after photographers in the area, you've deserved a happy hour whiskey, or two. Almost any event in San Diego is stocked with photographers and videographers from The Arlene Collective - Ibarra's team of top notch creatives. It's crazy to think only a few years ago Arlene was working at the YMCA shooting family portraits on the side. We sat down with Arlene to talk forensics, being a boss, and juggling two kids. See why she's our #RealInfluencer of the week!
How did you get into photography?
I went to Grossmont College to study forensic science, and that's when I picked up my first DSLR. I was already taking photos of my kids but that was just with a point and shoot camera. At Grossmont, I learned to shoot forensic stuff like evidence, crime scenes, macro photography, fingerprints...etc. I really enjoyed the photography aspect of forensics. When I was done with school I was working at the YMCA, where I worked for thirteen years, and my coworkers started asking if I could take their family photos. I was like "Okay, I don't really know what I'm doing, but why not?" And everything began to snowball from there.
What has been the biggest obstacle as a woman in your industry?
I think when people hear I'm a photographer their first question is "Oh, you do weddings?" and the answer is "No, I shoot food, cocktails, and nightlife." They automatically assume because I'm a woman I shoot puppies and rainbows all day. While that's all good and fun, and I do shoot weddings here and there, that's not what I do. When I started out I'd be at a club with the other photographers (all guys) and would usually be the only girl. I'd hear things like "Does she know what she's doing?" But it wasn't really as much an obstacle as it was fuel to my fire. I used it as a way to prove them wrong. I shouldn't be labeled a female anything. I'm a photographer, not a female photographer. I'm just a photographer.
How do you keep pushing yourself after a failure?
Sometimes, I don't. Sometimes, I don't want to crawl out of bed for a few days. It's tough to put in a proposal for a big gig and not get it. You're like "What did I do wrong?" "Should I have priced myself lower?" It's a mental thing and sometimes you have to let yourself process it. It's normal to get down on yourself, but then you have to be like "You know what Arlene, it's not the end of the world. Five years ago you weren't even doing this. Look where you've been and look where you are now." It's a lot of self-motivation, especially when you own your own business.
What does true success mean to you?
It's cliche but, for me, success is freedom of time. I'm shooting all the time, but I know I still have more freedom now than when I worked 40+ hours a week at a 9 to 5. Now, I can pick my kids up from school and I get to see them more. Yeah, I shoot a lot, but I can take them with, or we can go to Universal Studios, or the zoo or out to dinner. I wasn't always able to do that before. I'm way happier because I'm doing what I love to do. Yeah, it's a lot harder, but I like being able to choose what I'm doing.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for being helpful and never turning someone away who needed help or advice. I want people to feel like "She always tried to help me" and even if I couldn't I found someone else who could. I've always liked helping people and my mom is a very nurturing person. I think I got that from her. That's how I originally got into forensics because in a weird way forensics does help people by giving them closure. Same thing with photography. You're giving people a product that they can be proud of.