Eli Yanez

“Creativity allows us to evolve as a species, and step closer to understanding our role within this life.” Eli Yanez

Eli is a New York-based photographer and creator, who uses his work as a method for others to feel seen and understood – and help navigate his own existence.

Leaving behind a conservative Jewish upbringing coincided with Eli’s first photographic experiences. He felt a strong desire to be expressive and discover his place in the world. He did just that, camera in hand – but was still a wandering nomad, searching for meaning. As he took in more of life through the viewfinder, Eli realized what photography was guiding him towards. Introspective awareness.

When Eli is making images, he sees himself as a tiny observer in a vast universe – far beyond his own understanding. He slows down, focusing not on finding big answers, but on smaller fragments of attainable truth. In this, he feels human.

With sights fixed on the future, Eli wants to continue creating images that carry emotional weight. He hopes to push the boundaries of what’s accepted in the photography world, garnering inexplicably dreamlike results, turning his art into a weapon of awareness.

In culturally rich New York, Eli knows that he is part of a powerful community. Its art surrounds him always, having turned his apartment into a livable gallery space. It’s his ambition to support those he’s met along the way – and enrich their lives.

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F5, ISO 3200

Life in Moments

A rare few artists exceed a simple passion for their craft. But for some, creation is like the beating of a drum – relentless, deafening, and a driving force of existence. Brush and canvas, or camera and lens, become the frame through which they view every aspect of life. Most other needs are set aside, in favor of kaleidoscopic visions of beauty and truth.

Although young in age, Eli Yanez is already on such a course. Having left behind a conservative childhood, he now lives in New York, in an apartment-turned-art-gallery, where he exhibits the work of locals and friends.

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F5, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM GFX100S camera and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F4, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM GFX100S camera and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F4, ISO 3200

“The main motivator behind getting into photography was a need to express. I kept a lot bottled up my whole life,” Eli begins. “I needed a way to release it all – and discover how to communicate with myself and others. Cameras were always very appealing to me. My roommate and I went half and half on one, and it developed from there.

“In the early days, I’d just hit the streets, looking for interesting elements. People watching was a big part of street photography for me and, from there, I branched out into portraiture, with elaborate ideas, and a desire to showcase more of a story. But even now, my favorite thing is to take my camera out and see what happens. There’s a lot to witness here in New York – my imagination is constantly overstimulated!”

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/200 sec at F7.1, ISO 160

It was a chance gallery visitor who told Eli about Artists Den and the Fujifilm Students of Storytelling project. Eli was accepted and, when the day came, he basked in the opportunity of seeing his mentor Kevin in his element. Together, the pair photographed delicate vocalist Mxmtoon.

“It’s great to be around someone who has managed to make it far in a difficult industry. Kevin and I were there with the same goal,” Eli recalls. “The biggest lesson was his decision-making. He knew what kind of photos he wanted to create, spent a few minutes scoping the location, got what he needed, and was ready for the next set-up. I have trouble with moving forward and not getting held up by perfectionism. Sometimes you have to trust that you know what you’re doing, and let it go.”

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/200 sec at F7.1, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F1.4, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F1.4, ISO 3200

With minutes scarce, Eli seized each one to form a clearer idea of his subject. It’s a crucial stage of his customary portrait session, and a new challenge in this less than typical context.

“For me, portraits are about showing a subject who I am, having them show me who they are, and saying let’s learn something from this experience. It’s an intimate and beautiful process. You can lose a lot of that in contexts like these, when there’s a goal to get something specific and move on – so I really valued the opportunities to speak with Mxmtoon before the performance.”

When it comes to the picture-making process, Eli’s approach is slightly unorthodox. And while he was working within the parameters of a tightly run session, he slid comfortably into familiar grooves.

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/250 sec at F1.4, ISO 3200

“I’ve always liked to approach things from unusual angles. Most often, I value a different perspective over what might be considered a typically beautiful composition. When I have full control, I’ll make pretty odd images – psychedelic even. But I’m not obsessed with them looking different to anyone else’s for the sake of it,” Eli affirms. “It’s the intention that’s unique. I want to illustrate that there was something rare and genuine happening in a moment. If the way I photograph that is very traditional – like a head-on portrait – that can still be powerful.

“I didn’t know Mxmtoon before this project. When I heard some of her music, I admired it greatly. It was very moving and personal – so raw and genuine. I love that it was stripped back with just her voice and uke. Hoping to reflect that, I went with natural light. I was still looking to experiment with contrast, so we sat her next to a cracked open door at one point. Photos have so many layers, and by messing with light, you can peel them back and reveal something of a moment that you wouldn’t see at first.

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/250 sec at F1.4, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Eli Yanez for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 4000

Photo 2022 © Eli Yanez for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 320

Photo 2022 © Eli Yanez for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 320

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/1250 sec at F1.4, ISO 6400

Photo 2022 © Christopher Gilbert | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/1250 sec at F1.4, ISO 6400

“With other images, I wanted to show her in the craft – her own creative moment. I did that by creating a tighter frame. But I wouldn’t say I was stopping to consider different approaches a lot of the time. Sometimes I’ll snap a quick photo, and even if it’s blurry, I love it, because it’s true to what I saw and experienced. If I have an impact on a portrait, it’s mostly limited to creating an atmosphere where someone can just be. Then I’m separate to the moment, documenting it from the sidelines. If that happens, I’m fine with the results, however they look.”

Unconscious as it may be, as an image maker, Eli still has to shape images to some degree. He dials in settings – although often loosely – and releases the shutter when the urge comes. While high resolution and gleaming specifications are likely of little concern, through the process-driven aspects of the work, he finds value in his tools.

“I had FUJIFILM X-T4 and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR. I’d been using another mirrorless system beforehand, but this camera was great. It came out of nowhere for me. I love how analog it is. That helped me slow down and stay meditative. The Film Simulations also let me explore some real creative looks in-camera.”

Proud of the simplistic results, and grateful for the lessons, what’s next for Eli Yanez?

“A little bit of everything,” he says. “Right now, I’m working out how I can turn my photography, and broader platform, into a form of activism – that’s the end goal. I want to do something that matters, telling important stories, sharing perspectives that aren’t heard as much as they need to be. I don’t know what it will look like, but I do know I’ll find it, and I’m excited to see what form it takes.”