Amelia Berumen goes by many titles: creator, photographer, mother, vinyl record crew member, Bay Area local, community builder. While each holds their own space within Berumen’s life, they all work together to play an integral role in her creative output.
When you listen to Berumen speak about her photography you immediately understand how important it is to her; everything from the styling, research, learning and actual image-making to the relationships that she builds with each of her subjects from behind the lens. For Berumen, shooting photos means more than pointing the camera at a subject, executing “perfect” composition, and producing an image. Rather, the act of making images is a means by which she connects with her community, her people, her peers. Berumen’s images hold an authentic power, one that you take notice of the instant you lock eyes with the person staring back at you in her photos. That power that actively draws you into her images comes from Berumen’s ability to highlight the familiar faces of her community with love, respect, and appreciation. She handles and visually portrays each person’s complex identity and story with integrity and a mutual trust to openly share what they create together in that moment, with others. It’s a power that can’t be replicated.
I have been following Berumen’s work ever since she handed me one of her zines at the San Francisco Zine Fest three years ago. I’ve always wondered about the back story behind some of her images, like who some of her subjects are, how she captured the image, and what it was like in that moment. Amelia obliged, and took the time to tell me about the feelings and emotions certain images evoke in her, the back story, what she likes and what she remembers about taking these photos.
Mar, February 2020
This is part of a series I did with my friend Mar. This was the last shoot I did right before the shelter in place order happened in March. Mar is a good friend. We met back in 2016 because we were part of the same vinyl record crew. I really connected with Mar because of our similar tastes in music but I think also because we are children of immigrants. Both of our families are from Mexico, hers from Puebla and mine from Jalisco. To me, Mar is so beautiful inside and out. She has strong indigenous features and an amazing sense of style. So I really gravitate to her to collaborate or partner with on projects even if it’s just playing a DJ gig together. I have gotten to know her over the years and fallen more in love with her. She inspired me to do this shoot, she was my muse. I wanted to style her in a “modern” indigenous fashion. I proposed the idea to Mar back in December 2019 and she was super down to shoot. While putting looks together I asked Mar if she had any traditional pieces to include into the style of the shoot and she brought this piece she is wearing in this photo. It is a traditional Oaxacan mañanita that her mother gave her; it was her grandmother’s. Mar explained to me that it was her grandmother’s favorite. Mar told me, “She wore it for all kinds of occasions and when she wore it she looked like a queen! She walked with it and it was like the garment completed her.” Then as soon as Mar puts this on for the shoot, she became a queen just like her ancestor. This photo really captured that.
Hijxs Del Sol, February 2017
Las Hijxs Del Sol was a collective of femmes that celebrated their bodies and their sun kissed skin. I was invited by them to document a gathering they had. They were inspired to wear their best lingerie and be together as sisters to share space and good vibes. It was so empowering for me. Watching them and seeing their confidence made me feel so proud of who I am and made me want to explore my own vessel. This is a portrait of Yosi and Favi. I met them in the Mission in San Francisco at a place called the Secret Garden. It was run by a local mission organization and it was very hidden. Only locals know about this little hidden gem. When I got there it was pouring rain. We weren’t sure if this shoot was even going to happen. We all got into a circle and just started saying some prayers and giving thanks, when all of a sudden the rain stops and the sun comes out. It was powerful and I took so many photos for them that day.
Jaula De Oro, August 2018
How could I have not taken a picture of these guys? I saw their suits from a mile away and knew immediately that I had to ask for a photo. When I have my camera the first thing that I go towards is someone’s fashion style. This was right after an opening I had at the Mission Cultural Center. My friends and I went to Panchitas on 16th street to go celebrate my opening with pupusas. The man with the glasses is always on 16th playing music. This was the first time I had ever seen him so sharp. I asked them if I could take their photo and they nodded yes. They played a song and we all tipped them. The title is from a Tigres Del Norte corrido, it’s about how someone who does not have papers feels like their life here in The States is like living in a cage made of gold.
Tongva-Acjachemen Scholar and Artist L. Frank , February 2018
In February of 2018, I was chosen to be part of the media team at the Annual Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit Pow Wow that happens every year at the Mason Center in San Francisco. This was a dream come true. I had attended the Pow Wow every year before then and always dreamt of documenting it. As a visitor you are never allowed to take photos at Pow Wows because there are many ceremonies, singing and dancing of sacred songs, so it is considered disrespectful to take video or stills. You have to ask permission to do any of that. I was very honored to be a part of this event. I took it very seriously and made sure that I had prayed and was ready for the ceremony before this day so that I could be present for the event. It felt like a ceremony and I wanted to make sure that I gave everyone my full respect and honor to be able to take their photos. This is a photo of L Frank. They are an artist, scholar and activist that has done so much for the Bay Area and Northern California Native Community. L Frank is sitting at the commentator box, they were going to be the announcer for the Pow Wow. I kindly asked L Frank if I could take their photo and they obliged. They are very shy and quiet so they didn’t really know how to pose. Afterwards they smiled and thanked me for being there to document the event and wanted to know how to get this photo. I told L. Frank how much I admire their work and shook their hand. For me this was the celebrity sighting. I have been a part of the Native community here in the Bay my whole life. I only got to hear about L. Frank and all the work they have done. It was an honor to capture this.
Self Portrait with Plants (Quarantine), August 2020
I have a vast collection of self portraits. Every time I get a new camera I take lots of self portraits with them. I am not one to be in front of the camera, I am very shy and self conscious. With these self portraits, I really explore myself, I become in tune with how I am feeling at this moment. Covid-19 has really put a number on me. I am so lucky that I get to work my day job remotely from home but between March and July when the shelter in place order went into effect, I stopped taking photos. I was not feeling creative, I was in a constant state of uncertainty, confusion, anxiety and stress. In August, I started taking photos again. The whole time during shelter in place I wanted to take photos; I wanted to document my family and my experience during quarantine, but I just could not muster the energy to do it. August came and I did a social distance shoot with a friend, and that got me back into the motion. I decided to do self portraits, in my safe place, in my most favorite top, with my plants and my new camera. Here I am wearing a top that I got in El Salvador back in 2005. This top carries a lot of magic and love. This is a traditional Mayan huipil. I only wear it once in a while. I am standing on my back porch with all my plants that I had taken out to water that day. I have been caring for plants only within the last year. I started with one fig leaf plant and today I have over 20 plants. Since the plants were all out on the porch I decided to set up my camera, this Rolli Magic medium format. I love that in the background behind the mesh door is my lover’s arm. He is so supportive and him being in this photo like that really symbolizes that. He is gazing at me lovingly as I am taking this photo of myself. For me the self portrait is a self love thing. I enjoy feeling like the subject but only through my eyes.
Ixchel Shoots with New Camera, September 2019
Ixchel is my kiddo. They are 10 years old and ever since they were born they go everywhere with me including photo gigs. Ixchel wants to do everything I do. They watch my every single move. So I always gotta be on my toes when they are around. This shoot was fun and it was the perfect kid friendly environment. I was shooting my friend Martha for her style blog. Martha is a vintage collector and blogs about everything vintage. We were shooting at a retro bowling alley in Alameda, California this day. I had just gifted Ixchel this digital camera that they are holding in this photo and so they really wanted to try it out. Ixchel is a mini creator, always drawing, crafting, making TikTok videos, doing makeup, hair and taking photos. They want to do everything I do and more. As I was shooting Martha, Ixchel would come in after every shot and take their own photo. I have to say that a lot of Ixchel’s photos came out really good. After taking the first shot of Martha with her feet up, Ixchel runs to that spot to capture Martha upside down. I had to document this moment. It made me so happy. As a creator and parent sometimes work and parent life collide, here is the proof.
Granddaughter and Grandmother getting ready for Dia de los Muertos, Nov 2017
This little one and her grandmother were part of the Día De Los Muertos procession in the San Antonio neighborhood of East Oakland. This procession was the first time I saw the mix of the Mexican traditional procession and a New Orleans Jazz Funeral procession. One of the beautiful things about Oakland is the history and the present Black and Brown solidarity. I took so many photos of this girl and her grandmother. This was their first time being part of a Día De Los Muertos ceremony. I love seeing youth with their grandparents. Grandparents are so special. I didn’t grow up having my grandparents here in the states and I only saw them once every other year. I always find myself gravitating to elders when I have my camera on me.
Skyde International Luchador, Nov 2016
In 2016 is when I started taking photos seriously — I wasn’t and I still don’t do it for anyone but myself — I started really focusing all my energy towards photography. I wanted to do a project where I followed people for years and documented. I got connected to this person that ran an underground lucha libre club. I reached out and asked if I could document practices and main events. He invited me and that fall I began my project. This is Skyde. During the fall of 2016 he was in town to do a lucha libre training tour. He is from Mexico and travels the whole world to train wrestlers on the Mexican lucha libre style. This night was during a practice session and I set up my lights in the gym. Skyde and I became friends and he was much appreciative of me taking his photo. Lucha libre wrestlers are so natural in front of the camera. I didn’t have to direct Skyde or any of the wrestlers when I would do these portrait sessions with them. This was really exciting for me, because Skyde is world famous and I didn’t want to let him down with the photos. I sent him the photos the week later and he really loved them. It was such a relief.
Musico in the Mission, April 2017
I was out on a Mission this day with a group of friends. We came out from Oakland to go dig for records. I had my camera on me and I got so many great pics this day. This man was standing outside a store with his guitar and amp. He was singing his heart out. We stopped to sing along with him and leave tips in his case. I picked up my camera and asked if I could take his photo. He nodded yes and gave this great big smile and posed for me. I love music and I love people who make it. I always stop when musicians are playing out on the street. He continued to pose and do these great stances with his guitar so that I could take photos. This Mission is so very special in that there are musicos everywhere playing music for the people.
La Dama, May 2017
One night I was out in the Mission at a bar called the Makeout Room. My friends were DJing and I went to go support and dance. It was really fun. I took my camera with me but was dancing a lot so I didn’t even think about taking photos. Towards the end of the night I sat down to take a break and this woman caught my attention with her outfit and smile. I started dancing with her and asked if I could take her photo. I thought about elders and how she was there alone. I wondered who she was and whose grandmother or mother she was. I didn’t get to talk to her much cause the Bar was so loud but we danced a bit and then I left. I don’t get to know many people I take photos of. They are just split moments that I connect with someone. I loved her outfit and her energy. I hope that I get to be this alive when I am older.
Jet Set, August 2018
This is a still from a music video I shot for my friend Jess Sylvestor, Marinero. This was amazing, I got to combine the two things I love, music and photography in one project. It took me about a year to finish this video. I did it all myself. The idea was based on a 60s film called La Jetee. The whole video was constructed of all 35mm stills. This was shot at the Marin County Civic Center in the North Bay. This building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is an amazing building. It was the perfect backdrop for the video. It’s open to the public and we got to walk around and take photos without anyone bothering us. The county workers would come out of their offices and just smile at us, I’m sure that they were used to seeing all types of people taking photos. This photo was the most cinematic but I could not make it fit into the video format I was using for the project, so it never made the final music video. Lena is in a vintage dress and shoes. I just loved pushing myself during this time. This project got me out of my comfort zone and I got to experiment with film, lighting, lens filters and photo angles.
Gold Hoops, February 2017
This was part of the Hijxs del Sol series. You could tell that these two were best friends. They were wearing very similar outfits and matching jewelry. When I saw them together I wanted to capture that best friend’s energy. This day was amazing, I got to meet all these femmes that were so confident and fun to be around. It was infectious. I left this day with many new friends and a desire to grow my own confidence in my body and skin.
The B-Leagues, October 2017
This was my first official fashion shoot. I was hired by this vintage shop in Berkeley called The B-League. The model is Jafin Garvey, a professional skateboarder. It was a very laid back shoot, the owner of the B-League is a friend and was super chill about the whole production of the shoot. We all got in a car and drove around the B-League shop in Berkeley and found different backdrops to shoot in front of. As we were driving we saw this red old school car. It was just parked in front of this warehouse. No one was around but we decided to shoot with the car. It was a very cool car and perfect for the vintage vibe of the clothing. This shoot was really fun because there was a whole team behind me, a stylist, director and the owner of the shop. Everyone was so chill and super fun to work with. This is my favorite photo from that day. It’s just hella bay and I love it.
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