Photo: Ian Buosi
  /  10.11.2022

Onda is responsible for capturing and curating some of the most exciting moments in entertainment. In an age ruled by social media, most moments are fleeting. Fortunately, the photographer has found an approach that accurately encapsulates some of our most significant figures in Black culture in a way that will stand the test of time. 

Boasting an impressive list of clients like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kanye West, Drake and more, Onda is a visionary who is cementing himself as one of the most riveting creatives of our time. Grammy-nominated rapper Pusha T told REVOLT, “Onda represents the ultimate in taste, art direction, vision, and clear understanding of an artist he’s determined on working with. He doesn’t work with just anyone. His passion isn’t for everyone. He’s special.”

The multifaceted creative connected with REVOLT for an exclusive interview about his experience working with Puff, what it is like being mentored by Ye, and his future dream collaborations. Check out our conversation below.

What would you say if you had to explain what you do for a living to a 5-year-old child?

I’d say I make things for TV. I make things for all of the screens of our world. I would say “content,” but I do not like this word. 

Your best friend Kaito connected with you and introduced you to Diddy. Can you talk about how that relationship came about and discuss how your life has changed since?

At the time, Kaito called me and let me know he was taking a step back and needed someone to fill his shoes. Due to COVID, I wasn’t doing much work at the moment. That was the first time I could work on the ground and put myself in situations to document, shoot, and edit for a high-level celebrity. My life changed dramatically because I was able to work with one of the world’s biggest influences, Diddy. He has a way of teaching and advancing you rapidly because his life moves so fast. You learn and absorb information at a rate you did not know was possible.

It was a massive shift because I was working long hours. Being able to watch Puff interact with people, close deals, and learn his thought process helped me learn so much when it came to business. It was a very important time in my life that I would never take for granted.

 

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Coming from a family of immigrants (Peruvian-Japanese mother and Cuban father), usually, creative careers are frowned upon. Can you explain what it was like growing up and how your parents view your path now?

That is something I tell everyone. Being a first-generation kid is challenging for everyone. When I was 19, I bought an MPC and started making beats. Pharrell is one of my biggest inspirations, so I wanted to make music. I remember telling my mother I wanted to go to Full Sail and focus on production. She said, “No, you are not making beats” and we got into a huge argument. She did not believe it was a lucrative career and wanted me to go to school and do something else.

I went to college for business and kept getting kicked out because I did not enjoy the education aspect. I felt like it was redundant. After a while, I decided to lock in, and I reached the dean’s list and ended up graduating with honors. I told my mom, “Here’s the safety net that you wanted. Now, you have to let me leave Miami and start creating films and movies.” 

After that, I got into USC, one of the world’s best schools for film. It was perfect timing because I got accepted into the program on my birthday. She could no longer deny it and allowed me to chase my dreams, and now I am here.

After working with Puff, I am sure your phone was ringing off the hook. Who reached out as a result of your work with him, and were you surprised by anyone?

I do not know if I remember anyone off the rip. I made a lot of great connections while working with him. I remember making a Club Love video for Instagram, and LeBron James commented a bunch of fire emojis, and I was like, “Yo! LeBron saw this?” He was one of my inspirations growing up. It is cool seeing your work displayed through these moguls and celebrities and knowing that somebody somewhere that you respect has seen your work.

Like Pharrell saw a picture I took of him with Puff. Ye loved a photo that I took with him and Puff and wanted [me] to be on his team. I do not know exactly who came as a ripple effect of my work during my Puff era or my Ye era because it has been a blur. 

 

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One of Ye’s favorite phrases is, “Be like water.” Your name means “motion of water” in Spanish. Do you think there was any foreshadowing there?

It is crazy because it was like a full-circle moment. I was about to make my first commercial with Puff and wanted to change my director’s name. I had been streaming Cassiano’s “Onda” all day, and I liked the name and was mulling over the name choice. After that, I was talking with my friend as we were walking into a restaurant in the Bahamas, and he stopped me and said, “Look up.” It was a sign that said “wave” and I was like, “This is it.”

Shortly after, DONDA was [released] in the summer of 2021. So Ye calls me and starts talking about the Sunday Service photos and everything else. He was like, “I need to mentor you. Your name is so close to my mother’s name.” He told me that I was like Beatrix and he was like Pai Mei from Kill Bill and just hung up. After that, someone called me from his camp and explained how everything would move forward and the language used during the DONDA era. Knowing that Ye wanted to mentor me was a dope, full-circle moment.

Do you believe social media helps strengthen your legend or waters creativity down?

Social media helps. It is all in the way that you capture the moment. Plenty of people are capturing moments now, but they are not doing it in a way that will live on forever. When working with people like Puff and Ye, my goal was always to try to apply a cinema-style taste and approach to everything I captured. 

Even though social media puts this pressure on you, it’s how you capture the images that stand the test of time. Other photos were taken when I shot the pictures of Ye, Julia Fox, Madonna, and Antonio Brown. Still, none of them were as impactful as mine because they were shot in portrait style for Instagram and not in a cinema style or colored in a way meant to last forever.

 

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If you could go to dinner with five creatives who inspire you, dead or alive, who would they be?

This question is a tough one. Pharrell would be at the table. Although Daniel Arsham is a friend now, he would still be someone I invited. Prince would be amazing at a dinner table because he had insane creativity. He came up in the Michael Jackson era, so it was a bit overshadowed, but he’s still a genius. Stanley Kubrick because he is a genius of all geniuses and also Virgil Abloh.

Ye and Puff are both regarded as two of the greatest of all time. Would you consider one to be easier to work with than the other?

No! They are both equally demanding and the biggest at what they do for this reason. They know what they want and how soon they want it. They understand their message’s importance and care about how it comes out. They both require excellence at all times.

 

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Do you have anyone left you would like to capture?

I have been dying to work with Blood Orange. Kaytranada is another one. Kali Uchis is also another one. Of course, the great Pharrell is someone I would like to work with on a personal project of his. Lastly, I would say LeBron because he is my biggest sports inspiration. 

Do you ever have moments of self-doubt? If so, how do you overcome them?

Self-doubt happens every day! I even had it today walking onto the set. It’s up to you how you overcome it. You can listen to music, over-prepare, or do anything that helps you feel comfortable. Self-doubt happens to everyone, and there are so many moving parts in our minds on a daily basis that make us doubt ourselves even though we know we are talented. We just need to prepare and make sure things do not go wrong. Once I work on my projects, I become unconscious and see everything as it happens. Moments of self-doubt are overcome with clear visions and trust in your collaborators and, more importantly, yourself. Once everyone trusts you and sees that you are fearless with your work, you can be the best version of yourself.

 

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Is there anything you would say to the 16-year-old Onda?

Just believe in yourself more. When you are a child, you do not think you are capable of certain things. When I was young and my father passed away, I had to depend on my friends for assurance regarding my work. Although many of them would laugh or tell me I was silly for what I was doing, now they try to hit me up or claim that they knew me from when I was growing up. Many of those same people were not there to support me when attempting to leave my hometown. Therefore, I would tell my younger self to believe in your abilities more and not look for validation from anyone else.  

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