Behind the Lens with Celeste Noche
Photographer and social activist Celeste Noche and I first met while working at our university's coffee shop together and bonded over our shared love of food.
Through the years, Celeste's travelogues and photography of food, people and places have been a constant source of inspiration to me. She has the unique ability to capture tenderness, excitement, love and passion in a single photograph. And somehow the light is always perfect for her! As soon as I had the chance, I hired her to document my engagement, then my wedding, then my first pregnancy. And I'm counting down the days until COVID is over so we can get together for a family portrait session.
In her seven years as a freelance photographer, I've seen her grow not only as a photographer but as an activist, advocating eloquently for human rights and fair pay of artists, especially People of Color. She founded the Portland in Color website and directory to highlight the many talented POC creatives residing in Portland. Her incredible work has been featured in Bon Appetit, BBC News, KQED and the New York Times, just to name a few.
To know Celeste is to be in awe of her talent and passion, and I hope we can get to know her a little better today. It is my absolute privilege to share this All WOCs of Life interview with Celeste:
Blaire Kimball of Sparkles and Vintage and I met at a Starbucks on a cold evening in December. My then-fiance and I were six months away from our wedding and our families were driving us crazy. Plus, there was still so much to be done and I had no idea where to even begin.
The first things anyone will notice about Blaire when they meet her is her big smile, her infectious positive attitude and her passion for her work. The moment we started talking, I knew that we would be hiring her. Like I literally went home and told my fiance that I had found “the one” haha. What set Blaire apart from other planners we had met with? She came brimming with ideas and excitement and we knew that with her over eight years of experience in the event planning industry, we could trust her to handle any situation planning our wedding would throw at us--which would end up being a lot.
Hiring Blaire for six month coordination of our wedding was a no-brainer and the best decision we made for our big day. It’s crucial that you get along with your coordinator because they will be the person you talk to the most leading up to your wedding...other than the person you’re going to be marrying. She defused stressful situations with our friends, families and vendors; she helped us find and book affordable, talented vendors; she took our initial idea of a modern Renaissance wedding and ran full steam with it, not missing any detail (even attended the Ren Faire with us for inspiration); she talked me down during a late night freak out about our budget; and most importantly, she made sure that we totally, thoroughly, unequivocally enjoyed our wedding day that all couples spend many months and many dollars planning. She made sure my husband and I had moments alone to connect as a newly married couple, she made sure we ate food and drank water, she made sure we had no idea if anything was going wrong, she stood up to people who needed to be stood up to in the most gracious way possible, and she danced the final few songs with us as this amazing day came to a close.
Even though Blaire lives every moment with zest and sparkle, the journey to get to where she is today was not easy.
“Being a Mixed Chick--Black and White--from Ohio, it was a very, very hard road as a kid,” she said. “I looked different. My skin, hair, and eyes were all different than the traditional cultural norms of Black and White children. Even as an adult, to feel accepted and appreciated was always a striving goal.”
But she kept fighting, being authentic to herself, and persevering to build an award-winning business. In this All WOCs of Life interview with Blaire, she opens up about her childhood and family dynamic, her struggles with identity confusion and bullying, and her hope for WOC in the event industry.
Leaving her hometown of Seattle in 2011, Jihan Zencirli moved to Los Angeles to embark on the helium-powered endeavor that is Geronimo Balloons. Her official job description seems a little fuzzy; in addition to selling oversized balloons and party supplies online, she creates fantastical public art installations around Los Angeles.
On a recent Tuesday night, a group gathered in Geronimo Balloon’s bright and airy Echo Park studio to inflate balloons for a public balloon installation at Projection LA’s all-white “Bates Motel.” Pharrell William’s “Happy” was blasting on the stereo, everyone was dancing, and bright balloons were popping up all around. And just like that, a regular weekday was transformed into a party.
When asked if any of her installations have ever gotten her in trouble, Jihan replied, “Never. People just like to feel like they’re a part of something. I once did an installation for Bobby Brown in Paris where I went around and put lipstick kisses on statues around the city.”
We caught up with Jihan to get a glimpse into the inspiring Geronimo Balloons universe, including her tips for happiness, her most memorable art installation, and her love of tamales and Echo Park (admittedly, she hijacked the Q&A, but in the best way possible).
In your own words, explain the mission of Geronimo Balloons.
I am Geronimo, so the mission mirrors my own ambition and mission in life: to delight!
Tell me about your most memorable balloon installation.
It was a house party with Meryl Streep playing Guitar Hero and killing it, Diane Keaton serving punch and Anjelica Huston offering to arm wrestle anyone who dared. Wait—that didn’t really happen. A page from my imagination!
I mean this very genuinely: I am honored to be a part of every single party, celebration, birthday, event and memory that our balloons are invited to join. Just this week I was asked to help with a “prom-posal” by a 17-year-old boy who wanted to make the surprise for his sweetheart really special. Projects like that are pure joy for my team and I, who are similarly hopeless romantics.
How long is the process of making one of your signature tassled balloons?
My lips are sealed! That’s a trade secret but I will tell you that it takes more time than a rose ceremony on any episode of The Bachelor (which I’m sort of embarrassed to say, we watch as a team each week, printing out ballots and making bets on who will win the show) and less time than baking and decorating a cake.
What brought you to LA?
24-hour Korean spas serving tofu soup, purple bougainvillea, freckles and driving between Highways 2 and 134 on a Sunday afternoon around 4 pm.
Which part of LA do you live in and what’s your favorite part about living there?
I firmly believe the adage “(S)he who seeks beauty will find it,” and I know that no matter where I lived on Earth that I would be able to find something beautiful and inspirational and moving. However, I think my neighborhood is quite beautiful without having to look too hard.
I live in Echo Park, which is the intersection of culture and struggle and new growth and history and fresh-cut fruit carts. I always tell people that I like pretty things, but I LOVE ugly things. I don’t think Echo Park is ugly one bit, but as far as Los Angeles goes, it’s also not the most polished and sophisticated neighborhood. It’s unpretentious and real—there’s graffiti on the walls and gum on the ground, but people help each other to repaint and scrape off. My neighbors are sweet and generous and sing loudly in the shower the songs from the old days of being a mariachi.
You appear to be obsessed with ice cream (or “ice cream horny” as you call it). What are your favorite LA ice cream shops and flavors?
It’s true. I do get very ice cream horny, whether it’s 7 am, 2 pm or 11 pm. I make sure my freezer is stocked with pistachio ice cream. I love going to ice cream shops, but I’m not picky. For me, it’s about the happiness that is palpable while waiting in eager lines of kids just off from school or cute couples on dates. Ice cream always makes for a happier day, no matter the flavor, location or Instagram appeal.
What are a couple of the most unique venues to throw a party in the city?
My favorite party I have ever thrown was at Union Station, with a group of 50 friends all geared-up with instruments, treats, bubble wands and signs to welcome people off the trains to LA. A venue can be any place where you can gather and enjoy the people you care about. Sometimes security asks you to leave, and then you obey so they don’t call the police and arrest you. That’s a party mood-killer.
Happiness seems to be a major part of everything you do. What are some of your tips for being happy?
I try not to be a know-it-all on happiness, but for me, the secret to my happiness is…. drumroll… being unhappy! Nothing arouses my desire to make my life and mind and heart and habits right like being unhappy.
My happiest, most joyful days come after a morning that I didn’t want to leave my bed because I felt like I couldn’t face the challenges of the day. I’m okay with having a bad day, and as an artist I find my best thoughts, work and ideas coming from legitimate life struggles and occasional ennui. But I was born pre-loaded with a bright personality, with unrealistic optimism, incredible joy from close friendships and simple diversions. I can easily be made happy just from watching YouTube videos of Marcel the Shell, who I will now fittingly quote for the answer to this question if you don’t like mine: “Guess why I smile so much. Cuz it’s worth it.”
Do you have a special “happy place” in SoCal?
I have so many happy places! The LA River with a book, the line on Christmas Eve for tamales at Los Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights, driving through the tunnel while you wind up the road in Griffith Park to the Observatory, The Vista on Sunset for movies, exploring the winding and rock wall roads of Sierra Madre.
You work a lot with setting up special events. In your professional opinion, what are the essential aspects of making a party fun and successful and what are things we can skip or that people won’t really appreciate?
To me, the best thing a party can have is “heart.” Darling striped straws, elaborate cakes and fireworks should just be accessories to a party that draws people together. Good conversation, to me, is more memorable than any meal I’ve been served at a party.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on some experiential art projects around the country—creating interactive visual installations for people to stumble upon across the country in big and small cities. I am also working on a podcast and polishing rocks in my industrial tumbler. I’m trying to get the actor (Felicity heartthrob of the ‘90s) Scott Speedman to ask me out on a date. Or just notice me. He’s always at the coffee shop I go to for my mint tea.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
A softer, kinder, wiser, funnier, more patient, better paint-prepping version of myself that also likes hanging my clothes up instead of throwing them on my closet floor. Ohh—and also someone who calls people back a bit faster. However, maybe we won’t have phones in the future so I won’t need to worry about that.
For more on Jihan Zencirli visit Geronimo online.
Krystal Bee began working at hip-hop radio station Power 106 when she snagged an internship during her first year at Cal State LA. From there, she moved up the ranks and was eventually offered a full-time spot, right next to radio personality Big Boy on his morning show Big Boy’s Neighborhood.
On-air, Krystal is usually the one asking hip hop’s latest and greatest the tough questions (and redirecting queries about her love life). We recently talked with her about her favorite celebrity interviews and BIPOC artist, LA’s best music venues, and what she loves about life on the Eastside.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up at 4 a.m. and go to the station. We start recording by 5 a.m. and we’re live until 10 a.m. After that, some days I go to record a few segments at Revolt (P. Diddy’s TV network). When I get time off, I like to go hiking. I should be asleep by 8 p.m., but I usually don’t go to bed until 11 p.m. or midnight.
When and how did you know you wanted to work in hip hop and radio?
I always knew I wanted to be in radio and entertainment, I just didn’t know how I would get into it. I would listen to Big Boy’s Neighborhood all the time. They sounded like they had so much fun and I was like, “Man, this is their job? I could do that.” You hear people say that all the time, but I knew that I really could do it.
My parents tried to convince me out of it because they said it was too competitive. But I stuck with it and contacted Power 106 to see if they offered any internships. When I got the call offering me an internship, it was the best feeling ever.
Who has been your favorite guest on Big Boy’s Neighborhood?
There are a few. Nikki Minaj has come in a few times and she’s great every time. I didn’t know what to expect the first time because you read and hear stories about superstars being divas or too “Hollywood,” but she was extremely sweet. I love having her on the Neighborhood because she’s fun and has a great energy.
I also loved having Magic Johnson on because I grew up being a huge fan. When I found out he was going to come in, I lost it. I had to call my dad immediately. Also, Usher performed a live medley for us. He has so many hits and I’ve seen him live, but to have him sit next to me and perform all these songs as I’m singing along and dancing and looking like a fool, but not giving one damn in the world, was amazing.
What do you love most about living on the Eastside?
Tacos, everywhere. It’s also so diverse and it’s becoming gentrified, but it’s where I’m from. All of my high school friends are still in the area and my parents still live here. I can be on my own, but I can still go over and raid their fridge.
You said you like hiking in your free time. Tell me about your favorite trail.
I like going to Eaton Canyon a lot, but I like the Griffith Observatory Trail the most.
Where’s the best place to listen to live music?
The Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre. Those are my two favorites because I love outdoor venues. A lesser-known spot is the Echoplex which has reggae and disco nights.
Tell me about your favorite up-and-coming musicians that not many people know of yet.
One of my favorites is an R&B duo called Jake & Papa. Their music is so soulful and sensual. My friend turned me on to them and I had the opportunity to go to a listening party. They blew me away. I also really like Jhene Aiko. She’s mostly known for being featured on Drakes’s track, but she now has an album of her own and it’s amazing.
Where’s the best place to go for a drink?
The Short Stop in Echo Park and Mohawk Bend to eat and to drink. I keep it simple with a vodka soda or something refreshing with cucumber and mint.
What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you order?
Sage is one of my favorites. It’s a vegan restaurant so I get the jackfruit nachos and the burgers. They also have really good vegan waffles and vegan ice cream. I could eat there every day.
It sounds like you’re really passionate about vegan food.
I am a vegan. It started as a challenge at work in January. We were only going to do it for 22 days. While we were doing it, I was training for the LA Marathon and I noticed how much my training was improving. And I loved it so I continued doing it.
Describe your perfect Saturday in LA:
Sleeping in, which rarely happens, and getting up around 8 a.m. Then I go to Marina Del Rey to Beach Camp which is a fitness camp run by my trainer. It’s perfect on summer mornings when the sun isn’t completely out yet and we’re by the water. After an hour of that and a shower, I meet my sister and girlfriends up for brunch and shopping. A lot of my shopping is done in boutiques around Echo Park, Silverlake and Little Tokyo off 1st street.
What is one thing everyone in LA should experience at least once?
The beach. To hang out, I like Venice. I run through the Strand that goes through all of the beaches. It starts in Pacific Palisades and goes to Redondo Beach. The best part is seeing how diverse the beaches are just by a few little miles.
This interview was conducted in August 2014 for LosAngeles.com. You can now find Krystal Bee on 97.1 Amp Radio on Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.
All WOCs of Life is a series of interviews with Women of Color in all stages of their life.