We had the good fortune of connecting with Deric Johnson and Anna Laura Sotelo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Deric – Anna Laura, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
Deric: I’m from North Carolina originally. In my younger years, I used to draw anime. When I was a kid, I had a very strong interest in comic books. Of course, when you were younger, everyone downplays art as a career, so I became a police officer, following in my mother’s footsteps. My mother was an example of beauty and strength, manifested in a 5’4″ black woman. There was no skill that she could not learn, no challenge she could not meet, no task that was too overwhelming. Where my mother was an example of being a strong black woman, my father influenced me in staying true to myself – regardless of judgment and perception. After 4 years of service, I decided to enlist in the military, where I met Laura, who also had an impact on my view of women, as strong. I have always found the female form beautiful – regardless of size or body shape. In my experience, as a police officer and an investigator for the Air Force, I began to see this world as a world of masks. Masks meaning, people hide their true selves and project an illusion to the rest of the world. As a boudoir and lifestyle photographer – my goal is for a female or male to fall in love with their true selves again. Because in a world of masks, it is easy to lose what makes you beautiful.
Laura: I am an Arizona native, originally from Sierra Vista. I was raised by my mother, a single mother, with a very strong identity tied to being Mexican and Latina. My mother was fiercely independent, still is. She raised me to be independent, strong. I learned what having a strong work ethic is from her and to face every challenge head-on. But for as forward-thinking as my mom can be, there were some values that as a Latin woman, were passed down to me. Think of all taboos tied to beauty, to tattoos on women, to sexuality, it was all there. Always looking presentable mattered. Proper women weren’t tattooed. Being giving was expected, not to be confused with being self-less. Sexuality tied to a woman, forget about it being mentioned. It wasn’t ladylike. It was just wasn’t talked about. But I was always mesmerized by the female form. In awe of the curves and sizes and how comfortable women could be in their own skin. I know I’m not the only Latina to say this, but Selena was a woman I looked up to when I was younger. She embodied female empowerment to me. She personified fearlessness in being Latina and wore her signature red lipstick – no excuses given. She owned her confidence. I learned how to dance and familiarize myself with the movement of my hips because of her. Because of her, I became aware that there is strength in being feminine and sexy. It can all exist together. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to destigmatize that being comfortable with my own feminity and sensuality did not mean it was sinful. I’ve learned to love myself, my own skin with all its flaws and imperfections – and it’s still a journey I’m on. I’ve learned to express myself with tattoos, regardless of it not being considered ladylike.
When Deric approached me, that Boudoir photography was what he wanted our “niche” to be, I immediately said yes, that’s it. We can help women rediscover their essence. Be that little nudge, that yes, you are beautiful, regardless of the pressures of society. Deric was that nudge for me. The one that challenged me to love myself for me, to be the most authentic version of myself, not the one I think people or even family want to see. And ultimately – that’s what the experience we want our clients to have.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Deric and I are in this together. We have different roles, Deric takes care of the lighting and technicalities, and is the eye behind the camera, as well as the one who does the artistic retouching of photographs. While I, (Laura) take care of the administrative side of things, but I’ll also guide our clients in posing and being that safe space, especially for the women we have worked with. The one feedback we hear repeatedly is that it makes a difference that we’re a team, but that I’m (Laura) also the one guiding them and being that female perspective in their experience in working with us. It’s extremely rewarding to see woman find their spark again. Deric and I would have to say our ability to communicate with each other and be open to being calling each other out is something else that has helped us. It’s not easy working with your significant other, and we have been very cognizant of separating work from the personal. Sure it gets tough, but we know that we’re building something transformative. We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well. Deric is the outgoing, social butterfly – talking to everyone he can about our business. I (Laura), can hold my own but am more comfortable handling the administrative side of things, which is not a strength of Deric’s (lol). But I (Laura) really enjoy working with our clients on set and helping them feel comfortable
Our business is starting to gain momentum, for sure, but we’re not there yet. Any challenges we have faced, we’ve stopped and dissected what went wrong and where we can improve or fix the issue or problem. We’ve had to research and run trials on different platforms and software to figure out what will work best for us and our clients. It has gotten pricey, but nothing great can be accomplished without trial and error. It hasn’t been easy – but keeping the open line of communication has been key to the momentum we’re gaining.
Our brand – our name, 7th Vizion is a combination of the both of us. Vizion represents the motivation of making the impossible, possible. The number 7 comes from Deric’s favorite video game, Final Fantasy 7 (lol). The hummingbird in our logo is in memory of my (Laura’s) grandfather, who has passed.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The one place we would definitely have to take them to is our favorite taco place, City Tacos, on 9th St and Bell. On opening day (we didn’t know it was opening day) Deric and I literally spent 5 hours eating everything on the menu. The food is absolutely delicious and the staff is extremely friendly.
Another place we’d have to take them to is Harlow’s Café, in Tempe. That is some of the best breakfast food we’ve had, and it has such a homey feel. Can’t go wrong with Korean BBQ either, that is another experience on its own.
Venue-wise, we really enjoy The Churchill. It has a little bit of everything, live music, food, and drinks. In the same area, is Pemberton. An outdoor space with various food trucks and drink vendors as well. Favorite vendor down there – Baja Fish Tacos & More. We have a thing for tacos!
First Friday would definitely have to be included on the list. A little bit of everything on 1st Fridays…music, food, art, clothes. But mostly just the experience of all the personalities that come out to downtown Phoenix.
And there would have to be one day, where we stay in, fire up the grill, have some beer or wine and just enjoy each other’s company. It’s nice to slow down every now and then.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Deric: My mother, father, and brother. And also, Laura
There are plenty of times I’ve wanted to quit and blame someone else and be resentful, however, when faced with such adversities, the weight of the world feels so much lighter when there are people that are willing to carry a piece of the load. Because of all of them, I can push forward by giving my best, without any regrets and fear of failure.
My mother first off. This woman has by example shown me what a strong work ethic is. She has always faced every challenge head-on and picked herself back up if she didn’t succeed the first time. I know what perseverance is because of her. But I also know what compassion and being able to forgive is as well. She’s tough but has her own special way of showing her love.
My son. He is the most levelheaded 18 yr old. He has such a strong sense of identity and does not compromise who he is for anyone. He leaves me in awe of how clear-minded and goal-driven he is. He inspires me every day.
My brother, who since childhood has always had my back, no matter what, and believes in me.
Finally, Deric, who challenges me every day and pushes me to face the unknown in ways I would have never done if it weren’t for him.
Keona G. @keonagibbs (1st boudoir picture) Katy D. @katydisz14 (2nd boudoir picture)