I had the pleasure of chatting with Zohn Mandel, the amazingly talented photographer behind our last two lookbooks for our summer collection. Zohn is an intuitive photographer, a Gemini and a true inspiration, living and working in the High Desert in California.
Q - How did you land in the desert? What was behind your decision to own a home and make a life there?
A - I first came to Joshua Tree with a grieving friend. I was driving with her back to CA from Iowa after her breakup. We stopped many places but by far the most powerful place was this desert.
I moved to Los Angeles years later after leaving an abusive relationship. Soon after moving, my ex moved to LA as well. I didn’t feel safe living in the same area, even being the large city it is. I struggled managing my anxiety ‘disorder’ so I would come to the desert on my days off to breathe and getaway. Sometimes I would camp alone, sometimes with friends.
I felt connected to Spirit and my magic again after a couple years of losing touch and was able to face my shadow work without feeling overwhelmed. I felt good in my body being wild and naked out here. I connected to something real and raw and wanted more. So I made my first ‘real life scary adult decision’ and purchased a home in April 2017. After working on the house, the plan was to have a sanctuary out of the city to go to, and to Airbnb for extra income, when I was in LA. That plan changed after I was integrated with the creative community out here. I said farewell to my beloved space in Frogtown and moved to the middle of the high desert. The feeling is unlike something I can put proper words to, but it’s a good feeling, and it’s thick in the air. It’s calming, quiet, yet harsh out here. A really potent kind of landscape medicine. It’s like this loud silence, and it gives you a choice for yourself and personal development.
Q - How has the landscape affected you creatively, personally and professionally?
A - As I was faced with moving myself here, I immediately felt space and silence to connect with my creativity, my grief, my happiness, my magic. I moved here in the month of April and soon after it was so hot, so I not only had movement going on with my spirit, but I was physically sweating out toxins of my mind and body.
I am doing more than I have ever done in my life, yet I feel like I finally have the space to do so. I’m incredibly sensitive to the energy around me, and this place grants me the space to maintain a professional life, spiritual life and creative life beyond what I anticipated. It’s the boundless landscape, the sunsets, the full moon shadows on the ground and the stars. It’s the people that share the same intention being here and the way all of our hearts have opened to each other and our dreams. It’s a truly remarkable place to live.
Q - One of the things I admire so much about you is your constant hustle and endless creativity throughout a variety of mediums. Whether you’re photographing, selling vintage or painting sandals, it’s inspiring to watch and be around. How do you make it work as a full time creative?
A - Haha, thank you. Like, any human I probably don’t see myself in the same light as other people see me, but I do know that I have been following my heart more in the last two years, and it has been opening up some really dreamy opportunities. I enjoy working with other creatives, mainly femme creatives, and I am inspired by the energy around me. I used to say no to almost everything. Since I’ve been more in touch with my intuition being here I’m able to now say yes to the things that feel right and the opportunities I KNOW are on the right path. Here, I’m saying yes a lot. To be honest, financially right now I can’t say it’s all exactly ‘working’ being a full time creative, but it’s making me happier than I’ve ever been and that’s all I really need.
Q - How long have you been running Photography by Zohn Mandel? Tell us more about the darkroom you just started in Yucca Valley, CA.
A - Photography has been my main medium for about 11 years now. I learned analog photography in high school and it got me. Part of my love with film though was the process. I have high anxiety, so processing film and printing in the darkroom is medicine. There’s many different therapeutic components to it. Patience, breathing, entering a cool, dark space, the sound of water running in the wash bath, seeing an image materialize out of blankness. Everything.
Always having a dream of creating a darkroom space, when I met Carly Valentine, a local badass and large format photographer, she mentioned she was dreaming up one somewhere in town and that was that. The first darkroom in the hi-desert. We sat at the coffee shop one day, talked names and dreams and soon after Carly had found a space and she started the process. The community helped with construction and together we manifested Dodge and Burn. The space is a darkroom, gallery and co working space open to the public with memberships available. We also sell film and cameras along with offering classes for all ages and levels. Carly brought in Ramona Rose who put in hard work with major love and us three babes decided that we would collaborate in making the space a non-judgmental, safe, feminist space for creatives. If you want to check out the process and stay in the mix go to @dodgeandburndarkroom on Instagram or https://dodgeandburndarkroom.
Q - How does your magical and spiritual practice influence your work?
A - My whole life is guided by what I used to simply call my intuition. Working and connecting more with myself and others I’ve learned that it’s deeper than that. I am clairvoyant and claircognizant, which for anyone wondering what the difference is, clairvoyants often see symbols and many other things like color etc. that can help them make sense and feel out their environment, and claircognizant is the intuitive ability of clear knowing with certainty but little explanation of how. Most people are one or more of the “Clairs” which one of my mentors Mary Grisley calls it. I think no matter what kind of work I’m doing- be it photography or anything else, spirit and magic goes hand in hand. With my photography, I create a sacred space of quiet before doing a job, make sure I have my little portable purse altar with specific items to help my work and come to my clients/day job/whatever with my whole self and spirit. If my whole self feels dark that day then I make that darkness work for me and let it motivate me.
Q - What are your dreams for the future of your home Desert Gemini? For your photography business? Or any creative dreams you’d like to share.
A - This is a big question because I have so much of that dream stuff inside me right now but currently, my main focus is continuing to cultivate a space for people to heal and manifest what they need to at Desert Gemini. Eventually hold classes and events that coincide with spirit and art. Rent it out for other creatives that would like to use it and anything else that fits into that bubble. I would like to keep shooting inclusive fashion and portraits working with and for people of color, all bodies and genders.
I want to play a lot creatively too and explore different avenues. I recently worked as Assistant Director to Marina Fini on a Nitty Scott music video, and it brought out another passion in me, so I want to explore more creative directing and managing work as well. This Gemini has got a lot of dreams, and I’m excited to see what’s going to pop up in the upcoming years.
Check out the rest of Zohn's creative endeavors here:
Magical Desert Home @desertgemini
Zohn's website here