ZULY GARCIA, 25, Los Angeles, Image Quality Expert, They/them, Oaxacan

Traveling back and forth with their father from Oaxaca to Los Angeles, Zuly Garcia found it difficult to assimilate to American culture and their Mexican counterparts. In addition to always feeling split in two between the two countries, they also faced brutal racism and had difficulty finding a supportive community. When Zuly was 15 years old, they began to struggle with their identity and loving themselves. That is until they found a creative outlet through Photoshop and photography. 

“I grew up with a Barbie film camera and I was always really into social media,” they said. “I had a computer at a young age, so at four years old, I played with my computer on MySpace and Tumblr and I think those things opened my eyes to different ways of creating.”

Coming from a family of doctors and engineers, Zuly lacked support for their creative endeavors from their immediate family.

“They [would say,] ‘Oh, you’re not going to make any money. You’re not going to be able to get a career; You’re going to be on the street,” they recalled. 

Luckily, they did receive support from one person – their uncle. He gave Garcia their first digital camera at the age of 15, the first step toward their blossoming creative career. With the support of their high school teacher, Zuly entered a film festival where they won first place and received a scholarship for college. At California State University, Long Beach, Zuly majored in Film, but realized it wasn’t for them. They changed their major in sociology and kept photography as a side hobby.

Today, Zuly has worked at Google for nine months as an image quality expert where they continue to translate their passion into their career.  Their photography work has been featured in NPR Latino USA, Nike, Foot Locker and Vive Cosmetics, focusing on natural beauty and body positivity

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

WHAT DO YOU DO AT GOOGLE?

I do so many different things. I have a better image quality of skin texture and skin tone. My team creates features such as Magic Eraser, which is basically Photoshop, but on your phone. For example, you take a nice photo in front of the Eiffel Tower and there’s someone with a bicycle in the background ruining the photo, you can erase that.

 I LOOKED THROUGH YOUR PROFILE AND SAW MANY OF THE PEOPLE YOU PHOTOGRAPH ARE POC, QUEER AND ORDINARY PEOPLE FROM YOUR COMMUNITY, WHY FOCUS ON THEM?

I think not finding enough representation is what really influenced me. So I hire walk-in models to just showcase. Even people who are not models are able to be on the forefront of modeling, to kind of uplift them and think, “hey, you know, you may not look like this person, but you are just as beautiful as this person.” Our people need to see our beauty too, in order for them to feel beautiful, because the lack of representation is what makes us feel that we need to get surgery or dye our hair blonde or wear eye contacts.

HOW DID YOU LAND A JOB AT GOOGLE? 

Google had this project called The Real Tone. Real Tone is led by Florian Koenigsberger and basically what he noticed was that the cameras on Google Pixels were a little problematic in the sense that it was not favoring darker-skin-tones. He created this project and basically hired photographers who specialize in photographing darker skin tone communities. He reached out to me in 2020, during the pandemic, while I was a delivery driver for a weed shop, and that opened up doors as a contractor to get hired full-time.

WHAT DOES IT FEEL AND MEAN TO YOU TO REPRESENT THE OAXACAN COMMUNITY IN GOOGLE? 

It feels amazing. I never saw my artwork as a form of recognition for being a person that craves representation. I feel like for me it was more. If you could see the beauty within yourself, then I feel like my job is done. It’s just more about being able to create those opportunities and give their people that confidence to kind of model or create art. I want people to feel that they have a platform too and they can talk about issues and they’re not going to be seen as problematic.

WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF THE CHALLENGES WHEN WORKING WITH GOOGLE AND THE MOST REWARDING PART? 

I think the hardest part about working at Google has been the fact that I’m a photographer who does not come from an Ivy League school, who does not have any degree in photography or knows what to do about computer science. I don’t know anything about UX (user experience), anything like that. The most rewarding part is definitely the benefits and the salary that comes with the job and just being able to provide for my family and being able to be stable. My family is undocumented and they don’t get to see the same opportunities that I did. I really just do this for them to be able to provide for them and for myself.

WHAT IS A RECOMMENDATION YOU HAVE FOR ARTISTS LIKE YOURSELF WHO WANT TO LAND A POSITION LIKE THIS? 

My recommendations and advice would be to advocate for yourself and to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to shoot your shot at people who have high access and resources to things. Even when you fall down, get yourself right back up, because as an artist, some things come and some things don’t. I think that’s the whole beauty of it is learning that process, which creates confidence to be able to confront these certain types of different issues that you’re going to encounter in the industry, whether it’s in the photo industry, film industry, whether it’s even in tech spaces like Google. I think giving up is not an option.

WHAT IS NEXT IN YOUR CAREER? 

I think right now what I’m kind of doing in my career is kind of exploring where I can get my feet wet. Now my career went from photography to art direction to production design to being in tech. In my next steps, I want to try to elevate myself to being potentially either a product manager or creating more products like this that are equitable for people of color, things like that, or creating features that are accessible to other folks on their phones when it comes to editing programs and things like that.To check out Garcia’s work, head over to her instagram @zulydelarose or check out her website at www.crenshawproletariat.com.

Nova Blanco-Rico

Nova Blanco-Rico is about to graduate with a degree in journalism from California State University, Dominguez Hills and is a freelancer for CALÓ NEWS.