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Some cultures believe that you capture a person’s soul when you photograph them. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but one thing is for sure; photographs help us capture the moment so that later we can transport into that moment and relive it through the photos. One can say that photographers look at other people’s lives through the lens of their cameras and the best ones give people the gift of lifelong memories.

This philosophy has guided Antonio Varela’s life. For as long as he can remember, Varela has always taken pictures.

“I always had a camera in my hand ever since I was a kid. I would spend all my money on new cameras. I was the one kid that took photos and video of everything,” said Varela, 30, who was born and raised in the Floreciente Neighborhood in Moline, IL.

Photography was something he loved passionately. His camera lens was always pointed at his family enjoying a summer cookout, or his friends having fun at the mall. Varela simply enjoyed capturing these moments.

“I love photography because photography can freeze moments in time and capture feelings.” This is what he loves most about photography. “Life is so crazy that sometimes we forget about small intimate moments. Being able to capture them – whether big or small, with a camera makes it possible to recall those moments forever or ignite emotions within us.”

It was by chance that Varela realized that photography could be more than a hobby.

“One day my cousin asked me to take homecoming photos and she liked them so much she paid me for them. From there on I started seeing a new possibility, ” said Varela about how he began a career doing what he loves the most.

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He laments that he did not get a chance to get a formal education in photography. “I really wish I took photography classes in school because it would have made it much easier than learning on my own,” he said. “I had to learn photography by reading books, watching thousands of YouTube videos multiple times, and studying work from my favorite photographers like Diego Huerta, Estevan Oriol, and Manny Ortiz.” Varela is self-taught and his work speaks volumes of his talent and eye as a photographer. He constantly tries new techniques and believes that one never stops learning to become a better photographer. That led him towards entrepreneurship. 

With his camera in hand and some recognition in the community, Varela launched his business, AJV Original in 2015.

“I cover special events and all stages of life when it comes to photography,” he said.

Varela shared that since establishing his business he has traveled all over the Midwest taking photos at various events. He even got a chance to photograph a destination wedding in Cancun earlier this year.

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“I really love capturing weddings and anything that has to do with representing culture,” he stated. “So far 2022 has been beautifully crazy for me thanks to all my clients.”

When the opportunity to work with Hola America presented itself in 2021, he decided to try it, knowing that it was a chance to expose a wider public to his photography.

“It has been an amazing experience from being able to climb inside the new I-74 bridge, to being able to see my ideas and my art on the cover of numerous issues.” Varela affirmed that working with Hola America has been a really great experience. The positivity is mutually shared by the publication. 

“I’ve known Antonio since he was a young child. Once I started seeing his work on social media it caught my attention” said Tar Macias, publisher of Hola America. “Antonio has a real talent to catch great moments that represent our Latino culture. Some of his pictures made some of my favorite covers for last year. The luchador Latin Thunder in action at Mercado on Fifth, and the picture of a young and proud Chicano with an Aztec dancer in the foreground from last year’s Mexican Independence Day Parade in East Moline are two of my favorites.”  

Sept 2021 Cover of Hola America

A photographer is a storyteller of sorts, and Varela tells stories through his photographs. From his days of pointing a camera at friends and family, to turning his lifelong passion into a beloved profession, he has captured happiness, surprise, pride, sadness, and everything in between. You can follow his business, AJV Original on Facebook to see samples of his work. Visit his website at www.ajvoriginal.com for more information but note, that he is in demand and almost fully booked through 2023. Dates are still available for 2024.

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