Storyboard: Elyssa Quesada

How life in the Marines prepared me for ArtCenter…and motherhood

It sounds ridiculous now, but for the longest time, I just didn’t understand photography.

Mind you, my family has deep artistic roots. To this day, my mom paints every day in her home. Growing up in Houston, I regularly submitted my drawings and paintings to children’s art competitions, often leaving with first place blue ribbons.

In my freshman year of high school, I took a brief respite from creative pursuits to recalibrate and focus on being a kid. Photography didn’t start to resonate with me until my sophomore year of high school. The moment I first held a camera in my hands, the creative inertia melted away, and my previous artistic inclinations took a backseat to my new lens on life. I was hooked.

My first camera was a Canon AE1: the definition of analog design. I remember feeling an all-encompassing exhilaration when looking through the camera’s viewfinder, attempting to appreciate the depth of what I saw. I had no interest in photo manipulation; I was purely interested in capturing a moment in time, even if it was imperfect.

I was thrown into the intensity of the Marine Corps at a young age and assigned the task of photographing my unit. I didn’t yet fully understand the nuances of photography, so how was I going to wrap my head around photojournalism? Simple: I chose to think of it as a visual form of investigative reporting.

I found myself curious about the backgrounds of those I was stationed with. Who are these people? What are their lives like outside of this place? What are their dreams?

During my term of enlistment, I struggled with imaging my photos. My least favorite part of the process was post-photographic manipulation. Since I was old enough to understand photography, I’ve always responded to more visceral, unfiltered images – men and women whose faces tell war stories, the detritus and clutter of military life. These snapshots of life at its rawest are what continue to fuel my creative journey to this day.

I brought that same simplicity from the Marines to ArtCenter. I was previously stationed in California and had always maintained a vague hope that someday I would end up there.

Post-Corps, I had intended to enroll at Brooks Institute in Ventura. But when the college was shut down before the fall term began, I found myself floundering without a place to turn.

To say that ArtCenter was a shock to my system would be a dramatic understatement. It truly was sink-or-swim. But I dove right in, just as I did in the Marines.

With the invaluable aid of the Ahmanson Veteran Scholarship Initiative, I’ve been able to take the pursuit of my dream to the next level. ArtCenter is so good to its veterans, and it’s an academic population I’m honored to be a part of. I can only hope that my work acts as a testament to their efforts.

This year, I became a mother. On the positive side, I have a pretty adorable model for my photography moving forward. Kidding...kind of. What having a child really means is that I have someone to work for, someone who I will always be there for. Being a parent gives urgency to my professional pursuits and a grander sense of purpose to my life overall.

Will my child grow up to be a creative? Who’s to say? Does it matter? He digs music, and I can see the light in his eyes when I read to him at story time. I really am lucky. I’m a Marine-turned-professional-photographer, and I’m raising a child who is beautiful and healthy. What better job could there be than to further my lifelong passion while bringing a new human being into the world?

Elyssa Quesada
Student, Photography & Imaging

With the invaluable aid of the Ahmanson Veteran Scholarship Initiative, I’ve been able to take the pursuit of my dream to the next level.

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