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Lusting for Light

Breaking tradition to work in the Arts


Everyone who makes has felt it. There’s an itch, an unease—almost a scream inside—telling you you need to make. To create. Ashley Villanueva felt it her whole life, but like so many, she got busy.

She got married, had two children and poured years of work and dedication into her career as a surgery coordinator.

Then her hair started falling out.

“I think that really pushed me to make a lifestyle change,” Villanueva said. “I knew I couldn’t go to work every day, I was getting depressed.”

She found a bald spot on her head the morning of her daughter’s first birthday party. She had developed alopecia, a disease often set off by bouts of extreme anxiety, and it was moving fast.

“I didn’t realize the gravity of how bad the alopecia was going to get. I found three spots, then it was five, then six, then 10,” Villanueva told The Dirt. “It was stress.”

She researched experimental trials and drugs with painful side effects to help her keep her hair, but they didn’t address the root cause of her stress: a career that wasn’t scratching that itch.

Villanueva chopped what was left of her locks into a pixie cut and put in her notice. Then she grabbed her camera.

She had always photographed family and friends, but this time she stepped out of her comfort zone, sharing her personal story—and a booking calendar—on Instagram. And clients responded.

“My hair was ugly but I was creating beauty for other people, that’s what it felt like in my heart,” she said. “I always wanted to do something in this field, but the alopecia made it so I had no other choice.”

Villanueva’s photography is striking. It’s often dark and moody, usually un-posed. She leans into the mess and motion of life.

She’s a memory keeper, as a photographer. Freezing moments in time.

“Growing up, I didn’t feel like photos were very important to my parents. I want my kids to see every stage of their life. I want every season remembered. I think a lot of the photos I’m taking hopefully represent that,” she explained. “It doesn’t have to be a picture-perfect house with everything in the right place. Sometimes it is the mess, the photos of the kids chasing each other. When we’re old and dying, this is what we’ll have.”

Working for herself in such a creative way has been more than fulfilling. She’s a year into her career as an artist, her hair is growing back and she’s able to spend priceless time with her young daughters.

“I hope they see their mom did whatever it took to provide them an emotionally stable life. I don’t want to be too busy for them,” Villanueva said. “This job means I can turn it off some days. They can have sick days, or be sad. When I was working my traditional job, I didn’t have time. Now I’m making breakfast for them, I’m dropping them off at school and I’m there to pick them up.”

Villanueva’s photography specializations include the big things: weddings, families and newborns. But she also brings a new vision to photography offerings in Davis: her boudoir shoots repeatedly sell out, as do her styled mini-sessions.

The sold out shoots and long editing queues are proof that her work holds value. What she’s able to give her children—and herself—because of it, is so much more important than a paycheck.

“I hope they remember I did everything I could do so I could be home with them, but still feed my own dreams and fill my own bucket.”

Connect with Ashley on Instagram @LustingForLight

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