Vanessa Granda is an NYC-based fashion and still-life photographer who looks to capture beauty in the ordinary. A Miamian born to Cuban/Lebanese parents, she’s the creator of Super Normal Magazine and the co-founder of Foam Studio, the well-lit Bushwick space we sit in as we discuss her career, heritage and thoughts on food.
I grew up in Miami and for us Cubans, food is so important. There’s these things called croquettes and pastelitos. If we’re at a party and you don’t have these foods, like why are we here? Do you know what I mean? Even at nail salons, hair salons, the dentist, they will offer you pastelitos, croquettes and coffee, definitely coffee. We just always have food around. At every gathering, every meeting. We’re always bringing people bread, cuban bread. If we’re visiting someone, we bring bread. It’s played a really important part in my life. Our identity is so rooted in the type of food we eat. Anytime I eat those things, it feels like home.
If we’re at a party and you don’t have these foods, like why are we here?
Being a visual person, I also like my food to look pleasing and color plays a big part in that. Don’t come at me with just orange carrots, I wanna see the yellow ones, the purple ones. Peppers too. I love the texture of Swiss chard and savoy cabbage.
Oh, and always dessert. Always dessert. I have a sweet tooth. I always need to have a dessert. Just a little thing. When I go to a coffee shop, people are eating croissants and I'm like, “No no, what’s that banana bread, olive oil situation?” If it looks like a cake, I’ma eat it.
I went to school for biology but I was part of the newspaper and they needed a photographer, so I became theirs. Growing up I always wanted to be an artist and I realized quite quickly that I enjoyed photography more than biology and I decided that was what I was going to pursue.
When I got here, I thought I was going to be a barista or work in retail, and I applied for those jobs but I never got a call back. Nothing.
I have a friend, Daniela, who's a photographer. I met her in Miami and a few months later she decided to move here. She convinced me to move to NYC and pursue it. When I got here, I thought I was going to be a barista or work in retail, and I applied for those jobs but I never got a call back. Nothing.
The first job I got was in photography and it felt like the beginning of something. One of my first shoots was in food photography. It’s not something I sought out but they said, “Hey, this is what we shoot,” and I thought, I can do that. It’s quite fun, it’s so colorful and so photogenic.
All my projects, I want them to feel like me. I always want to leave a signature. I always like a little bit of a human element to everything I do, things that are kind of off. A little... not too perfect.
I always want to leave a signature, things that are kind of off. A little... not too perfect.
There’s no formula and I think that’s what I love about photography. It allows me to meet so many cool people and see so many new products. All my life the challenge was working 9 to 5 and having to report to an office with all these rules. I was fired from all the traditional jobs I've ever had. I’m not a bad worker but my heart isn’t in it. There’s so many rules and I’m the type of person that needs to be a free bird. Photography has allowed me to be that way.
Being good at lunch is eating lunch. In my field, I feel like I constantly forget to eat lunch on-set. It's so insane because lunch gets you over that hump of the day.
I have tons of leftovers at all times. To me, it tastes better as the days go by but that’s a hot take.
I usually have tuna or leftovers. I don't know what it is about me — maybe it’s my culture to feed ten at minimum — but I don’t know what small-portions are, so I have tons of leftovers at all times. To me, it tastes better as the days go by but that’s a hot take.
My lunch today is a pizza but not like a regular pizza. Acorn squash because it has a curvy shape and it’s orange and green, red onions for a purple vibe, ricotta with thyme to add more green, then spicy honey for some orange, and the dough, of course, is a pretty taupe. Obviously salt and red pepper flakes. It’s fairly easy to make and I just like eating things that are beautiful and texturally interesting. Also, it tastes really good.
Super Normal is one of my most proud accomplishments. I just wanted to create something that highlights the beauty in the ordinary. I love ordinary things. When I do still-life, when I do fashion, I like the human element. Nothing’s forced. In the fashion world, everything can be so forced... inauthentic. So I decided to reach out to all these people I’ve admired for a long time and ask if they wanted to be a part of it.
I just wanted to create something that highlights the beauty in the ordinary. In the fashion world, everything can be so forced... inauthentic.
It took me two years because I was very picky about the design, paper and all the contents. I wanted it to be special and feel special. It does. It’s paper. It’s something you can touch. Anything in print is beautiful.
As for Foam Studio, when we came to New York, we desperately wanted a space that was affordable to shoot to get our creativity out. What we found were basements or not-great $30/hour spaces, and that’s what we used. We shot a lot in our houses or outside.
We wanted to provide what we didn’t have when we first moved here to younger, up-and-coming photographers: sunlit, affordable with the basic equipment they need to create something. It’s our way of providing the space we wish we had when we first moved here. It took us five years but it's okay. We’re fine. We’re here!
I have this space with my friend Daniela - the one that convinced me to move to NYC. My boyfriend’s in on it too. We wanted a fun and playful word, which I think “Foam” is. We went through a bunch of iterations. We had “Primary” studios, “Hot” studios but I was like, “Ahh... no.”
Sometimes things don’t have to be so obviously luxurious or beautiful. Things don’t always have to have whistles and bells.
Now we’re surrounded by the things that encompass our daily lives, the rituals we have every morning, the coffee we drink, our friends, a vase. Everyday objects that enhance our lives but we don’t always give a second thought to. Sometimes things don’t have to be so obviously luxurious or beautiful. Things don’t always have to have whistles and bells.
Words by Nayla Al-Mamlouk, photography by Elena Mudd