As a company created by two women, we know how important it is to celebrate women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. That’s why we’ve started our Boss Babes series. Each month we’ll highlight one woman who’s leading the way and is absolutely crushing it, in business and in life. Here, they’ll answer questions on everything from how they started out and advice they think every woman should know, plus their beauty routines and how they take care of themselves. This month: Thais Aquino, photographer.
Tell us a bit about yourself. You’re a professional photographer now, but you didn’t start your career in photography. How did you discover this was the path for you?
In this lifetime I was born in a Black-Indigenous woman body, I am a Brazilian spirit and a soul of the world. I love the mystery and the beauty. I moved to New York 5 years ago in reverence to the city’s glory and magic. I used to be a graphic designer in Brazil but I couldn’t afford to sit in from a computer screen all day anymore, I knew it was part of my destiny to expand my senses and create art through being with the nature of things, touching the earth, smelling fragrances, connecting with people, dancing with sunlight, exploring shadows, playing with the elements and the physicality of things.
One day I woke up and decided to explore light and shadow, I took my camera and invited my girlfriends to come over to my beautiful sun-kissed apartment in Rio de Janeiro. All the sudden I found myself completely taken by the magic of photographing the beauty and rawness in my friends faces and bodies, something in me started to shift, it felt like an initiation to my emotional self, grounded in sincere self expression. The self that sees God in all things, the self that seeks harmony where there is pain, the self that longs for intimacy and relationally with all life.
After a couple of months of intimate photoshoots with my girlfriends in Rio I made the bold decision to literally pack my stuff and move to New York. I remember saying “Mom and Dad, the best photographers are in New York, if I want to become one of the best I must surround myself with that energy, I am moving to New York.” Luckily I have parents that have supported me all the way, they trusted that something deeply artistic wanted to be revealed, the calling was too loud to be ignored. I moved to Bushwick and got myself an internship at a digital agency. After a couple of weeks, they started to hire me to photograph for their most remarkable clients, such as Bloomingdale’s, L’Oreal, Garnier, Men’s Wearhouse, St-Germain, etc. I was deep in the industry right away, I am so grateful for all the people that trusted in my work at the very beginning.
What were some of the challenges you faced as you launched your career, especially as a Brazilian working in a different country? How did you overcome them?
I think the most challenging aspects of my career launch are the greatest gifts. I had to learn how to be humble and have patience. I knew the agencies were taking advantage of me and paying internship rates for freelance work because of my skin tone and my Brazilian-visa-status. They knew that I ‘needed’ them. I never felt supported or truly appreciated by them, but I knew I needed to take it one step at a time and embrace the teachings, develop my skills, and get to know myself as a professional photographer better.
Now I have the privilege to choose who I work with. Back then I had to show up, play small and be grateful. I think I overcame that situation by seeing great value in the incredible human connections and laughter that I was able to have with extraordinary creative people. Some of them became really close friends who I now get to journey in many levels and adventures. I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe in destiny. We are here to grow and evolve in this lifetime, I trust that every job and every person that crossed my path had a lesson for my growth. There has not been one day that I had a hard time waking up to go shoot for my clients. I am so fortunate to have a fire and a will that keeps me humble and moving, passionate and creative, curious and inspired. It’s all about the relationships you make, the moments you share and the connection that blooms out of those spaces.
Are there any particular moments that stand out as a defining moment for you, either personally or professionally?
Absolutely! My spiritual path. When I found Ram Dass’ teachings my whole relationship with life, self and others changed. I got deep into my spiritual path and slowly started to transform my whole life to fit into the integrity and values I was developing as I learned that there is more to us than we can see. As I learned about loving awareness and oneness, I found purpose, life now had a meaning.
I think the stand out moment in my career was to realize that my mission as a creative would be to merge my spiritual path with my career. I am still doing this work and being patient as I magnify my spirit to only attract that which feels good and aligned with my higher purpose in this life.
Spirituality and creativity are the name thing. Sexuality and creativity are the same thing. I realized that the only path of fulfillment for me would be a path where I hold myself accountable for the ways I engage in the world. I believe I carry a responsibility as an artist to elevate the voices, stories and emotions that need to be heard. As a photographer, every image I create is an opportunity for honest self-expression, art-activism and conscious influence. People are deeply moved by images. If we are not creating visuals of beauty and truth, what are we feeding folks’ minds with? I believe in the power of storytelling and how it can touch deeper parts of our souls and awaken us to where we need healing and attention. I had a couple of highly sensitive people tell me that I am a healer. I am sitting with that thought and allowing that to unfold naturally… I am letting my art reveal the healing gifts of my soul.
You speak openly about your personal journey towards acceptance and self-love. How did your relationship with your skin, especially as a Black woman, change as you grew in your journey?
My skin is everything. The largest organ deserves our devotion and love. I grew up in a racist family, everybody was mixed-race yet they were racing to get as further away as possible from our Black roots. I remember my cousins and I would always put our arms against one another to see who had the lighter brown skin tone. It was a competition. That led me into years and years of trauma and self acceptance wounds. The darkness of my skin became the darkness of my life. It took me more than 20 years to realize that in fact I have the most beautiful brown tone, my skin glows as I gift others with my presence and now I am finally seen for the ancestor’s beauty that I carry. The world loves me now because I love myself. Simple as that. My journey with self-love is not different from my journey with healing the deep influences from my racist family. I am still grieving and finding liberation as I become more aware of society’s conditioning. It is sad and it is beautiful. My skin has it’s own voice now and it is the number one reason why I commit to make more art as activism.
What’s one of your goals for 2020? If you were to reach it (or have already), how would you define that success?
To be back in union with the divine source: nature. I want to end this year close to where the foods are growing, the birds are singing, the fresh water is running, I want to live a fully cyclical life. I’ve reached a point in my life that nothing really matters but my healing path and creativity aligned with the natural world. I have new gifts that want to come forth and I don’t think the concrete surroundings will allow that energy to flow.
I am not trying to say that my goal is to be in nature in a vacation mode, or extractivism paradigm, I don’t want to go take a cute vacation somewhere, disrespect the ancestral land, and behave as a colonizer in paradise. I want to ground myself with the soil and talk to the plants. I want to work with folks that are spiritually and morally aligned with my journey. I want to create more art through my integration with the earth and my emotions. I want to expand my career and nurture a creative life grounded in community support and shared values. My goal is to feel like I belong somewhere (beautiful) and I only have 3 months to make that happen before the end of the year. And I will.
What’s the best skincare advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t put [that soap] on your skin, you think something used to clean the floor and dishes are meant to wash your face?” Ha! My friend Luna hit me with this piece of advice not too long ago. I’ve been simplifying my life and the number of products I possess, I thought [a popular household soap] was perfect for me for it’s multi-purpose quality , especially when camping or traveling. But what I did find out in my late 20s is that it is the most invasive thing for the body. Since that day I got rid of all the soap in my shower, I threw out my scratchy sponge, the only thing I kept was the Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Cleanser. That thing is divine, and so good on my face.
What’s your favorite or most meaningful self-care ritual?
Deep bow to the Bath God. I have a medical condition that is recommended by my doctor to take hot baths 3 times a week. It’s been 3 years since that diagnosis and a true blessing. It’s a time that I create to be spacious within myself, a time to stop, pause and rest in warm healing waters. I don’t enter the tub without a prayer or permission from the water. I usually have an ask or two as well, haha. I think it is so important to rest and be with our senses, in the solitude of our soul, in the comfort of our hearts, in the womb of sacred waters. We are so trained to be worried about the future, anxious in the present, resentful of the past. Every time I enter a bath I enter a sacred space of presence where I am safe to feel it all. Emotions will arise, it might come with a cry, a scream or a song – the water is the medicine of release and support.
When I step out of the steamy bathroom I smell and thank the candles before I blow them out, I dry my body and I apply my lovely skincare routine: Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask + Watermelon Glow Mist. Hopefully it is night time and I am ready to enter into a dream world. Self-care rituals are essential for imagination and manifestation power. Be honest and clear with your intentions and wishes. You will get all that you can imagine. You are the creator.