letters to friends


Donnel is a photographer based in “vancouver” canada. He recently facilitated a space where femme photographers can be centered via an online database that anyone can contribute to.

Initially, we were going to have Jeremy Jude Lee interview him and he interviews Jeremy since they collaborate so much, and know each other so well, and are so cute. Instead, we decided to re-navigate the article to talk about this important database, and the important topic that cis-males in masc dominated industries need to take the time to de-center themselves and how everyone can contribute.

Who are you Donnel? What is your Path?

Hey, wassup, HELLO. I’m a photographer in Vancouver by way of Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines. I work as an in-house photographer for Livestock Canada and everything kind of person at Street Dreams Magazine.

 I would say my path is to help people get to their next levels. Not just goal-orientated levels either. Emotional and mental levels as well. If it’s helping someone get a job, connecting people, or sitting and having a conversation with someone about what they’re working through. That’s my path for sure. That’s my purpose. Right now, photography is helping me do these types of things for people but at the same time, if someone told me I had to quit photography tomorrow, I’d be fine with it. Because I could be helping people in those same ways if I ran a coffee shop or a retail store.

I am a photographer but I am a human first.

If it’s photography right now then awesome, if it’s running a coffee shop tomorrow then, still awesome. 

What Energizes you? 

PEOPLE energize me. I always keep in mind that people need people. Everything from our morning coffees to even our cameras. A person invented this piece of technology that has created careers and made dreams come true for myself, Jeremy, and others. In all aspects, no matter how many degrees apart another person is from what we’re doing, another human has affected the way we live our lives. In turn, I try to be more mindful of how I can give back that energy in the ways that I’m contributing to the people around me, near and far. 

How did you get your start in photography and what advice do you have for photographers starting out? 

I started, not on purpose but not by accident either. I had this interest in photography when I was young but never really thought it could be a legitimate career until I was 20-21. My first paid gig was when I was 18-19 and that’s when I say I started. My friends and I started this agency called “Nonducor” and it wasn’t even really an agency, moreso like 19 year old kids doing personal projects. It was a lot of me, taking pictures of my friends and everything we did. But we did so many awesome things. We did a fashion show, made merch, built a rough draft of an iphone app, ran a 24hr online radio station, and illustrated & wrote a children’s book.

I KNOW those sound like very normal things nowadays but this was in 2009!

No instagram, no music streaming services, the latest iphone at the time was an iphone 3G !! That’s when I really started to explore photography and art and what it could do for the world and for me and how art impacts culture, society, and people. I really fell in love with it, still in love with it! 

My advice to photographers starting out is, DO NOT THINK ABOUT MONEY. This is not a profession where the money is going to fall on you from the sky and also not one that should be pursued for financial goals. We have to ask ourselves, “If we were going to make minimum wage or no money at all doing this, would we still be doing this?” If your answer is yes, here’s my next pieces of advice:


Time will be your best friend as you grow as an artist. Because you only get bettttteerrrr !! Artists have no “prime”. Athletes do because their bodies tell them, STOP. But for artists, man as long as you can pick up your camera and walk out the door.. We could do this till our dying day! Don’t be afraid to suck because we all make sucky things. Don’t make things because you want to share it. Just MAKE things. Take photographs of stuff you like. Try out different things, do fashion, do landscape, do weddings, etc. They all involve using your camera. Find out what it is you do love to do but stay open to different opportunities. What’s really the difference between shooting portraits of a woman in her wedding dress than shooting a model in a designer dress? Lastly just to add to my first point, if you LOVE this, the money will come. Meditate on “why” it is you have that camera in your hand. What does that “why” make you feel? Then take that feeling and find out how you can project that to the world and your community. Most of all, and Jeremy is the biggest example of this… be a nice fucking person. 

Be a nice person” is good advice. It sounds like you suggesting that folks should try to let go of striving for perfection? And/or to indirectly let go of it through a process of trial and error? Can you elaborate on that?

I think we’re always progressing. We’re always reaching new heights so what might seem like “perfect” or a “peak” is going to seem the opposite and defined differently as we grow in our lives. Like our lives, we experience highs and lows and changes all throughout. That’s going to be the same for our art as well. We may make things that are gonna live in galleries and others are going to live in the trash bin. We may fall into a lull of creativity and other times we’ll be running 100 miles with ideas but most importantly it’s just nice to be present and know that we can only be as awesome as we are right now. They say practice makes perfect, I’d like to think about it as practice makes progress. Whether we’re high or low doesn’t mean we’re not going forward.

Tell the class about the database of femme photographers and why you started it? 

Firstly, I want to say that I do not own this database. Just think of me as that kid in school that the teacher asked to put up a sign-up sheet for a club on the bulletin board. I thought of creating this database because I’ve listened to femme people who haven’t had safe and comfortable working environments/experiences. I’ve also heard from many of my friends that they’re always looking for femme talent for photography but just don’t know where to look. In addition, I’ve met so many femme creatives doing photography but for some reason, not a lot of them know of each other. When I shared this database for people to sign up I was met with a lot of comments about creatives on the list all following each other and how excited they were to find all this femme talent. I think this database is doing just as much for the femme photography community to create new relationships as it is for femme models to have more options and knowing they can be comfortable in entering spaces with these people.







How do you suggest that other male photographers de-center themselves? 

I learned a lot over the past few months about sitting back, listening, and learning how to use my platform to amplify voices that need to be heard.

The biggest thing we need to learn as male creatives that want to contribute in these types of conversations is that it’s not about us.

There is a lack of representation, opportunity, and featuring in the creative industry on all levels when it comes to non cis-gendered males. It’s our responsibility to highlight these voices instead of voicing what our thoughts are because we don’t need to take up that space. Space that isn’t ours. If we want to take action, take action in service to others and not for yourself. This database is not about me, it’s not even for me. I don’t even like taking credit for it because it was just an idea. I just took it into action. I hope that someone can look at this simple document and emulate it, make it better, spread it further than I ever could. I’ve told every person that has signed their name on this database to treat it like it’s theirs. I will keep pushing to share the database with everyone and keep amplifying the work of the artists on this list. Creating this database wasn’t me trying to make a separate space but using the space that I have, that male creatives have and joining the two.

How do you think male photographers working with “big brands” and set shoots can extend the love to femme photographers and other creatives? 

We as male photographers have to recognize that there are opportunities and privileges that are given to us because we are males. We have to know that there are situations that we can walk into normally that a femme creative has to over-exert themselves to just be let in the door because of society, culture, and unfortunately the views of people in our industry. To change this, it’s our responsibility to use our privilege to hold these doors open. Create more space. Share the space. Take yourself out of the space if need be. There is always an opportunity to make a change and make a difference.

Male photographers/business owners/creative directors and the like, please use this database as a reference on who we could hire for a job, hire for a photo assistant, and a referral database to our circles who need work done instead of hiring another male or taking the job/project on ourselves. 

Lastly, I want to say this… it is SUPER important to be showcasing femme creatives of ALL levels. We are still only highlighting the best of the best. Yet, we are always highlighting and featuring a male creative who has made 1 t-shirt or is an “up and coming star”. There is a huge gap between the young femme creative coming out of high school/college to Beyonce. There is a HUGE, HUGE amount of femme creatives doing so many awesome things all in between that are reachable. Someone who they can meet or know that will answer their DM. We need to show the femme creatives who are achieving their OWN levels of success and not just highlighting the Beyonce levels and telling young creatives THAT’s what you have to aspire to be to get through the door. We need more representation and story-telling of/from the work-in-progress femmes. We need to show them the power that they have, highlight the creatives that represent them, and let them know that they don’t have to walk on the moon just to be acknowledged. As male photographers holding those spaces that

We don’t need to be in the center of the space to make the change, but we need to be there to hold the door open and watch other folks make magic.

Donnel signing off 🙂

Link to the database below, sign up : ) 


Please feel free to contact Legends Cafe via email for info on navigating this “industry”. For advice, references on people, referrals for photographers, stylists, producers, and basically anything and anyone that you are looking for to complete or help your project.

Photographers featured in this article are:
Jess Sung
Akina Chan
Em Maric
Genevieve Diaz
Gloria Wong
Rosanna Peng
Cover image by:
Em Maric

Click through to the database to check out more femme creatives as well as add more non-cis-males onto the database if you’d like!

PS: Based on the project, the hiring crew on a production has the ability to suggest and enforce that a femme photographer/creative gets hired and or invited to be on set whenever there is a production. So much knowledge is accrued with experience and every time a production takes place (big or small) there is a chance for learning.

Sign up for our newsletter!