A champion of women and the environment, the She-Hulk helmer shares what drives some of her biggest passions
“I love the process of researching a person, seeing what kind of images have been made of them in the past, and thinking about what I can do to offer a new perspective,” says photographer Amanda López. “Photography has taught me that everybody is beautiful. Find something that makes someone feel good and that’ll come out in the photo.”
Growing up in Sacramento, López always loved painting and drawing, but the minute she picked up her dad’s camera at 17, it was as if a light bulb went off. “I realized I really liked working with people one-on-one and I loved making portraits,” she says. To learn her craft, López spent a decade working in galleries and photo studios after graduating from San Francisco State, including a stint as L.A. photographer Estevan Oriol’s assistant. Today, she focuses on portrait and lifestyle photography and has worked with The Washington Post, Time, Netflix and Instagram. Her work, which often spotlights women of color, also appears in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and her work celebrating the cultural significance of door-knocker earrings was featured in MoMA's "Items: Is Fashion Modern?" exhibition in 2017.
We caught up with López for a conversation about beauty — and how her career has shaped her relationship with it — ahead.
What is your earliest memory of beauty?
Watching my aunt get ready for a date. She was living with my grandma at the time and I was young, and I remember sitting in her room and she was putting on foundation. I was so in awe of the process. I don't think, at that time, I had even seen my mom put on makeup, but I was watching my aunt and I just thought it was the coolest thing. What really stood out to me was the care she was putting into the application, and just wanting to look her best for the date, and also for herself. Looking back on it, it just felt like such an empowering thing she was doing.
Growing up, did you participate in a lot of beauty trends?
I grew up in a really strict Mexican family. My dad didn't allow us to wear makeup, so I didn't participate in trends until I started wearing makeup, which was probably when my parents divorced when I was 13 or 14. And so around that time is when I got to experiment a little bit in high school, with eyeliner and lip gloss and eyelash curling and stuff. I wasn’t super into trends. I loved a smoky eye, like everyone did in the mid-2000s
How does your Mexican American heritage shape your approach to beauty?
I have a huge Mexican family. I grew up being partially raised by my grandma — like me and my sister, my brother and all of my cousins would go to my grandma's house after school. And she was really into natural products. She had aloe plants and arnica, which helps soothe bruises. And I think that's kind of helped cultivate my love for what people call natural, clean green beauty. I grew up in a family with a wide trajectory of beauty routines and rituals. So like my grandma was very into natural beauty, like minimal makeup, you know? And then there was my mom who loved getting ready and putting makeup on, and my cousins with their eyeliner and dark lips and spiral perms. I really saw so many different styles of beauty and I think that helped me when I became a photographer, looking through the lens to really be able to see the beauty in everybody, because I saw such different examples of it in my family.
What are some of the overarching beauty standards in Mexican American culture, and did you hold yourself to any of them?
We watched Mexican soap operas when I was younger with my mom. It was a pastime that me and my sister and mom would do together. And I feel like maybe when I was younger, I internalized the standard of beauty as what I was seeing on TV — Mexican actresses who were really thin and had long, beautiful hair and their makeup was impeccable. It was very aspirational, though. It wasn't something that me and my sister could easily attain or recreate. And to be honest with you, probably for a long time, those examples were things that maybe I thought one had to look like to achieve a certain level of beauty, but then, you know, you grow older and you're like, that's whack. That’s a very Eurocentric or westernized standard of beauty.
Who do you look to for beauty inspiration?
My twin sister. She is a little fashion queen and she's also really up on trends. I feel like I express myself through my camera and my sister very much expresses herself outwardly with fashion and makeup.
What’s your signature look?
It’s monochromatic. I really like the Rose Inc products because they're easy and they work double time for you. I feel like the older I get, the more I want things to work effectively and also be multi-use. I love a bronzed look, I love mascara and curled lashes
What changes would you like to see in the beauty industry?
One thing that I'm really excited about is the shift in the beauty industry and just like media in general where folks are finally waking up to the importance of representation. And I think it's so dope to see differently abled bodies on TV and ads, and people from all walks of life and BIPOC people being casted in a variety of things. Just to see that representation is so important because if I was a little girl and was seeing the images that are available now to folks like on the internet or whatever, I would've definitely had different standards of beauty.
Any beauty tips you’ve learned behind the camera?
Face powder to matte things down is indispensable. And in general, when I'm taking pictures of people, I'll say, whatever the situation might be, that it's okay to go a little more heavy-handed on makeup because sometimes with a more natural look, lights will eat up the color. So you're going to want to add a little bit more than you might normally to really show up on the camera. Maybe not a lesson, but just a little trick!
Who would you like to train your lens on that you've not had a chance to yet?
I started my photo journey photographing all of my musician friends and for a long time, that was what I was doing — photographing a lot of musicians and early on, a lot of hip-hop musicians. But someone who's always stuck out to me is Carlos Santana. I feel like he's so legendary. He's got such a history in San Francisco and having lived in Northern California and San Francisco, I feel like that would be like a really special assignment. He also wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, "Samba Pa Ti." For me, it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. An instrumental that evokes so much motion. I also really like reggaeton, so I’d love to photograph Ivy Queen, who paved the way for other women artists in the genre. And she’s a total badass about women’s rights and liberation and body autonomy.
Best piece of the beauty advice you've ever received?
Wear sunscreen. Exfoliate. And find a good esthetician.
Photographer Amanda López taps into her music roots with her go-to playlist for working out.
Very Deep Skin Tone/Red Undertone
Deep Skin Tone/Neutral Undertone
Deep Skin Tone/Red Undertone
Deep Skin Tone/Golden Undertone
Medium Deep Skin Tone/Golden Undertone
Medium Deep Skin Tone/Olive Undertone
Medium Tan Skin Tone/ Peach Undertone
Medium Skin Tone/Peach Undertone
Medium Skin Tone/ Neutral Undertone
Medium Skin Tone/ Pink Undertone
Light to Medium Skin Tone/ Neutral Undertone
Light Skin Tone/ Warm Golden Undertone
Light Skin Tone/Warm Peach Undertone
Fair Skin Tone/ Cool Pink Undertone
Very Deep Skin Tone/Red Undertone
Sheer Coverage, illuminating, hydrating
Very Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Very Deep Skin Tone, Cool Red Undertone
Deep Skin Tone, Warm Neutral Undertone
Deep Skin Tone, Golden Undertone
Deep Skin Tone, Red Undertone
Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Medium/Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Medium/Deep Skin Tone, Warm Golden Undertone
Medium/Deep Skin Tone, Pink Undertone
Medium/Deep Skin Tone, Golden Undertone
Medium/Deep Skin Tone, Peach Undertone
Medium Skin Tone, Olive Undertone
Medium Skin Tone, Pink Undertone
Medium Skin Tone, Golden Undertone
Medium Skin Tone, Peach Undertone
Light/Medium Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Light/Medium Skin Tone, Golden Neutral Undertone
Light Skin Tone, Pink Undertone
Light Skin Tone, Peach Undertone
Fair Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Very Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone
Medium coverage, brightening, blurring
Light cool pink