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Behind the Lens: The Origin and Vision of DSTNCT Art Media

By Tammy Reese

Step into the captivating world of DSTNCT Art Media, where photography transcends the ordinary, and creativity knows no bounds. Founded by the dynamic duo, Dennis and Tessa Cruz, this innovative venture emerged from a chance encounter in 2021, blossoming into a partnership fueled by passion and a shared vision for pushing the boundaries of artistry. From humble beginnings to a thriving business, join us on a journey of inspiration, empowerment, and the pursuit of creative excellence.


How did DSTNCT Art Media come about, and what inspired you to start this venture together?


Dennis: An origin story of the company would have to go back to 2021 when we met, which was really a chance meeting in a hotel lobby in Atlantic City. I was the head photographer for a fitness competition, Tessa was a competitor who was arriving late to the hotel after missing her flight and having to fly into New York and drive three hours to New Jersey. She approached the owners of the competition to introduce herself and they introduced her to me. Afterwards, we happened to share the same elevator and, largely due to my smooth pickup lines (just kidding, they were horrible), the rest is history. We became inseparable. I was living in Canada at the time and she was living in California. I flew out to see her and before you know it, we were driving to Vegas to get married. As a photographer, what better present to give my wife than a lifetime of photoshoots, starting in Vegas. I quickly realized that my new wife was a little different. She took to modeling quite quickly and always with a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps what some would call “over the top,” but I realized that we could have this creative bond and push each other to new heights.


Tessa packed up her apartment and drove across the country to Florida. I followed a few weeks later and we were ready to start our new life. At the time, I was still employed by the fitness company, and we began working together on our photoshoots. Not long after, she was not only helping assist at my shoots, but she was helping models change, pick out outfits, mix and match accessories from her own wardrobe, hyping them up, and providing an overall amazing vibe and experience. It was a real “fish to water” kind of moment, and since then, It doesn’t feel the same when she’s not at a shoot.


We decided we wanted to start our own company so we can fully explore our own vision. We came up with the concept for DSTNCT Art Media in early 2023. We envision a company that intertwines a bit of fashion, a bit of fitness, and a whole lot of crazy ass lighting and set design. The company I was working for basically went under in mid 2023. Although financially this was and remains a burden, we are choosing to see it as a blessing because we now can focus solely on developing our own brand.


Who is your target audience for DSTNCT Art Media, and why do you believe your services resonate with them?


Our target audience is anyone who wants to step outside of his/her comfort zone and get images that will make you stand out amongst the plethora of images we see each and every day. Our images are crisp, sexy, and professional with a flair that is different; one may say that is DSTNCT.


We currently provide services for most everyone; from the experienced model, to the first timer, to the corporate CEO, and even to the cancer survivor who wants to celebrate life. We work events, fashion shows and restaurant functions. Our tag team approach with our clients provides an unparalleled experience that is unforgettable. Dennis is the artist introvert and Tessa the social butterfly and hype woman, an unlikely match that just kind of works. We create memories, not just beautiful photos.


Dennis, with your extensive experience as a photographer, cinematographer, lighting expert, and editor, how do you incorporate your unique vision and background in graphic design into your photography work?


Dennis: Graphic design kickstarted my career as a photographer in that it gave me a solid foundation in the area of composition, which is something that can take a long time to become proficient at as an artist just starting out. Being able to identify shapes, patterns, and lines in a frame and how they balance, lead, and affect each other is innate and allows me to focus on more important (in my opinion) aspects of photography: lighting and story-telling. My graphic design style is very much about sharp, angular lines and high contrast. I bring that same vibe when I shoot street and cityscapes; my favorite genres of photography that don’t include fashion or portraiture. I also often abstract everyday things and reduce them to a simple shape or form, taking on more of a graphic image than a photograph of something.


Can you share some highlights of your journey in the fitness and fashion industry, including your work with fitness shows, runway fashion shows, magazine covers, and your upcoming magazine launch?


Dennis: Though our journey has mostly been within the fitness industry, we’ve always aimed to shoot more of a fashion style. Bringing fashion style photography into the fitness world, with its muscular and toned bodies, can create some striking imagery. Many of my favorite images that I captured came from mixing these two worlds together. After the company that I was working for went under, it was a good time to take a step away from fitness and go after the fashion industry like I have always wanted to but was too afraid to do. We now have a few runway shows under our belt and are now connected to fashion agencies and fashion week shows in South Florida.


We have around a dozen or so magazine covers that we have landed for our clients. The biggest cover so far is FHM for our client Janine Pezarro. It was mind-blowing to see my work featured on the front cover of a magazine I used to see on the shelf at every store when I was young.


Before I was a photographer, I was the lead designer for a magazine, and I thought now might be a good time to start my own. I believe in taking people with you on your way up, so the purpose of our magazine is to feature up-and-coming photographers, models, stylists, and various other artists to help them expand their audience or receive recognition for their work. DSTNCT MAG will be taking submissions in 2024.

 

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Tessa Marie, as a stylist, fashion expert, model coach, and photographer, how do you approach each photography session to create a unique and unforgettable experience for your clients?


Tessa: I like to go into each session completely tailored to our specific client. I often check out a client’s social media to see where they are as far as experience level and creativity. I look at their features, their interests, and their current images to see if anything immediately inspires me. I will set up a consultation with our clients to learn more about them. I ask them if they want to step out of their comfort zone and put their trust in us to give them something new, different, and unique. Oftentimes the inspiration is right in front of you, you just have to ask the right questions. If a client likes vintage fashion, I lean into that, if they are into rock music, we go full throttle.


Photoshoots aren’t the time to be tame. If a client gives me the green flag and says the “I’m down for anything” line, I take that as free reign to be as creative as I can, often drawing inspiration from old fashion shows and my own favorite designers. The creative process continues on set, it’s a back and forth between Dennis, myself, and the model. Modeling can be so much fun, and my goal is to get our clients to realize it’s more than taking a sexy picture, you want to remember an emotion. The photo should speak to you. I keep this in mind during our shoots and often keep it very casual on set. More often than not, our models feel more like my best friend at the end of a photoshoot rather than a client.


Tessa Marie, you mentioned your background in coaching indoor skydiving and how it inspired you to push people to achieve their best. How do you apply this mindset to coaching and mentoring models to reach new creative heights?


Tessa: In all things I do, I want one thing to be apparent: my passion. Whatever it is I’m doing, I feel very strongly about sharing my passion with all those around me. When I was teaching indoor skydiving for example, it was very important for me to be a part of someone’s experience. For some, it was a bucket list item and for others, it was a way to build on their skydiving skills, but it was always very special to me that I’d get to be a part of their journey. Similarly, now that I get to work with models and help style them or pose them, I get to share my passion and be a part of their journey. I like to get people out of their comfort zone and give them a place to feel inspired. By getting someone to try a new outfit or hit a new pose, you can make them see themselves in a whole different way and maybe find a new, beautiful version of themselves they didn’t know existed. I find too often people live inside their comfort zone and they miss so many new and awesome opportunities because of fear. I help people conquer that fear. I guess you could say I believe in giving people the best and most memorable experience. Whether that experience is flying in a tunnel or posing for the camera, I believe in creating memories that will last a lifetime.


How has your partnership as a married couple influenced the way you work together and the success of DSTNCT Art Media?


Tessa: Working with your spouse definitely has its ups and downs. It can make it more difficult at times. For example, I’m sure I will give a little more attitude to Dennis than I would if I worked with a photographer I wasn’t married to. And there are times Dennis has snapped at me too! There are some times where it may feel a little difficult to get started working during the day. Most people leave home, clock in, put on a face at work, clock out, then return home. But our home is our work, and our marriage is also our business partnership. The lines are blurred and it can be stressful. But, in all honesty, I would not trade it for the world. We are so completely invested in our business and making it successful because this is our livelihood. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we are thinking about how to improve our business. We constantly have each other to bounce ideas off of and inspire each other. In our free time, Dennis will shoot me and we will practice new concepts and ideas. Other photographers have referred to me as Dennis’s “cheat code,” as he has a model to practice all his ideas on (if only we had the time to do all of them). Being married to my business partner pushes me in a way that I’ve never experienced. Also, as a bonus, our playful marriage banter often is a good icebreaker on set!


What are you most excited about for the future of DSTNCT Art Media, and how do you envision continuing to grow and innovate in your field?


We’re most excited to be fully immersed in the fashion world as a creative duo. Our dream is to shoot top fashion houses’ runway shows at the various Fashion Weeks in London, Paris, Milan, and New York. One day soon we would love to have our own giant studio in one of these cities to shoot fashion full-time and to truly unleash our creative potential. We want to grow by continuing to push the limits of our creativity and ability; to provide exceptional quality in imagery and in business; and to uplift all those that are on the same journey that have come after us so that they too can become successful and amazing artists in their own right.


Connect online:

Instagram: @dstnctartmedia


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TAMMY REESE


Tammy Reese began her career as a theater actress performing in 60 live stage shows a year with The Media Unit TV and Stage Production Company. She also directed the weekly live TV show Rough Times Live.


Eventually, she went to Empire State College to obtain her degree in media studies. After graduation, she did more theater and wrote and produced her own videos to spread awareness on social issues through the arts.


Tammy is an award-winning journalist and is best known for her legendary interviews with Sharon Stone, Angela Bassett, Jasmine Guy, Sigourney Weaver, Phylicia Rashad, Billy Porter, Steven Yeun, Luke Evans, Geena Davis, Morris Chestnut, Nelly, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Leon, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Giancarlo Esposito, Jennifer Connelly, Laurence Fishburne, Vivica A. Fox, Omar Epps, Joseph Sikora, Ryan Coogler, Hailey Kilgore, London Brown, Patina Miller, Malcolm Mays, Carmen Electra, Essie Davis, Donell Jones, Courtney A. Kemp, Theo Rossi, Skeet Ulrich and many more.


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I love this article. I remember my first photo shoot for modeling head shots with my Mom when I was 13 years old. Doing it as a family made it an experience I will never forget. We learned runway and mannequin modeling together. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. Our modeling coach is still one of my closest friends. We later did fashion photography together, and Bridal Shows at the Apparel Mart in Dallas! Working with someone you love makes every experience unique! Congratulations on Following your Dreams!

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