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Meet Kiva Meulenbeek

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kiva Meulenbeek. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
As a born and raised desert goblin, I had always sought out to find the things that sparked my interest in the open landscape of Arizona and chased after things that allowed me to create in whatever capacity that I was able to try. To feed the creative beast, as I like to say. My photography journey started about 5 years ago when one of my good friends gave me my first DSLR camera at the end of my college career. I attended the Film School at Scottsdale Community College with the intention of being a music editor. After realizing that I wasn’t built to sit alone in a dark room for days on end – I switched my focus to a strength that I had in project management: producing. After mounds of paperwork and obtaining a streak of grey hair I decided, at the very last minute, that producing was just something that didn’t fulfill me. 

In my very last semester of college, I found documentary and my mentor Emma which sparked something in me that I hadn’t previously recognized. Talking with people, hearing their stories, and capturing just a part of their essence was exactly the thing that I wanted to do – regardless of how that took form. Emma kickstarted this world for me and taught me countless important lessons and tactics to take with me into visual arts. She taught me that it was all about connection, meaning, and a fun mix of light and darkness. The theme of most of our lives. 

So, after I graduated college, I taught myself how to use the hunk of metal that was given to me and to turn it into a tool that allowed for a new life. 

For me, photography was just a form of capturing the things that I adored – it was a license to see the world through a literal different lens and gave me permission to capture the memories that would constantly playback in my head. It has single-handedly given me purpose in everything that I do (with a camera in my hands or not) and has connected me with so many gorgeous other artists/creatives that I cherish to this day. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
What fun is a road without obstacles to overcome? Of course, it’s been insanely challenging! Challenging in ways that I’ve never even thought would be possible. It’s been a crazy year ranging from trying to find my way as a young adult with things like learning about taxes while simultaneously trying to avoid our modern-day plague with work that requires me to be in direct contact with other people. I decided to go freelance full time at the beginning of 2020. I was fully prepared to fail within the first couple of months and was actively looking for any other ways that I could pay my bills and buy food. Starting a freelance job in the height of a pandemic? Yeah right… GREAT idea Kiva… 

My challenges still involve a light imposter syndrome, financial stability, creative drain or lack of motivation to keep things moving, and a disheartened feeling of being lost, unoriginal… y’know just morning coffee thoughts. I’m sure any artist reading this had gone through the same turmoil. I’m convinced these struggles only mutate rather than dissipate. 

Although, the support that I’ve received from the people that surround me has been overwhelming. It’s brought me to tears several times because it doesn’t even seem real. 

The freedom that photography has given me is the fire I need of overcoming these obstacles on a daily basis. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
If anyone has seen my photography it’s usually recognized by a black and white portrait that has a spooky element subtly wrapped around it. I’ve always has a fascination for the dark/creepy and love to incorporate those themes into everything that I create. Contrast is the heavy-hitter in any art that I make. I love simplicity in photography and stray away from big sets, props, and heavy colors to portray just small details that I often notice in those sitting before me. You’ll often see close-up and details shots at slightly disorienting angles to make you turn your head just a bit! 

When people show up for portraits, I almost never have a preset idea of what I want to achieve – especially for those that I’m photographing for the first time. I believe that every single person has at least one thing that you can connect over – no matter how different we all may think we are. The true magic comes out in the photos after I’ve had a little bit of time to get to know the person in front of me, to see how they naturally move and then they often show me a tiny spark of their “true self” that I recognize and need to capture. Interestingly enough, at this point, it never feels like work and like I’m just an observer of someone celebrating themselves (which is freakin’ beautiful!!!) 

This way of getting portraits allows me to feel truthful in my work rather than feeling like I’m projecting MY idea onto someone else. 

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Being happy, for me is the same as getting snapshots. A small checkpoint of the reality of kindness and vulnerability with another living being. I think happiness lives in those moments where you wish you could record and replay in your head. 

Small things like someone laughing at your joke, showing someone an unfinished piece of art and trusting them to see you unpolished, two people looking in the same direction at something beautiful, your dog being ecstatic when you walk back through your door, hearing that someone loves you for the first time or (my all-time favorite) someone bringing you food because you simply mentioned you were hungry. 

These small moments are what make up our entire lives, I think happiness lies in growing and honoring transactions like these throughout each day. 

Contact Info:

  • Email:
  • Website:
  • Instagram: @avikjm
  • Youtube: KJ Media Lab
  • Other: @kjmedialab (Tiktok)

Image Credits
Gabrielle Campbell
Luka Ciotta
Kelly Hajek
Marvin Rodriguez
Irma Ramirez
Rachel and Matthew Blackhert

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