Manny Mares | Design
The one-story house is on a corner in a suburban neighborhood of south Mesa. The window is open slightly to let in a spring breeze, carrying with it the voices of neighborhood children playing outside. Manny Mares has a radio on — top 40 hits — but the room is thick with concentration, and no one is really listening.

"Can you —" he gestures to a brightly lit stool in front of a white backdrop. The small room, otherwise barren, is bright with Christmas bulbs strung on the ceiling. "I want to test the light."

Orange Theatre, Performing Art
Katie Johnson
Orange Theatre, Performing Art
Orange Theatre, Performing Art
Katie Johnson
Orange Theatre, Performing Art

Mares, 26, has been making photographs since receiving his first camera (a $200 point-and-shoot, as he describes it) as a high-school graduation present back in Edison, New Jersey.

Once he realized his friends were able to take pictures of the local punk bands he was listening to, Mares dove headfirst into the lifestyle, shooting groups around Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City.

Born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Mares moved to the Valley with his family in 2009. He continued to spend his time photographing musicians in spaces like the Clubhouse in Tempe, touring with the band Title Fight on the club circuit, and transitioning from concert photos to behind-the-scenes images.

When his digital camera broke on stage right before a tour, Mares invested in a film camera. The raw look of the resulting shots and the rough composition of Polaroid instant film drew him in. He began shooting friends in their homes. Those early prints became the blueprints for his creative compositions.

It was this kind of work that led to fashion.

"I was doing digital for awhile because it's easier, but there's definitely more of a feel to film — stuff that digital can't really capture, you know?" he says. "All those chemicals that add to the film definitely puts a layer on it. I'm in the process where I want to start doing film again.

"I wish I could have been taking photos in the '70s and '80s, because there [were] actually less photographers and definitely more people that were doing interesting stuff. Now it's just like everyone has a camera."

It wasn't until early winter 2012 that Mares began to photograph for fashion agencies almost exclusively, starting with a shoot of model Alexandra Smith, whom he had met via Instagram ( There, Mares met Smith's friend and fellow model Titus Fauntleroy, also represented by Agency AZ. He snagged some shots of Fauntleroy, too. Little did he know the model was going to show them to his agents and Mares' professional career was about to change.

Flip through publications like Arizona Foothills Magazine and Java — Mares' images color the pages. They range from American Apparel-style adverts (the company's bodysuits and undergarments appear in most of his early shoots) to high-fashion editorial shoots that have made it into national magazines like Runway.

These days Mares photographs for a number of agencies, including Ford Robert Black and Wilhelmina Models, and works with the likes of makeup artists Jess Fierro and Lizzy Marsh on rising models such as Sam Mershon and Kyra Transtrum.

But Mares isn't satisfied. More opportunities lie outside the Southwest.

"I want to do a lot," he says. "I want to tour with big musicians. I want to travel and see how far it takes me." — Janessa Hilliard

Ashley Weber | Design
Disembodied dragonfly wings, gemstones by the handful, teeth, and a variety of flora top the tables and fill the many tiny drawers in designer Ashley Weber's home studio.

The small space is jam-packed with baubles in various stages of completion and tools including dowels and a variety of colorful pliers that would look at home next to a dentist's chair.

Despite the methodical laboratory vibe, the jewelry she makes for her company, called against the grain, is inspired by the outdoors.

"Nature has always been the muse behind my work," says 28-year-old Weber, an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker who collects leaves during her exploits. "Every adventure I go on, every trip somewhere new leaves an impression, sparks a thought, inspires me to push my work in new directions and use my tools and materials in different, unexplored ways."

Lately, she's experimented with rolled organics to create rings and necklaces. It's a method that involves creating an imprint of a leaf or one of those dragonfly wings on metal. Once the imprint is created, the specimen is rendered crushed. So there are no repeats if something goes wrong.

"You're either devastated or you're like, 'Ah, that's amazing,'" she says.

The process is a challenge for Weber, who studied product design at ASU and found jewelry-making as an outlet for her creativity in a major that was more technical than she expected.

Weber has worked for another local jeweler (whom she'd prefer not to name) for nearly a decade, learning the business side of design and gradually taking on fewer and fewer hours there so that Weber can spend more time working on her own business.

Very soon, she says, she hopes to devote all her working hours to against the grain.

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I'm going to bookmark this article to send to people who think Phoenix is nothing but tired retirees, soulless suburban sprawl, and right-wing politicians.  Lots of innovation going on in America's sixth-largest and fastest-growing city. 

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