Manny Mares: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Design (VIDEO)

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You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Manny Mares.

The one-story house is on the corner of 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. He 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."

See also: "Urban Legend" Award Celebrates Creative Phoenix Pioneers in Honor of New Times' Fifth Big Brain Awards

26-year-old Manny Mares 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 and his family moved to the Valley in 2009. He continued to spend his time photographing musicians in spaces like the now-closed 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 shots and the rough composition of 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.

Video by Evie Carpenter.

"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 her 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 Magazine and 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 editorials 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 like 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."

Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.

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