PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with Photographer & Entrepreneur Jaime Kowal

Jaime Kowal’s (photo: Bridget Fleming) 14-year career as a freelancer photographer and multimedia producer has taken her to 23 countries spanning seven continents, providing travel and lifestyle imagery as a Creative Contributor for Getty Images, and to editorial magazines including Wallpaper, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and TIME.com. She’s been a guest speaker on photography and sustainability at distinguished events including the 2010 Pecha Kucha Night Vancouver to a sold out audience of 2200 people, the City of Vancouver Ideas Slam hosted by CBC Television and the Green Living Show, where she shared the stage with Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis. Jaime taught photography to students in the Himalayas on her global photography tour Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon in 2008. 

Her award-winning book, Waking Up the West Coast: Healers and Visionaries had a foreword written by Dr Andrew Weil, who was named by Time Magazine as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. 

Jaime is also the proprietor of two new businesses in Palm Springs. The first is a new desert chic boutique accommodation concept that just opened in Palm Springs called The Amado. The second is a coffee shop set to open this spring in the Uptown Design District—Ernest Coffee.

Kate Buckley: Jaime, I had the pleasure of meeting you through mutual friends at an art event you hosted during Modernism Week at The Amado. I was so impressed with your energy, enthusiasm, and entrepreneurial spirit that I had to learn more! How long have you been in Palm Springs?

Jaime Kowal: I visited Palm Springs over the holidays last year and fell in love with it. I immediately applied for the O-1 Exceptional Artist Visa so I could stay and work in the US, and it was six months before I even left Palm Springs to go home and wrap up my old life in Vancouver. I just fully embraced my new life and projects here. I literally had one suitcase of clothes and my dog and that was it!

KB: And why Palm Springs?

JK: I think that Palm Springs is one of America’s best kept secrets. Not only is the weather, landscape and architecture fantastic, but there’s a huge opportunity right now for young entrepreneurs. The barriers to entry are low. The city is supportive and welcoming to new business.There’s a new creative energy happening and it’s palpable.

KB: How do you deal with the summers? 

JK: I love the heat. I used to live in Santa Fe, NM and loved those hot summers. Palm Springs reminds me a lot of Santa Fe—there is a similar landscape, quality of light and appreciation of art, design and architecture. So many of my friends say their favorite thing about the summer are the warm evenings—it’s so quiet, and you can lie in your pool and just stare at the stars…

The_Amado_otrKB: You’re a young, hip, single gal. How do you find the social scene in today’s Palm Springs? 

JK: It’s a lot of fun. I have such a great group of friends. We spend a lot of time together. There is a very young, progressive community here all working on a number of interesting projects which is exciting. There is a real sense of support, collaboration and reciprocity. Socially, there’s a lot going on—there are always art openings, parties, shows and events. There’s a pool party every weekend. I have house guests almost every weekend—my friends are always visiting Palm Springs which is great. I’m never bored!

KB: I like people with a lot of slashes after their name, and you fit the bill: photographer/designer/developer/entrepreneur…and soon to be the owner of a coffee shop.  What’s the common denominator in all you do?

JK: I see all my projects as an outlet for creative expression and an opportunity to cultivate community. My background in fashion and photography over the years helped me develop my eye for color, composition, proximity, alignment and balance. It’s a great creative challenge to apply these principles to my other projects, which is what I did in designing and curating The Amado.
I’m really interested in the psychology of space and how the design of that space can act as a platform for all kinds of creative conversations or experiences. I love seeing how my guests interact and engage with the public and private spaces at The Amado. I’m hoping that Ernest Coffee will act as a catalyst for the Palm Springs Uptown Design District—a place where people can meet and connect and new ideas can happen.
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KB: Let’s talk about The Amado. I understand you spent six months renovating it yourself, and served as your own General Contractor. What led you to the project, how was the process, and what’s the current concept?

JK: I had just flipped a house in Vancouver and was looking for a new real estate project.  I had my eye on the market in Palm Springs for over a year as I loved the aesthetic and I thought it was good value. When I was visiting last year, I found The Amado pretty quickly and knew right away it was something I wanted to do.

The Amado was built in 1955. I converted the building from a long term rental complex into a new boutique accommodation concept. There are five suites in the complex – four one bedroom suites and one two bedroom suite. Guests can book individual units or the whole complex which sleeps 12-20 people. The Amado has already attracted a really creative, artistic client base from all over the US, Canada and Europe. The Amado provides an amazing arena for friends, families or colleagues to come together, relax and spend quality time, but it’s also attracting creative types who are booking yoga retreats, photo shoots and launch parties as well. Production teams are booking The Amado for photo shoots, and a couple of weeks ago we hosted a large architectural pop-up installation involving an amazing group of artists from a collective called On the Road Project LA, in conjunction with Modernism Week.

The_Amado06
I’m working with an incredible mixed-media artist named Cristopher Cichocki who is developing new works of art specifically for The Amado which add an incredible depth and texture to each suite. Last year, he was an artist in residence at The Palm Springs Museum of Art [read Kate’s interview with Cristopher here], and his work draws inspiration from the Salton Sea, so fits perfectly within the context of the overall theme which is inspired by the desert.

KB: And tell me about your latest project: Ernest Coffee (1101 North Palm Canyon at Via Lola) with your business partner, Chris Pardo

JK: Chris and I happened to move here at the same time and quickly saw the opportunity to open a coffee shop. We were looking for a place where we ourselves would want to go every morning. The shop is located in the Palm Springs Uptown Design District, in the space where one of the first Don the Beachcomber tiki restaurants was opened. There are still large tiki torches on the outside of the building which we are hoping to re-light. We named it Ernest Coffee after Don the Beachcomber’s first name. We’re serving Stumptown Coffee roasted in LA, and right now are in the middle of completely renovating both the interior and exterior space. The interior is bright, open and airy. We’re using a lot of natural materials. We are also building a patio that provides a beautiful view of the San Jacinto mountains.

KB: And you’re still actively working as an editorial and commercial photographer as well? 

JK: Yes. I’ve been shooting lifestyle, interiors, architecture and portrait photography for fourteen years. I just shot the new 2014 Palm Springs Tourism Campaign and work regularly with Palm Springs Life magazine as well. I also have a number of commercial clients in LA.

The_Amado03-2KB: Jaime, I’ve noticed that an obvious aesthetic quality runs through all the work that you do, though the end results may be different. How would you describe your personal aesthetic?

JK: As far as designing interiors, I really love simplicity and clean lines. Natural materials have a such a beautiful energy to them and I try to balance that with something a bit sexy to create some tension. I like a low key elegance using high quality materials. Minimal chic. Timeless.

As far as photography goes, I use natural light as much as I can because there is a gorgeous quality to it that you just can’t achieve through strobe. I always seek to strip the image down to the bare essentials compositionally and from there focus on capturing an authentic gesture and expression with my subject which becomes the main focus of the image.

The_Amado07KB: And what’s next for you? Any other projects we should look for on the horizon?

JK: I have a few new projects and collaborations up my sleeve, but for right now I’m focusing on the finer details of The Amado and Ernest Coffee, and making sure they are the best they can be.

KB: Where do you see Palm Spring in the next 5-10 years? 

JK: I think we’re going to see the creative culture of Palm Springs continue to evolve. A younger generation is moving to the desert and new establishments are being developed to serve their needs. A couple of great examples are Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club and Arrive Hotel, both still in development. The drive market from LA and San Diego is continuing to expand. Restaurants are staying open in the summer, and we’re starting to see steady tourism numbers throughout the year. I’m excited about the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center opening, and of course the new mall and re-development of the downtown core will completely change the face of the city.

KB: What do you love most about Palm Springs?

JK: There are so many things. The sunshine is phenomenal. The community is strong and supportive. There are great people living here. I’m learning so much about art and architecture. I love the design shops in the Uptown Design District, and there are some great restaurants. There is fantastic hiking and amazing mountain views everywhere you look. I love the proximity to Joshua Tree, Pappy & Harriots and the Salton Sea for weekend adventures. Ultimately, it’s just a lot of fun. People living and visiting Palm Springs are just really enjoying themselves.

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