BERKELEY (KPIX) — Most of us have heard the old adage that a picture tells the story of a thousand words. Paulo Orozco would agree, because he uses his camera as a tool to tell the stories of others in need.
Orozco’s photos are more than just a quick snap. Each is a carefully planned expression of his subjects most vulnerable selves. And each session’s location, lighting and even clothing are all chosen by Orozco, thoughtfully designed and curated to help his subject’s heal from trauma.
“I talk to people for a really long time — for a good 2-3 days, a week — until I really get a grasp of who they are,” explained Orozco of his process. “[I then ask them] ‘What is the problem or insecurity? Let’s bring it out subtly; not entirely.’ But we will get to it, you know?”
Those insecurities that we all have are the beauty Orozco sees through his lens. It’s a view the 19-year-old photographer is personally familiar with.
When KPIX first met Orozco back in 2019, he was a high school student at Downtown College Prep in San Jose. Back then, he was coming to terms with a heavy burden. As a young teen, Orozco had developed an eating disorder. He lost 30 pounds from his already thin frame.
“I knew it was toxic, ” Orozco said at the time. “I couldn’t control the people that wanted to be with me. I couldn’t control where I lived. I couldn’t control any of that, so I used eating as a control for me.”
During this time, Orozco’s hands became a measure for his weight loss.
“I used to like wrap my hand around my wrist,” said Orozco. “And that, like, used to be my measuring tool.”
Friends, family and eventually Orozco himself realized he needed help. He received counseling and, in time, the need to control his eating lessened.
As his healing journey began, Orozco picked up his camera and showed his hands to the world literally, in a series of deeply personal photographs. Each depicting what Orozco described at the time as the different emotions he and others go through when faced with an eating disorder. It was a brave act.
“I was like, ‘I am going to do this, even though I am scared,'” Orozco said of his decision.
Now a college sophomore at Cal Berkeley studying molecular cell biology, Orozco has turned his camera and compassion towards others. To date, he has completed around 20 free portraits for neighbors, friends and fellow students like Alexandra Quinonez
She says the sessions have provided a safe space to share her own health struggles.
“I’ve always struggled,” explained Quinonez. “I would eat, but I would never gain weight. I shared that with him and he was able to relate to that. That’s what I like, that little home and relationship we were able to build through that.”
Fellow Students Rising Above scholar Paula Marquez says she sees Paulo’s photos as a perfect conversation between photographer and subject.
“Everything is said. There is nothing that needs to be said. There is nothing that needs to be added,” said Marquez. “There is nothing that got missed in the communication or lost in the process.”
But for Orozco, who hopes to study medicine someday, the pictures are also a document of his own journey towards healing and service to others.
“I want to bring light to each person that I see,” said Orozco. “So let’s give someone the opportunity to like shine you know? Like outside and, like nature and photography, all that is really helpful at times.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there are services available to help at the National Eating Disorders Association website and the eating disorder hotlines page of Bulimia.com.