Brooke Holm: Teaching Young Storytellers in the Bronx

We end every year with the December Stories, a series of first-hand accounts of the ONA community’s work to leverage creativity for good. In 2017, ONA partnered with our friends at 100cameras—the storytelling-focused educational non-profit—to more than double their impact-to-date by sponsoring eight “Snapshot Projects,” which train and equip experienced photographers to teach the 100cameras curriculum in classrooms around the world.

We invited members of the ONA community to apply, and today we’re proud to have fine art photographer Brooke Holm share her experience leading a Snapshot Project in the Bronx with nine students at The Foundling’s Mott Haven Academy.

Teaching is something I thought I was never cut out for. I’m usually a little introverted and I slightly panic when I’m the center of attention. That must be why I’m good at hiding behind a camera. My first experience teaching, about 5 years ago, was so daunting. I was teaching people with no prior camera knowledge how to shoot and make their photos look great.

But while I was internally panicking, my students were LOVING it. They learned so much and asked me so many questions that I could actually give them the answer to. I felt a sense of elation with sharing my craft and helping others feel as inspired about photography as I am. It was really their reaction that made me keep coming back even though it was completely out of my comfort zone.

Cut to New York 5 years later, my involvement with the 100cameras program began with a meet-and-greet with one of the women on the team at ONA. Over coffee, I casually mentioned that I would like to teach again, and for a good cause. She mentioned ONA’s partnership with 100cameras, and that they teach kids photography and storytelling. I was instantly on-board, and it seemed like it was meant to be. It just aligned perfectly. The old nervous feelings about teaching definitely resurfaced but I squashed them with the reminder that kids, more than anyone, deserve all the help and inspiration they can get. Especially those who are underprivileged or underserved in the community.

Meeting the kids during our Snapshot Project in the Bronx was the best part of the whole experience. The energy in the room was amazing, from the moment I walked in, to the very last class. It never stopped. They were so inviting and eager to learn everything they could, and the moment the cameras touched their hands I could feel their excitement radiating around the room. They couldn’t wait to get outside and start photographing everything. Throughout the course, they learned basic photography skills in a technical way and a theoretical way.

They learned about storytelling and why their stories are so important. Having a child tell you that no one cares about their opinion and that their stories don’t matter is really hard to hear. This was tough to navigate, but with a lot of encouragement and by providing a creative outlet such as photography, the goal was to help them tell their story and better understand why it really does matter. Towards the end of the program, I definitely felt a shift of attitude, which was so nice to see.

Above: student work from the Bronx Snapshot Project. See more >

Just spending time with these kids and sharing my love of photography with them was incredible. I’m so grateful they gave me their time and asked questions and instantly welcomed me into their lives. I learned a lot from them too, and I am so fortunate for having the opportunity.

Learn more and view/purchase the student photos at on 100% of proceeds from the students’ photo sales will go directly back to their community; based on the current needs of the organization, the proceeds raised will help Haven Academy fund off-campus opportunities that provide enrichment not otherwise available to the population they serve.


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Brandon Ruffin: Bringing Muted Voices To Life

We end every year with the December Stories, a series of first-hand accounts of the ONA community’s work to leverage creativity for good. Earlier this year we met Brandon Ruffin—also known as @ruffdraft—an Oakland, CA-based photographer who combines portraiture and social media to build understanding, empathy, and connection. We asked Brandon to share what drives his work, and how moving home from Los Angeles, where he began his career, set him on his current path.

During my journey as a photographer I have become a true observer of human behavior and of life in its most spectacularly mundane moments. 
As I grew older and matured, I saw the world around me to be full of muted voices. When I returned to Richmond, California where I was raised, the harsh realities of life screamed at me louder than they ever had.

Injustice, inequality, socio-economic disparity, dreams deferred and dissolved. Families torn apart by the tragedies of homicides and substance abuse. So many things were happening inside the community I grew up in and communities like it all over the country, yet it seemed that no one was talking about it. It seemed as if the tragedies were looked at as just the norm, with no one to care. I decided that with the camera I had the power to bring stories into the light that often were overlooked. I began to find myself in those silent communities, talking to people. I found that the art of portraiture was allowing me to not just to be an observer of human stories but also the carrier of human stories.

What I discovered next truly helped me find purpose in photography. People wanted to know the stories behind my photos. People asked more questions about the life of the person in the photo than they did asking frivolous questions about technique and equipment. I discovered that people still wanted to get close to these stories about humanity even in a time when it seemed that technology was creating a wider gap of personal connection.

Through my pictures I seek to amplify those muted voices that so often come from places that the rest of the world looks past. The stories of lives being lived in silence. Portraits that aim to showcase the elegance of the beauty the prospers in even the most hostile of environments.

For me these photos help restore my humanity in a humbling way. It’s not always the photo itself but the story that led to the photo.

I hope that through my work I’m able to inspire others to be kind, empathetic, and take the time to genuinely interact with other people in a real way. I give lectures and workshops that focus in on building relationships with strangers and relating to another person as a human being who has value and is important.

I once took a photo of a man I had met who was suffering from schizophrenia. I captured a portrait of him and shared it on my social media. Later that day I received a message that brought gravity to the power of a photo.


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The man in the photo is schizophrenic and openly talked with me about his condition to the best of his ability. In return for his time he asked for a sandwich outside of the coffee shop we were standing in front of. I listened to him and shared a bit about myself. I never joined into any delusion or patronized him. I just listened and engaged with him naturally and authentically. (Oakland, Ca -2018) @fujifilmx_us #streetphotography #ruffdraftphotography • • • I recently wrote a article on my approach to street portraits and shared 7 tips that I think may help anyone looking to take portraits of strangers. Link in to the article is in my bio. Please feel free to share and leave feedback.

A post shared by Brandon Ruffin (@ruffdraft) on Sep 24, 2018 at 10:47am PDT

A woman explained how her son was schizophrenic, and she would go on to talk about how insanely hard his illness had been on her family and how the photo made her think of her son with pride in his strength. The sight of the man in my photo brought up strong emotions for her and she found it to be difficult to look at and beautiful all at the same time. It reaffirmed for me that photos contain power. They have the ability to talk to the viewer and truly tap in to the most intimate parts of the human spirit.


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Joe and Maddie Greer for ONA

Our first campaign of 2019 follows a young couple lost for a day in the timeless heart of New York City. Featuring real-life creative power couple Joe and Maddie Greer, the campaign was shot entirely on film by the Greers and cinematographer Bram VanderMark. See selects below, along with “Lost in the City,” a 3 minute short film on Super 8.

Joe carries the Bowery camera bag and Maddie carries the Savannah II crossbody

Lost in the City
Directed and edited by Joe Greer
Shot by Joe Greer and Bram VanderMark on Kodak Super 8 film
Music: “On the Way” by Steven Gutheinz

Maddie carries the Crosby camera bag.

Joe carries the Brixton camera and laptop messenger, Maddie carries the Savannah II crossbody.

Joe carries the Clifton camera backpack.

Joe carries the Prince Street camera messenger.

Maddie carries the Bowery camera bag.

Joe and Maddie Greer for ONA
Shot by the Greers and Bram VanderMark
Creative Direction and Concept by Joe Greer and Bryan Mochizuki (Creative Director, ONA)
Shot on Leica, Mamiya, and Konica cameras and Kodak and Ilford film stocks.

Below: Bram, Maddie, and Joe.

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Handcrafted: How an ONA bag is made

Following a recent visit to our longtime manufacturing partners, ONA’s creative director Bryan Mochizuki shares a behind-the-scenes look at the quality and craft that goes into every piece in the core ONA collection.

Since the very first ONA sample in 2009, we have worked with the same family-owned factory in the Dominican Republic. It’s where we still produce every messenger bag, backpack, and camera strap in our core collection.

Producing in this way allows us a high level of craftsmanship, quality, continuity, and heritage. The woman who oversees all of the materials used in our bags has worked with our factory for over 30 years and can recall from memory details of every design since 2009. We handcraft our products in small runs of 100 or 250 pieces—instead of thousands at a time—which allows us a high attention to detail. And given the geographic proximity to our New York headquarters, we can work together closely and collaboratively.

Each bag is manufactured entirely—from uncut raw materials to finished product—within the four walls of our two-story factory. An individual bag can require up to 5 hours of total hands-on work to produce, with up to 15 individuals directly involved and at least 3 quality checkpoints. And as all of our sample-making happens in the same building, the team that helps us develop each new style can train and work directly with the craftspeople who ultimately produce them.

First, on the ground floor of the factory, all of the raw materials—full-grain leather, 14oz waxed canvas, solid brass hardware—are assessed, cut, and prepared for assembly through a number of methods depending on the style. The materials are then carefully sorted and organized until they’re ready to be produced.

Upstairs, each bag comes to life—gradually, deliberately—through a number of individually-manned stations, each dedicated to specific pieces of the process: stitching large panels together, attaching hardware, fine details, edge-painting. Finally each bag is given one last check for quality before being placed in a dust-bag and packaged.

We are proud to serve a global community of photographers and storytellers, who value quality, craft, and process in their work. We seek to mirror that in every good we produce, through the people, technique, and heritage that we know goes into the final product.

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Photographer Profile: Laura Austin

Last fall, we launched our capsule collection with Passion Passport: five vibrant, limited edition colorways for their 5th anniversary. To celebrate the collection, we’ve asked five talented photographers from around the world to tell us about their creative journey and process, and put the bags to work in their daily creative lives. For our second profile—conducted by the Passion Passport editorial team—we spoke with West Coast photographer Laura Austin.

Above: the ONA x Passion Passport Bowery in Saffron.

How did you choose photography as your creative medium? I didn’t land on photography right off the bat. I explored several different forms of creativity before I ended up pursuing photography full time. I started off as a graphic designer, but after spending two years in a cubicle glued to a computer screen, I realized I didn’t want to be confined to a desk. From there, I took a job as the online editor of Snowboarder Magazine, where I was able to travel the world while writing and shooting photos. Once again, since I don’t like constraint, the box of action sports felt too limiting after a while. But it was at that job that I discovered travel and photography were my main passions… and now my camera has become my ticket to see the world!

How has photography changed the way you look at the world? Well, I’ve always been an observer — the quiet one who doesn’t say much but absorbs everything. This trait has simply carried over into my photography. I’m always scanning my environment, looking for those beautiful little details that would normally go unnoticed. That said, photography, in particular, has changed the way I look at and appreciate the nuances of light. I now get giddy when I see beautiful, natural light, whether I have a camera in my hand or not.

What goes into your creative process? It is very circumstantial, but I like to be pretty spontaneous when shooting, letting my reaction to the environment and subject dictate how and what I shoot. In my personal travel work, the only planning I do is choosing what locations I want to visit. From there, I just see what I’m inspired to do once I arrive. When shooting commercial jobs, however, I normally work within the guidelines of a shot list — so, more planning is required. In those situations, I tend to have a general shot in mind but still allow for some spontaneity. Personally, I think if you over-plan in advance, you’ll have tunnel vision on set and risk missing out on a beautiful moment you didn’t expect.

How does environment impact your work? In terms of the setting I’m shooting in, I treat the environment as if it were a character in a story I’m trying to tell. From where I stand, it is of equal importance as any person in the photo. I like to shoot pretty wide and pulled-back shots, so the model isn’t the only focus in the image. The environment completely dictates how I shoot a photo: I first figure out from what angle the background will look best, then I insert the talent. The environment in which I am shooting shapes the images I create.

What’s it been like to shoot with the ONA x Passion Passport Bowery? It’s been a great addition to my camera gear. Before I had this bag, I had to carry a pretty bulky backpack containing my camera and all my lenses — no matter if I needed all that equipment or not. So I would tend to only have my big DSLR on me when I was on a photo shoot. But the ONA bag is much more low-profile; I can comfortably carry my DSLR and a lens or two around with me on a more regular basis, whether I know I am going to shoot photos or not. It has enabled me to shoot more spontaneously in situations where I would have previously been bummed I didn’t have my good camera with me.

How did you approach shooting the “Saffron” colorway? It’s been fun to take a yellow bag and figure out how to incorporate it into the Los Angeles landscape. To be honest, I tend to escape the city to shoot photos, but this project challenged me to see this place that has become so familiar with a fresh set of eyes. By taking a closer look at my surroundings — specifically seeking out yellows to match the bag — I noticed details about my city that I would typically take for granted.

Why do you think collaboration is so important? Photography can be a pretty isolating career path if you let it be. You tend to only see things from your narrow perspective, but collaboration opens you up to new ideas and offers inspiration you might not have otherwise been exposed to. It can also be a pretty competitive field, so it’s always nice to have the opportunity to lift each other up.


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Announcing our London Community Photowalk

Next Saturday, February 23, we invite you to join the ONA team and notable members of our London community for a free photowalk in central London for photographers of all experience levels (click here to RSVP).

We will be meeting at 2pm at the new Aperture Leica location on Riding House Street, and our co-hosts include:

  • Jess Angell (@missunderground)
  • Daniel Harris (@danielalexanderharris)
  • Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)
  • Dan Rubin (@danrubin)
  • Zoë Timmers (@zobolondon)
  • Bryan Mochizuki, ONA Creative Director (@moecheezookey)
  • Jillian Wishart, ONA VP of Sales (@jillian_wishart)

Participants can choose from a few different routes, including one in the London Underground, which will require a Travelcard. You will also get the first look at some of our spring releases, and we will be giving away a few ONA bags and straps.

RSVP now >

Photo credit: Urban Koi (@urbanxkoi)


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Introducing the Sevilla camera strap

Today, we’re proud to release the Sevilla, an elegant, minimal camera strap, handcrafted from the same full-grain premium leather used to make ONA’s camera bags. Designed for mirrorless and film cameras—with a fixed length of 40 inches—the strap features steel keyring clasps and leather scratch guards. The Sevilla has been stress-tested to 10 pounds, and comes in a variety of leathers, with more to be added in the coming months.

As with all our products, the Sevilla strap is named after somewhere our team has traveled, in this case Sevilla (Seville), Spain, where our product and customer specialist Alondra Cruz Morales traveled a few summers ago. “My favorite thing about Sevilla was the culture,” she says, “and how embedded it was everywhere – from the food and architecture, to the personal style and attitude of its people. Sevilla has character and it is felt all around.”

One of the southernmost major cities of Europe, Sevilla is the sort of place you’ll want your camera on you all day, with a discrete strap that will won’t add weight or hassle. “It was so hot,” Alondra says, “but it somehow did not bother me that much, probably due to my discovery of Tinto de Verano, which means Summer Red Wine and is simply equal parts red wine and lemon-lime soda over ice.”

Since we first started sampling it last summer, the Sevilla has been a favorite of visitors to our office, and has already traveled halfway around the world and found its way into a few shoots—like our recent campaign with Joe and Maddie Greer (above). We’re excited to finally share it with our community.

Explore the Sevilla now >

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