Photos: Jorge Villa
When seeking a vision of the contemporary embodiment of the Los Angeles renaissance man, look no further than Stevan Journey.
Despite having no academic background beyond high school, Journey started his adult life after graduation with one phrase in mind: eternal summer. After two years of background work and modeling here and there, he started to notice friends graduating with degrees, but didn’t see them immediately gaining positions in their fields.
“A lot of people have this period, in a sense, where they have to wait on it, and get smaller remedial jobs,” Journey said. “They’re using their time, but not efficiently. I feel like I make every week, every month, count.”
He spent his youth reading comic books, toying with the idea of going to school to become an animator, but in his adulthood learned that he could accomplish the same objectives through acting.
“I decided I really like narrative and telling a story. I was an animator and an artist. I was doing everything in my power to pursue this kind of vocational path,” Journey said. “Then I figured out I can tell a story with myself.”
In the prototypical postmodern way, Journey’s career first gained traction when he changed his Instagram handle.
“I felt like if I wanted to be taken seriously I had to have a handle that wasn’t like, BismarkLover49,” Journey said. “Literally a month after I changed it, I (was) flooded with work.”
Since changing his handle, Journey has traveled to Germany, Iceland, Japan, and frequented New York for work. He’s worked with MCM, shot for a Nike Airmax campaign and multiple editorials. Though his work predominantly exists in the modeling world, his true objective is acting, though most people don’t identify him as a pursuant actor.
“My favorite thing, the thing I love the most, (is that) a lot of people don’t know what I do,” Journey said. “I never say I act. I just do it. I want to be able to prove that I’m capable in this field, even though in my head it’s my main profession.”
Though he’d existed in the ether of the entertainment industry for years, he considers his work with contemporary artist and poet Martine Syms to be his first acting debut.
As is a trend in his career, he was connected to Syms through mutuals. The piece, which they filmed in a single day, followed a typical day in the character’s life, which included but was not limited to sobbing, talking to himself, masturbating, stating his mantras, et cetera.
“We filmed this short video about the mental space, and how people are able to not only transition but navigate through their own spaces when (they) are alone,” Journey said. “Seeing how one persona’s character explores his own space.”
After months of editing and coding on Syms side, the exhibition debuted in New York. At the time, Journey didn’t want to attend because he was nervous, a feeling he said he doesn’t experience often.
“I walk up the stairs in Chinatown in New York and there’s a giant photo of me, plastic, on the wall, shirtless,” Journey said. “And there’s like a hundred people in the room and they’re all looking at me and talking.”
On top of being ambivalent to receive so much attention, attending the event made him realize what working with Syms would mean for his career.
“I didn’t really understand the levity of, one, the work I was doing, but also, the amount of respect that she had already garnered in the art world,” Journey said. “She had worked with Kanye already. It’s commonplace for her to be in very high-powered environments, talking to people who actually shape our culture.”
The event was immersive for attendees, who could text a provided number and receive pre-programmed text and audio message from Journey’s character. According to Journey, the responses from his character allowed attendees to alter the narrative of the story. Despite lacking a cut and dry backstory for the character, Journey was astounded by the feedback he received, especially from people he had only known for a short time.
“I remember sitting there, being overwhelmed, sweating, and I feel a hand on my shoulder and it’s Gabby (who I had known for 36 hours at that point) and she has a very solemn look on her face,” Journey said. “She’s like, ‘This makes me very sad to see you in this state,’ because it was the part where I’m sobbing, and punching this pillow and having a mental breakdown. That for me was how I (understood) ‘Oh, I know I did something with my piece.’”
He acknowledges that the artistic purview of his audience will fluctuate. When he shared the piece, his followers either sent support or expressed their discomfort with seeing him in such a vulnerable state, despite its inherent inauthenticity.
“The biggest thing about acting, for me, actually comes from the narrative, being able to tell the story, but also being able to help people emote and feel something from the work,” Journey said.
But Journey’s job description implies more than just ushering empathy out of his followers.
“Half of my job is really about being myself, but also dressing well,” Journey said. “Dressing well is the first step (into) the door in any kind of social situation…. Especially being African American, I feel like I have to dress better to not be taken a certain way.”
As expected, existing in an image-centric sphere does have its downfalls.
Am I going to be this actor known for his ability to play across the board, any character in any situation? Or am I going to start off as, ‘Oh, my hair is cool.’
“There is a niche, a small grouping of afro-haired models in the US, and overseas of course, but in LA there aren’t too many prominent ones,” Journey said. “I feel like I’m starting to do more work, and kind of in that category where I’m distinguished by my hair, but it’s also kind of scary.”
In an industry where individually and idiosyncrasy can determine one’s success, Journey cannot help but fear being tokenized. He especially feels this during 70s style shoots, which he deems corny and played out.
“I’m not going to have this hair forever,” Journey said. “Am I going to be this actor known for his ability to play across the board, any character in any situation? Or am I going to start off as, ‘Oh, my hair is cool,’ and I’m going to play this character they envision with this hair.”
People have told him that he wouldn’t get far due to being underrepresented, that he wouldn’t be able to get enough work to make a name for himself, that his hair would box him into certain roles. Despite this doubt, he’s proven himself time and time again.
“I find that I have really skipped and jumped and hopped and slid through a lot of these borders people said (I would have),” Journey said. “A lot of the work I’ve been doing now, of course some of it does relate to my hair, but a lot of it is just really cool fashion-oriented pieces, and shoots where it’s really stylistic. This is an accent of who I am.”
Even with this portfolio, he realizes that he’ll have to up his caliber of work to fully prove himself.
“I’m getting more comfortable in the industry, but I have so much more work to do. I’m super behind,” Journey said. “I just turned 22 and I know people who are my age, the people you surround yourself with, the reflection of you… I feel like who I am, in my head, feels like dead last. I’m not doing the kind of work I should be doing.”
By social comparison, he may be carrying some cognitive biases. He’s associates himself with people trudging, often launching, steadily forward in their careers.
I’m a realist with optimistic overtones, I don’t want to lose that, but the odds of me actually accomplishing (my goals) with the best of my ability are going to be far and in between.
“Your friends are the biggest reflection of who you are as a person, so the people you surround yourself are going to be the identifying trait and factors of who you are and what you are,” Journey said.“For me, everything happens for a reason. If you’re not one of those spiritually or worldly people that have that idea, there’s a very literal (version).”
He refers to chaos theory, the idea that dynamic systems are highly dependent on initial conditions. From things as simple as being recognized in acting class or getting speaking roles during on-set auditions, Journey attributes a lot of his success to good timing.
“Every job I’ve done in the entertainment or acting industry has led to other things,” Journey said. “I’m a realist with optimistic overtones, I don’t want to lose that, but the odds of me actually accomplishing (my goals) with the best of my ability are going to be far and in between.”
He’s not floating through the Los Angeles ether, though. Journey is a compulsive planner with a 10-year plan in mind, broken up monthly and yearly and pinpointed by landmark successes to come. Having a vivid idea of what his future should look like helps him to be sure he’s not wasting a moment of his time.
“I’ve transcended all these boundaries. It’s about working smarter, not harder, at the end of the day,” Journey said. “It’s hard for me, if I’m being honest, to stand by that as well. I’ve always felt so blessed.”
Living in Los Angeles has certainly streamlined his success. Despite its shortcomings, pursuing acting in the city exists as a double-edged sword.
“Navigating LA, in a sense, is meeting all these amazing people. I’ve gone through a lot. I’ve had to do a lot of emotional labor. I learned what emotional labor was and how to trust people. I’ve learned what being let down means, being taken advantage of,” Journey said. “I just stay true to who I am and whoever attracts me, attracts me. I usually attract good energy.”
Coming into 2019, Journey hopes to circumvent issues he’s had in the past by setting guidelines for himself, which include no unpaid work and limiting himself to projects he personally believes in. After maneuvering his way through the entertainment industry on his own for so long, he’s also hoping to gain formal representation in the coming year.
“I’ve gotten so far on my own and people are astounded,” Journey said. “I just want someone to be looking out for me, watching my back. It’s also a validation thing, knowing that you’re good enough to be represented by this house of people.”
During his ascent, he’s tried to maintain a certain air of anonymity, supposedly coding his finsta in iambic pentameter and treating his Instagram as nothing more than a portfolio.
“I approach Instagram in a very specific way. For me, it’s work,” Journey said. “I make it engaging and I go from there. Of course I am very conscious of people’s feelings, because no matter what people say, we live in 2019 now, and you not following someone back is going to hurt their feelings. You blocking someone, you not liking their photo, it has an effect.”
A huge portion of his work comes through Instagram and through word of mouth, whether through agencies or independent entities.
“I hate when people are like, ‘I’m not that kind of person.’ We all are. We’re all in this generation where it means something. I’m still trying to get used to that,” Journey said. “A brunt of the work I get is (from) people who genuinely appreciate me and my work.”
Despite being hyper-conscious of what moves he has to make to create his idyllic future, his hope is affirmed by words from strangers.
“You know what I hear constantly? Every week, almost every other day. Having a conversation like this, just hanging out, random people or people I know, people I’ve known. ‘You’re going to be fine.’ Uber drivers, old white men, literally it’s a spectrum,” Journey said. “It’s just the most reassuring thing, talking to people about what you do and who you are as a person. But when you know it comes from someone important, someone who’s important to you, people who you trust, it’ll be fine.”