Immigrant's Dream

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The Immigrant’s Dream

Paula Nguyen Luu


I look out into the horizon
Wondering how far can I go
Scared of what I might find
Scared of what I might lose
Wondering what the next step may be
Which route shall I take
How long will it will take
What will be waiting for me
What will be my future


I took this image about 3 years ago with my first camera on our trip to Mumbai, India for our friends' wedding reception.

As we were eating breakfast at the hotel, I stepped outside into the beached adjacent to the hotel and saw different people working and bathing on the beach. It was a very foggy and overcast day. This one man stood out at me. He reminds me of my father and all of the other immigrants who have dreams of a better life for them and their family. Yet, they do not know where or how they can get there. Ironically, it was prefect that a plane and boat came into frame.

When I was 14 months old, my family tried to escape from Vietnam by boat. Not knowing what the future would hold or where we would be when reached land. My parents were ready to leave everything they knew behind for an immigrants’ dream of a new world and life. 

We didn’t make it very far out of Vietnam. My sister was lost in the mist of chaos. My parents and I were captured by the communists. We were put in prison that night. I can claim I was a convict at the age of 14 months.  

In that Vietnamese prison, I cried all day long for milk. The guards were so sick of the sound of my wailing that they had to go find milk. Instead of bringing me milk they brought me coffee. However, my mom made due with what they gave me and it settled me to sleep. Until this day coffee and caffeinated drinks make me sleepy. The next day they released my mother and I because they didn’t want to deal with my crying (I was always a savvy problem solver).

However, my father was kept in prison for over a year. During his imprisonment, the guards made my father make their clothing, because he was a suit tailor at the time. He soon realized that he needed to be bad at his job so that he could be release sooner. During this time, my mother had to take care of my sister and me by sailing bus tickets,  while holding a baby in her arms.

Fast forward seven years later, we received an acceptance letter from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service for my uncle’s application. So once again, my family attempted to leave everything behind: their coffee shop, their house, their mopeds, to pursue this immigrant’s dream. However, this time we left by plane instead of boat. When we arrived in L.A., California and stayed for two weeks then moved to Texas to join the rest of my father’s family. 

The immigrant’s dream seems to come true for my family, but they soon realized it was the “American dream” that they wanted for us. In order, to have the better life they had to work three jobs. As in The Hamilton Mixtape: “I got 1 job, 2 job, 3 when I need them…Immigrants, we get the job done.”

My father was a tailor, welder, and business owner in Vietnam and my mom was teacher, but when she came to the U.S. she had to work in the meat packing plant for very little pay. Then she eventually switched to working at a water hose assembly line in the Texas heat. But she said she didn’t mind because she made more money there and could switch to a morning shift so she could see her daughters after school. 

I remember she told me her full-time job with some overtime (60 hours) came out to be $378 per week. I came to realize that the reason my mom did not allow my sister and I to do any extracurricular activities like dance, soccer, or tennis was that our family could not afford it. Even though she wanted me to have these opportunities, unless it was provided by the school, they were prohibitive. The only activity she could manage was piano lessons, which was a real stretch for her.

Now after 25 years in the U.S. they finally paved the way for us to have some semblance of the “American dream.” The question that still remains for me is will the American dreams ever be a reality for me or will I always be an immigrant who’s chasing a dream that is unattainable?




Music History Opened My Eyes to Portraiture

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When I was studying music in college, the two courses that were required for all music majors were music literature and music history. While most of my peers dreaded these two courses, I loved them. If you know me, I am not a morning person at all, but I would come into class every morning at 8 am ready to learn. 

What I love about these courses is the history of art, events, and people that shaped the music of each of those periods. Understanding the different periods in history was the key to understand why the music, art, and architecture of that time was the way they were. Why during the Baroque period was the music is very busy, and heavy on structure and form? On the other extreme, why was it that during the contemporary period atonal was introduced? Atonal is a phase in music where sound was experimental and all of the rules of music were broken. Furthermore, to realize that there are different periods in history that create the different styles of music was mind blowing in itself. 

Often, people make a mistake linking all music history into one period and generalize the whole into two words “classical music.” If one listens to each of these composers, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy, they are very different and each of these composers are the superstars of their time. So, to summarize all traditional music to simply “classical music” is misguided. It’s like saying the 50’s, 70’s, and 90’s are all the same. The confusion for most is relating the word “classic” to the time period called the “Classical period."

During my time of studying music literature my favorite history period was the Baroque and Classical periods. At first, I thought this would be so boring to learn, but as I went through my history book, I had great appreciation of this period because there is so much depth and foundation to everything we have today. There was just so much I didn’t know. For example, I was once confused about the term classical music and classical period. Growing up I thought they meant the same thing.

When I first saw portrait paintings from the early 1400, I was in awe by these beautiful images. Most of the paintings where just a profile of a person’s face without revealing much of their clothing. This is when I realize the beauty behind the work of an artist. An artist has the ability to tell story with their work and vision, the ability to move people with solely their hands and imagination. There is a correlation between the craft of music, painting, and photography.

As photographer Peter Lindbergh said, “For me, every photograph is a portrait; the clothes are just a vehicle for what I want to say. You’re photographing a relationship with the person you’re shooting; there’s an exchange, and that’s what that picture is.” The more I read about these painters who would paint people with their different style of brushes and stroke techniques such as airbrush, dodge, and burn. This helps me understand that everything I do whether is music or photography has these same elements. Airbrush is blurring of imperfection to give you that perfect looking skin. If you know anything about piano that is exactly what a pedal does. The right pedal of the piano is to sustain the sound or blur all of the notes being played together. The pedal can also be used to cover up some imperfection in fingering or not holding the note or notes for full amount of time. In photography, dodge is to lighten in image. Burn is to darken in area in an image. A musical version of dodge and burn is like major or minor key or soft or loud volume; bass or treble range.

I think if these famous classical artists were alive today they would be amazed as to how their brush techniques had become the tools for major software makers, photographers, artists, and even everyday people. In today’s world of technology, we are so lucky to have the ability to snap an image then go to the computer and apply the different effects to the image. For the non-professional, a simple iPhone tap followed by some apps will get a picture ready to share in no time. That plain genius and efficiency. If these artists were alive today, I imagine they would say about these tools, “That would have made my life so much easier if I had all of this technology back then.” But if wasn’t for their hard work and dedication to their art, we wouldn’t have these styles and techniques today. Like my husband would say, “Just because you give someone the tool doesn’t mean they would know how to use it.” The tools in the right hands is the difference between a masterpiece and a failure.

Here are some examples of how portraiture developed since the 1400s. 

The first individual portrait paintings were profiles.

Pisanello 1395-1455, “Portrait of a Princess”

Pisanello 1395-1455, “Portrait of a Princess”

Then in the 1500s the subject starts to turn toward the viewer.

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Now the eyes meet.

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Then hands were added.

Portrait of a Young Man (The Broccardo Portrait)

Portrait of a Young Man (The Broccardo Portrait)


Then you see more body and the background is no longer plain

Leonardo da Vinci 1500, “Mona Lisa”

Leonardo da Vinci 1500, “Mona Lisa”


Then we add props.

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When I start to really divide into portrait photography, all I was thinking about was that I wanted to create an image that looked like a painted portrait. Not knowing until now that it was my fascination of music history that had drawn me to this style that I absolutely love to create for my clients.


Here are some examples of my version of making a photograph look like a portrait painting:

The profile:

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The face starts to turn toward viewer:

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The eyes begin to meet:

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The eyes meet:

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Hands became important: 

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Props are added:

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What’s ironic is that often times I hear people say, “I don’t want the old studio style of looking in the camera or posing. I like looking away from the camera like a profile picture.” But as you can see from the history of portraiture I presented, what they really want is the tradition style. The very first style of portraiture is the profile. Without the knowledge and an understanding of history, we will be misguided by the terms and words we use. Their true meaning will be blurred by today’s styles and trends. 


Paula Luu

Music Instructor & Photographer

Houston Creative Space






Videos from our Previous Session

Hi Everyone,

Fall is coming which means it's time to schedule your family photo shoot session for those holidays cards. Our team at Houston Creative Space knows that portraits are important to you. Families change so quickly. Children grow up so fast. New additions create new dynamics. This is why we want to help you capture this moment in time before everything changes again. Contact us for your next family or portrait session at or 281.684.4644.



HongAn's Senior/family Portrait

What an epic family session we just had. My cousin, Phuong, asked me to take her daughter's senior photos when I was in town visiting. We even had time to sneak in some family portraits as well. Sometimes an impromptu session can be the most fun. I had so much fun photographing this family and their free-spirit girl. The beautiful sunset at their 30-acre ranch certainly didn't hurt. Check out the highlights from their session.



Family Portraits by Houston Creative Space

Give her the gift of a beautiful, luxury portrait session. Celebrate the love you have for her with a luxury portrait experience that includes a makeover session, photoshoot, reveal, a keepsake folio box collection filled with her most cherished portraits, and a beautifully framed portrait for her wall. Gift certificates are boxed and elegantly gift wrapped to present and surprise her with!

Contact us at or 281.684.4644

The Kalra Family

What a great session we just had with the Karla family! Monica reached out to me back in January about scheduling her fairytale dream session, but wanted to make sure to include her entire family in the process. 

Monica was first "wowed" by her makeup session, and blown away by her reflection in the mirror. Not to mention, she gushed over her daughter's similar session, who just loved every minute of being pampered by the makeup artist.

I created custom made dresses for the ladies, as well as custom flower crowns to parade around in as we captured the spring evening at the park. 

I aim to make the final images and products worthy of princesses and the princes, through the entire process. I'm in awe of how Monica's presence was portrayed on camera, and I'm so excited to finally share a preview of her session! 


Portrait Session with Noelle

At Houston Creative Space, we aim to give each of our clients a super model experience for a day. Once in a while everyone needs to be pampered and find their inner beauty.

"What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create." - Buddha

Photography by Paula Nguyen Luu
makeup by Hoang Oanh
Hair by Abbey Barthauer
Dress and concept design by @Paula Luu
A Houston Creative Space Production

#houstoncreativespace #makeover #covergirl #fashionmagazine #fineart

The Bhosale Family

Here are some pictures from a family I absolutely adore. Priya is a physician and rarely has time for herself. So, we had a little mother and daughter makeover session for them. Then we had the boys join us afterward for the family pictures. 

I love what I get to do on a daily basis. As most of you know, I teach private music lessons also. As a private instructor, I am able to connect with each of my students more and be apart of their growing journey. Now, I get to help not only them (the student) but their whole family to capture that moment and let them see from my view how amazing their family really is. 

#motheranddaughter #houstoncreativespace  #lovemyjob

The Little Riding Hood

Wow! Wow! I had so much fun taking Addy's pictures today. Addy's been my piano student for number of years now. I have watch her grow in to this beautiful girl with so much personality. 

Stacey Lynn Baxter Petruszka and Adam had asked me to take her pictures for her birthday and their family portrait. So we decided to do a little red riding hood theme for Addy. Here is a little teaser. More pictures to come.

#photobypaulanluu #houstoncreativespace #portraitphotography#birthdayphotography #childrenphotography #photographybypaulanluu#littleredridinghood

The Lee Family

Hey friends, 

I wanted to share a few highlights from this really sweet and vintage family session we had in the studio on Sunday. 

Chrysa originally came to us with an idea to recreate an article from Vanity Fair and make it her family's own. They brought their own personality to the shoot, and I don't think it could have turned out any better. 

Sunday started with a nice and slow morning for Chrysa. She came to the studio around 9 am and began setting out her outfits to change into throughout the day. From there, she had a great session with our makeup artist who featured lovely peach tones, winged liner, and a nude lip. Honestly, the color palette she chose for Chrysa couldn't have been more perfect for her complexion. 

Once Chrysa was out of hair and makeup, the photo shoot really go started. She had a good twenty minutes to herself before Stephen, her husband, and her daughter Sophia, who is almost a year old came and joined her. 

Right away, Sophia was great to shoot. She is such a doll, and we couldn't stop her from smiling as soon as we engaged with her, making those moments with her family easy to capture.

As soon as we let her roam around by herself, there was no stopping her. She's definitely a bundle of energy-but it made for great images that capture her personality. 

Houston Creative Space was so happy to have you all in our studio! 

Heather's Boudoir Session

This past Saturday, we had the pleasure of working with Heather. 

She came to us a few months ago and discussed how she wanted to create a surprise for her husband's birthday in April. Heather took great care in making sure to keep this secret. Even in the midst of this surprise keeping, she came to the shoot fully prepared. 

Heather is one of those clients you wish everyone had the experience of working with. She was a natural in front of the camera. We kept asking her if she had been a model previously, but she only mentioned that as a child she did a little modeling. Experience or not, you can't put a label on the sort of charm she brought to her portraits. 

Saturday began with our signature hair and makeup session. We were focused on building the makeup as we went. We wanted our first look out of eight outfits to scream the lyrics to Beyonce's "Flawless". Light, fresh, just woke up like this. 

From there the shoot's tone was darker. It's a little grungy, a little high fashion, and a following urban theme. 

We can't wait to reveal these images to Heather in the next few days, but we're even more excited to find out how her husband reacts in a few months. 

Gettin' ready for Valentine's Day! 


The Thayer Family

I decided to shoot the Thayer family on a fall Houston evening in October. The sun was shining perfectly with just the right amount of clouds in the sky to help create really great shadows. The location had this whimsical feeling with oversized mossy doors and archways that light the paths.

The Thayer’s had that perfect photogenic side to them, and make it look so easy. A few snapshots, and a little following them around their adventures in the park lead to this great photo shoot.  

The little ones, Gracie and Brody, are full of busting energy that is portrayed across the camera in such a youthful way. My goal was to capture that innocence in their playfulness.  Peyton is a freshman in high school, and she has her future right in front of her to grasp. She’s a young lady now, and my goal with her was to create photos that showed her maturity, but also resembled the youth that is still within her.

I also wanted to focus on the aspect of family, and unity. These kiddos may be young now, and have their life ahead of them, but life is such a quick thing. Capturing how they look in this very stage of their lives, or how they react to the world surrounding them right now, was the key. I want Patrick and Rachel to be able to look at the their session in a year or ten years time, and be proud of how they’ve grown.

A Little Vintage

Growing up I have always loved the style of old film. I think there is so much drama and mystery in the images. As Phuc and I enter into our 6 years of marriage, I realized how much of his habits and interests I have picked up. Because of this, sometimes I have to compromise my own interest to his. Recently, as I begin to really dive into photography. I have found my voice again.

As I looked through my student, Elizabeth's pictures, that I took back in April. I thought who would be a great candidate for me to work on this vintage style than her? All of the years, I have been teaching Elizabeth, I have always said this girl has such an old soul for her age. She would always pick songs like "Danke Schoen," "Can't Help Falling in Love," "At Last," etc. No matter what latest songs I tried to give her, she would still come back to these oldies or change the new song with added soul.

Thanks Elizabeth for reminding me the beauty in an old soul. I will miss you dearly.

Check out Elizabeth's original song: