Conversation with Ilona Szwarc
By Paola Núñez Solorio
How did you begin American Girls?
When I first came to New York City I wanted to become a street photographer, so I began going out every day and photographing on the streets. Following the steps of master street photographers like Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand, I would go out on 5th Avenue and take pictures. I started noticing girls carrying their dolls that look like them and wearing matching outfits. At first, the girls just began appearing in the corners of my frames, then eventually I sought for them and I would stop them on the street and take their portraits. For the next two years, while working on my street photographs and on a personal project on the life of my mother-in-law, I was developing and researching the idea for the “American Girls” project.
My initial attraction was towards the visual image of girls walking around with their mini versions of themselves. I thought this would be very interesting for the photographs, especially with a long and rich history of photographers using dolls
(Laurie Simmons, Hans Bellmer, Cindy Sherman). The more time I spent in the US, I was wondering what it means to be a woman in the US and what it means to be
American. I was struck by the fact that the product was actually called “American
Girl”. I thought that it clearly meant that the company imposes stereotypes about who a contemporary American girl is.
To me it felt really exclusive – only about Americans and for Americans – and I began to wonder where do I fit in this scenario and if I could ever fit in. So the doll in the project becomes a vehicle for me to get access and to meet girls and their families, to see how they live, spend time with them and to discover what it means to be growing up in the US and what it means to be an American girl, that is — a future American women. I am interested how gender and identity are constructed.
In your project statement you mention that “American dolls offer an illusion of choice therefore an illusion of individuality”, do you think the illusion of choice extends throughout their life? What would it take for that illusion of individuality to become real?
Yes, in my statement I say that American Girl dolls offer an illusion of choice therefore an illusion of individuality, because the idea behind the dolls is that you can create a mini-me doll, a customized look alike doll, yet all of the dolls basically look the same. They have mostly the same features – the only choices that are given to girls are different skin colors (three: light, medium and dark skin), different eye colors (around forty options) and many hairstyles (more than eighty options), yet the basic face mold and figure of all dolls stays the same – slim, petite and androgynous shape. So I began to further question how is individuality manifested in this world and how is it communicated to children. As all the dolls really look the same, the only denominator of individuality relies in the hairstyle and fashion, of which girls are given the most possible choices. Constructing female identity happens through the choice of hair color and style, and the choice of clothes or fashionable accessories. On the other hand American Girl dolls create a false sense of physical identity. Although girls can choose from different skin and eye colors– all of the dolls evoke the features of contemporary American society: a very standardized, democratic look. They all share the same face features and body shape. However they show a significant shift from what Barbie’s troubling appearance was – they promote a body shape of a little girl, more on the chubby side, yet still very, very pretty. Although so many types of girls get represented, all are very slim, the boundary towards a fuller body shape is never crossed by the manufacturer. The idealized self is always slimmer than the real.
Do I think the illusion of choice extends throughout their life? Probably, if we are examining consumer choices. It occurs to me that even among adults consumer culture affects formation of individuality – for example a person who is perceived as a big personality, an extraordinary individual usually attracts the attention by the way they are dressed and then, by their performance. So self – expression, on a surface level, comes across through some kind of a fashion statement.
What do you think is the main difference between girls and boys role in this identity-individuality illusion?
I think I can only speak for the girls in the context of American Girl dolls, as I got to know them and hear their opinions. I also got a chance to examine a cross section of girls who play with those dolls and these are my observations. I don’t really know about boys, however even now when I think of it, I don’t think boys identify themselves and look up that much to role models from the culture. Perhaps I simply don’t know, but it seems to me that girls are more prone to compare themselves and mimic some influences from the outside and that it is particularly difficult for them to establish their individuality and femininity having to negotiate between different influences from celebrity and consumer culture, and school and family.
What do you seek in a photograph when you are editing your work?
I am seeking a surprise. When editing I try to remember what was the most surprising to me when I first got to know my subjects and their environment. I try to evoke that moment of surprise that I felt for myself then and make sure it’s communicated in the photograph that I present to viewers. I am also looking for a certain level of complexity- a tension between the subjects and their environments and how the two relate and influence each other.
What would you say was your largest obstacle in the project?
Something that I didn’t realize when working on this project was that, as an outsider, I had a different point of view on American Girls dolls. To me, it was a cultural phenomenon and a marker of time so I wanted to take a closer look and study the issues behind this trend. I was examining identity and gender in the context of American culture. However I found that many people would just notice the surface and view the photographs as if they were promoting those dolls. In that sense my work was much better received in Europe, where people would not have a connection to this product and would immediately see the meaning behind this cultural trend.
About the artist
Ilona Szwarc was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. In 2008, she immigrated to New York City, where she currently lives and works. Szwarc’s photographs have been exhibited internationally – in Paris, London, Bilbao and New York. Her work has been published by numerous publications worldwide including TIME, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, Surface China, PDN. She is also a finalist and winner of several international photography competitions and awards, among which are: PDN Annual Winner, Personal Category, People’s Choice Award, Photoville, One Life Contest Finalist, Artists Wanted: Exposure Finalist and Hub Scholarship, School of Visual Arts.
For further information about Ilona, visit: www.ilonaszwarc.com
Conversation with Beatriz Diaz
by Paola Núñez Solorio
Can you describe what is Geographica about?
Geographica is a series of imaginary landscapes of places that are located far away from the present. It is the memory that we have build of the landscape, rather than a documentation of a place. I was challenged by the idea of photographing a fictional place that only exists in a constructed memory that was once rooted on the real. This project is an exploration of the landscape through images where the demarcation between truth and fantasy has become blurred.
Why did you decided to make this work with past images instead of photographing present landscapes? And what are looking for in a reality that no longer exists?
This project resumes some of my main interests in photography: the power of abstract images, the idea of photographing the impossible, and the representation of nature. When I started the project I wanted to photograph an invisible landscape, my intention was to photograph the landscape that preceded me. The idea of photographing an impossible landscape was the main subject of the work.I used appropriated images because these have already a meaning and also because they have shaped our understanding of landscape. It is a political gesture that becomes significant in terms of ecology and civilization. By using this pictures I wanted to state how they have become part of what we believe the world is and how photography has shaped our understanding of landscape.
The original photographs are from my parents’ collection of National Geographic magazines. I grew up looking at these magazines like story books, so it was almost obvious for me that these were the landscapes in my memory and that I had constructed a memory of this places as if I had a true experience of them in the past. I am assuming that the places where the original pictures were taken have changed and, in that sense, it would be impossible to photograph today them as they were before. By appropriating National Geographic images of landscapes, I also want to address its role as a marketer of exotic locales; where photography plays a significant part in shaping fantasies out of what appears to be pure documentation. National Geographic has contributed to a definition of a way of seeing the landscape and remains successful to this day by delivering a mixture of fact and fiction.
Why did you wanted to remove a layer of reality in reality?
The way we imagine a place, the idea of a place, is pure image with no substance of physical presence. In the process of creating this series I started to remove layers of information, so the images became ethereal, abstract and minimal. I wanted to separate the document from its ground and to reduce the landscapes to a vague memory. By using a subtractive process I want them to appear as imaginary locales coming from the viewer’s mind, I make them appear invisible, timeless and immaterial. The process helped me break with the literal aspect of the photographic document by introducing the imaginary as an experience.
What do you try to evoke with these images?
I want the viewer to reach his or her own memory. Through this body of work I am proposing that the viewer thinks about the landscape photography, and about how photography has depicted that landscape by asking the questions upon the images: How do we imagine a place that has been shaped by a visual culture? Do we remember an image of a place that comes from a photograph as a real experience? How do we construct our notion of the landscape that surrounds us?
Nature is a recurrent subject along your photographic work, what does nature mean to you?
I am interested in the alienated relation that we have established with nature in the present. I believe this is more a dissociation, or a battle, between culture and nature. C.G. Jung wrote “I am certain there would be no spirit if it were not part of nature”, on the understanding that there are not two things, spirit and matter, but two aspects of one thing. This is the relation to nature that I wish I had. It is true that one of my main interests is the representation of nature, and I’ve been working with it for about six or seven years now. But when working on Geographica I also discovered many things about memory, perception and fantasy that I still want to investigate.
About the artist
Beatriz Diaz is a Graduate of Photography Video and Related Media at School of Visual Arts. She received her B.A. in Art History from Universidad Iberoamericana. Her solo shows include Nothing to Take, at One9Zero6 gallery in San Antonio, Texas and Mexican Photographs at Los Mexicanos gallery in Hamburg, Germany. She teaches at the Academy of Visual Arts (AAVI) in Mexico and writes for Fahrenheitº Magazine. She has been awarded with the Fulbright Scholarship, sponsored by the JUMEX Fundation/Collection and the Program of Scholarship for Studies Abroad of the National Fund for the Arts and Culture (FONCA). Lives and works in Mexico City and New York.
For further information about Beatriz, please visit: http://www.beatrizdiaz.com/
Conversation with Viktoria Sorochinski
by Paola Núñez Solorio
How would you describe a project like Silent Dialog?
Silent Dialog is a ongoing project that I have started to work on in 2011. It is about one of the most complex familial bonds – the one of mother and son. I have always been interested in people, relationships, moments of conflict with oneself and with others, unresolved issues, fears, pathologies, basically all those aspects which make us human beings. Prior to starting to work with this theme I have explored other familial bonds such as mother-daughter relationship (Anna&Eve 2005-2012), and father-daughter relationship (Daddy 2008-2009). These explorations have prepared the ground for my work in Silent Dialog. However my approach in this project is a bit different, because I’m working with different families and generations as oppose to those previous projects where I’m following the same subjects and constructing a certain narrative. In Silent Dialog my process is very intuitive, and even though it involves a certain degree of staging, I’m allowing quite a lot of spontaneity. I never plan my shoots in advance, and I often don’t even know my subjects prior to photographing them.
How do you translate a complex psychological relationship into images?
It is certainly very hard to translate someone’s relationship into an image. I don’t think that one image can possibly show all aspects and shades of any relationship. Therefore my goal is to capture something that may trigger thoughts or a subconscious feeling of something important that is hidden below the surface. A moment that is particular to those people that I photograph, but also something that may be recognized by other people. Something that we all, as human beings, may relate to subconsciously, because we are all sharing some common knowledge that is transferred from one generation to the other. I see my work as a kind of search for windows into “truth” that we often deny and hide from ourselves.
What do you look for in your subjects for the Silent Dialog series? How is the selection process?
When I’m choosing my subjects I’m looking first of all for interesting dynamics between the subjects which I can explore and investigate. However, I’m also choosing my subjects based on visual characteristics. I’m always looking for a certain expressive quality in the faces which will allow me to reveal the dynamic or the moment in the most eloquent way. All people and their relationships are interesting to analyze, but when it comes to image making I have to consider the visual aspect. I never work with models or actors. I’m working with real people. Therefore I’m searching for subjects who’s emotions and internal conflicts may translate into an image in the most meaningful way.
In your statement you mention that this project dwells in between documentary and fiction. All the subjects are real people. To what extent would you say that the people portrayed in this series feel represented by these images?
First of all, I’d like to emphasize that my work is still not documentary, and I don’t claim it as such. The only documentary aspect of it is that I’m photographing real people and real relationships, but the final result is a kind of allegory or fiction which is based on or inspired by the particular subjects. Sometimes my subjects feel that I really captured something true about their relationship. However, I don’t usually ask my subjects if they think that the image I came up with represents the true them. I think that it’s very hard sometimes to admit something like that even when it’s obvious, because I often portray moment of psychological conflict. I’m not a psychoanalyst, I’m an artist and I work from my own intuition and interpretation. I always show the images to my subject for approval, and if they say that they like it I’m assuming that they accept they way I have portrayed them.
How has psychoanalysis and other related schools of thought influenced your work?
Psychology and psychoanalysis certainly interest me a lot, and I read works of great thinkers in these disciplines such as Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Carl Jung, Julia Kristeva, and Micheal Gurian. I can say that I’m using my knowledge of these schools of thought to a certain extent when I’m photographing my subjects, and that it informs to some degree my images. However, I never make any straight forward references. Reading these books helps me to understand better human nature and to be able to analyze people surrounding me and myself. But I still work mainly from my own observation and intuition.
About the artis
Viktoria Sorochinski is a Ukrainian-born artist who has lived and studied in Russia, Israel, and Canada prior to settling in New York City, where she has acquired her Masters of Fine Arts in 2008.
Since 2001 she has been participating in various group and solo exhibitions and international photography festivals in Canada, USA, France, Italy, China and Georgia. She is also a finalist and winner of several international photography competitions and awards, among which are: Encuentros Abiertos, Magenta Flash Forward, PDN Photo Annual, Voices Off Arles, IPA Award ,ONWARD, Review Santa Fe, Descubrimientos PHE, BluePrint Fellowship, and many others. Her work is also widely published in internationally acclaimed magazines, among which are British Journal of Photography, EYEMAZING, NY Times, PDN, GUP, Le Monde, and many others, as well as in web portals worldwide.
For further information about Viktoria, visit: http://www.viktoriart.com
Conversation with Emily Schiffer
by Paola Núñez Solorio
Can you talk a little about how did you start your See potential project? And how did you get involved with the food security and the urban agriculture movement?
Food and organic farming have been important to me since childhood. I grew up working on an organic farm each day after school. This experience connected me with food and introduced me to the politics surrounding food production and consumption in the US. When I was nominated for the Magnum Emergency Fund Grant, I wanted to propose an emergency that has fallen below main stream media’s radar. Chicago’s “food desert” problem resonates with me, and fit this criteria. The See Potential public art project stems from my long standing desire to use my images for tangible social change. It evolved our of my relationship with community activist Orrin Williams, who has developed sustainable (and easy to implement) redevelopment plans.
In See potential you are working in partnership with organizations, artists and community leaders. Is this the first time that you do a project like this? And what are your considerations before starting this kind of projects? What does it take you to say “yes, let’s do it”?
I have worked collaboratively in the past on other projects, such as Cheyenne River and Natural Lang. However, this is the first time I have embarked on anything at this scale. I began See Potential because my partnership with Orrin Williams and the Center for Urban Transformation is solid. We enjoy and respect each other’s perspectives and ideas, and have easy and open communication. Without this dynamic the project would not be possible. Orrin’s ideas were already out there, and he was already in the process of setting them in motion, but instead of showing a written proposal only to the people who read those sort of things, I’m using advertising tactics to present his ideas to the community so we can engender support and put pressure on the administrators. Orrin and I really have a true collaboration, I’m responsible for the artistic side, and he’s in charge of the grass roots community activism and planning parts, but we discuss everything together.
Putting artistic concerns aside, what does See potential gives you as a person?
It gives me a place to channel my outrage about unfair social, racial, and class dynamics.
Some photographers say that doing a photographic essay consist of becoming invisible and blending into the community you are documenting. Do you feel related to this statement? Can you talk about it?
I can’t imagine being invisible, and I don’t think it’s possible or appealing to become invisible. On the contrary, photography is inherently subjective, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that our images are a visual extension our biases. Therefore it’s very important to be in touch with your personal stereotypes and perspectives, to examine and challenge them. I think all photographers strive to make their subjects as comfortable and natural as possible, but I can’t imagine anyone ever fully disregarding the presence of a camera. The relationships I build with my subjects drive my work, giving me insight, intimacy, and a genuine personal connection to the issues I photograph. My relationships also enable me to become part of the communities I photograph (as much as possible, in certain aspects I will always be an outsider).
You support a lot of social causes, do you consider yourself an activist rather than a photographer?
I consider myself a photographer who cares about the world and feels connected to the people around me.
About the artist
B. 1980. In 2003 Emily Schiffer received her BA in Fine Art and African American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, she founded the My Viewpoint Youth Photography Initiative on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, where she continues to teach and shoot. Awards include: a 2011 Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Grant, the 2010 Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Portraiture, the 2010 winner of the PDN Photo Annual Personal Project Category, the 2009 Inge Morath Award, presented by Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, a 2006-2007 Fulbright Fellowship in Photography, and recognition as one of the top ten portfolios for the 2007 Leica Oskar Barnak Award. Emily has exhibited her photographs internationally. Publications include: Smithsonian Magazine, PDN, Burn Magazine, and The Raw File. Emily lives in Brooklyn, NY and is available to work internationally.
Conversation with Minny Lee
by Paola Núñez Solorio
How did you start with Encounters?
The first image came about due to a class assignment at ICP while I was a student of the One-Year Documentary and Photojournalism Program in 2008. The assignment was to read an article about “Sleep” and to make an image to accompany the article. I had a vivid pre-visualization of what I wanted to photograph: the feeling of falling trees during twilight hours on a rainy day. I liked the results from that exercise but I didn’t continue as I was pursuing documentary photography. In October 2008, I met Italian photographer, Giorgia Fiorio. She encouraged me to continue photographing trees after seeing my tree pictures. Giorgia made me realize that I don’t have to limit my photography to any genres or subject matters. Instead it is important to pursue where my interests lie.
Can you talk a little about your childhood? In particular, can you describe briefly how your childhood is reflected in the project?
I was born during South Korea’s industrialization period. Both of my parents worked and it was hard for them to take care of both my sister and I. They sent me to my paternal grandmother from age 3 to 6. This event changed my life forever. When I reunited with my family, I felt alienated. When I was 7, my family moved to the countryside and that’s when I started interacting with nature. My father built a house on a hill and made beautiful gardens. I looked at the natural settings and observed how things changed over time. Later in my life, I lived in big cities but my affinity towards nature always remained inside of me. When I began the Encounters project, I felt happy to be able to connect with nature again.
Trees are the main subjects of this project. What do you find so appealing about them?
Nature has a lot of elements: trees, flowers, animals, rocks, water, wind, etc. When I began my project, I decided to first concentrate on trees as trees alone is a huge subject. When I started photographing trees, I realized that each tree has its own personality and character just like human beings. I am attracted to those trees with character but I am also attracted to small elements in nature. I am fascinated by how well trees adjust to natural environments. I also think trees express feelings by the shaping of roots, trunks, branches, and leaves.
In your artist statement, you wrote, “I am interested in the coexistence between absence and presence, past and present and dream and reality.” Is this something that you are intentionally looking for? Can you talk a little bit about it?
When I photograph, it is more of natural discovery of these things rather than looking for them intentionally. They coexist without defined lines. We don’t always live in the present and in reality. We constantly go back and forth between the past and present and dream and reality. From the absence of something, I can imagine the presence of something. When I am photographing, I am constantly revisiting different time and place and that makes photographing more interesting.
How important is the final presentations of your images? What kind of methods have you used to present Encounters series?
For me, how I show my images in their final forms is very important. So the thinking process doesn’t stop at shooting or editing but continues to the end of the “life of images.” When presenting my photographs, the viewers’ physical and direct experience with my images is important for me. For formal presentation, I mount the pictures bleeding to the edge. I prefer 40”x50” size in order to overwhelm viewers and make them feel like they are standing in front of real trees. I also presented an installation with prints hanging from the ceiling, moving to and fro due to an electric fan, and sounds of nature that I recorded during different seasons and times. When the viewers entered into the space, I wanted them to feel like they entered into a forest. I feel that photographs can evoke many different senses, not just visual sense.
About the artist
Minny Lee, a native of Seoul, South Korea is a New Jersey-based photographer and book artist. Lee is a 2008 graduate of the International Center of Photography’s one-year certificate program. From 2009 to 2011, Lee attended the Reflexions Masterclass in Europe, a two-year seminar which cultivates fifteen fledgling photographers by mentoring and field projects. Lee is also a candidate for a Master of Arts in Art History degree.
Lee’s photographs were exhibited at ICP’s Education Gallery in 2010 and Pingyao International Photography festival in 2008 among other venues. In December 2010, Lee’s tree pictures were included in the exhibition Giving Trees at 25CPW Gallery along with Magnum photographers’ works to benefit Green World Campaign. In 2010 and 2011, Lee curated an exhibition, Nature Within in two venues that examined photographers’ personal relationships with nature.
Lee’s photographs were published in several books including Fondazione di Venezia: Reflexions Masterclass IW (Italy), Novartis Campus Basel: Reflexions Masterclass IW (Italy), and Mois de la Photo À Paris 2010: Paris Collectionne (France). Her assignment works appeared in Newsday newspaper both in print and online versions. Lee makes hand-made books to showcase her works in more intimate and continuous form.
For further information about Minny Lee, visit: http://www.minnylee.com/
Conversation with Ayumi Tanaka
by Paola Núñez Solorio
How did the fairy tale, “Follow the moon and silhouette”, begin?
The rabbit from the moon said. ” I want to look over the world around me like a puppet theater. I wish I could give water to my dried flower again.” While she was daydreaming, I was trying to find precious mementos for her sleepy ordinary life.
We all grew up listening to fairy-tales and fantasies; can you describe what appealed to you to create a project like this?
I have been interested in the function of fairy-tales, not because of the fact that they are stories for children; instead, they actually employ several emotional elements such as desire, fear and nostalgia, which all human beings possess. Besides my childhood memories, dreams that I had, and emotional events in daily life inspire me to work on this project. I have been fascinated by classic optical devises, a pictogram, and mythologies.
Where do these fairy-tales come from? Where do they live?
I have been trying to create my own original fairy tails with a three-dimensional diorama by using photography. The stories are created based on personal experiences and dreams I had. By creating fairy tales, I play riddles with hidden story characters that live only within the world of photographs, and try to communicate to memories, which the story characters used to have.
How do you create images that you first saw in your imagination into real objects?
I make collage work by using transparency films. I try to layer complexity of emotional landscape in my fairy-tails, and compose images from my photographs, family albums, Internet, and anonymous photographs from antique market and by crafting shadow images of paper-cutouts.
About the artist
Ayumi Tanaka is a Japanese-born artist, living and working in New York City. She received a BFA from Osaka University of Arts in Japan in 2002, and studied at International Center of Photography in 2010. Her work has been presented internationally at exhibitions including ITEZA Sculpture Gallery, Kyoto in Japan, “Braking Boundaries III” Pingyao International Photography Festival 2010 in China, and “Of Body and Other Things” at International Center of Photography in 2010. In 2011, she recently exhibited her work at Sotiri International Prize Exhibition in Albania, Foto/Pods at the Dumbo Arts Festival 2011 in NY, and “Macabre & Mysticism” at 25 CPW Red Roots Gallery in NY.
Her latest work will be exhibited on her solo show at Pictura Gallery in Bloomington IN, 2012. She was awarded International Center of Photography Director Fellowship in 2010.
For further information about Ayumi, visit: www.ayumi-tanaka.com
Conversation with Viviana Peretti
by Paola Núñez Solorio
How would you describe “Desperate intentions”?
“Desperate Intentions” is a journey through New York, a chaotic and always too busy metropolis. The exchange of words, desires and memories that is typical of many cities often doesn’t exist here where solitary shadows cross the metropolis facing the paradox between the myth of New York as an island of salvation for many immigrants and the human desert that often welcomes newcomers.
Referring to this myth, the images of this project are charged with a sense of solitude and nostalgic isolation. How do you explain this feeling?
The inspiration for the series “Desperate Intentions” came as natural response to what I experienced when I arrived in New York after living almost a decade in Colombia. The warm and friendly welcome I received in South America that made me feel immediately at home, was replaced by the vertigo indifference of a city where everyone is always too busy and focused on himself and his small universe made just of duties and obligations.
Is that why you decided to shoot in black and white using a panoramic camera? Do you think it contributes to conveying this feeling of coldness and indifference?
I didn’t plan to shoot in black and white or go back to analog photography after years shooting digital and mostly in color, but once again it was something that came to me as an obvious response to this city and my life in it. Octavio Paz used to say that “reality is more real in black and white” and for me NY is more true in black and white, without the distraction of the color that makes it looks so glamorous and fake, the set of a movie devoid of reality. The decision to shoot with a panoramic camera was also a kind of accident. I started using the Widelux that allowed me to show the mood of the metropolis, a kind of “how life feels in this city”. But I also mixed the panoramic format with the 4:6 one to make the series more dynamic.
What was your experience taking photographs of New York, a city that has been photographed more than any other? Was it difficult?
It wasn’t at all. I don’t look for inspiration in the work of other photographers; I don’t want to be inspired by others. I respond to places by taking pictures; I love to discover a new city walking around without a plan or photographic target. How the city feels to me and how I feel in the city; what surprise me; what gives me different emotions; what language a new place and its human soul speaks, these are the only things that matter when I’m out taking pictures. Sometimes from this first exploration and response to a new place, other photographic plans come that generally end in a series about some specific aspect of a place, city or community.
About the artist
Viviana Peretti is a freelance photographer based in New York. In 2000, after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Rome, she moved to Colombia where she specialized in Photojournalism and spent nine years working as a freelance photographer. In 2010 she graduated in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from the International Center of Photography.
She has received fellowships and awards from the International Center of Photography, the Joannie M. Chen Fund in New York, the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Embassy in Colombia, the Photo Museum in Bogotá, and the Colombian Ministry of Culture. She has been published in a number of international newspapers and magazines including The New York Times.
Conversation with Alejandra Ugarte Bedwell
by Paola Núñez Solorio
How does a project like “this place meant” begin?
“This place meant” was the body of work created as part of my MFA thesis show and it came from an emotional place of feeling out of place here, in a foreign country, in my country and constantly in my shoes. The way the wordplay in the title worked planted doubt and question when confronted with the images, that did not made things clear but only reinforced a sense of missing part of the story.
In this project, you have a set of images that if you look at just a few of them, you wouldn’t think that they are part of a series, but once that you have seen the entire set, you get a feeling that they are all connected, which I find fascinating. How do you achieve this? Is it something that you planned since you first approached the project?
By the time I worked on “this place meant” my creative process had switched from thinking in series to accepting that most of the things that I wanted to pair together did not necessarily made sense at first glance. I started to focus more on conveying and creating a mood and a rhythm with the images than talk about something specific or telling a story from beginning to end. However, I do group things into books or projects sometimes, but I guess that is something that comes after the images have already been created.
What would you like to convey with this project?
Through the images of the series ”this place meant”, I attempt to get closer to what cannot represented: the impulse of life, the impulse of death, a rush of blood to the head that comes with the acceleration of pulse and the pump of adrenaline, fear and power. I do not try to tell a story through these images, but to refer to a state of rawness and viscerality that I have learned to rationalize. In the end, this place meant is about the distance between thoughts and emotions and the quiet acceptance of our limitation to conciliate them.
About the artist
Alejandra Ugarte Bedwell, Graduated from The International Center of Photography-Bard College’s MFA Program in Advanced Photographic Studies. Her work has been shown in museums, galleries and venues in Mexico, U.S.A. and Scotland and she is a recipient of the 2010-2011 Jovenes Creadores (Young Creators) Grant from CONACULTA in Mexico.
In 2009, her book Finding Grandma Bear was selected for the Artists Books International Fair that took place in Mexico City as part of the Fotoseptiembre festival. She obtained an honorable mention at the 2010 edition of the New York Photo Festival and at the Camera Club of New York’s National JuriedCompetition. She has collaborated in numerous film projects as a production designer, art director and set decorator both in Mexico and the US.
For further information about Alejandra, visit: http://www.alejandraugarte.com
Welcome to Tracking Art!
This website is about having a space to start conversations about art.
Art is considered to be an expression or application of human creative skill and imagination by producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Focusing mainly on the visual arts, painting and photography, this site will establish a platform where selected artists will share their ideas, inspirations and processes. Literature and the performing arts will also be an important part of the conversation. Hopefully this space will spark a fruitful dialogue on the multiple topics that arise in the art world.