Stephanie Segura Interview: Nostalgic Photo Zines That Explore Issues of Identity

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A longer version of this article was originally published in Remezcla.

In 2014, Stephanie Segura, a Brooklyn-based photographer, helped found an art collective of writers, musicians, and visual artists called La Chamba Press. Pulling together unique histories and points of origin— ranging from the Caribbean to Mexico— the members aim to create work that makes the experience of the Latino diaspora easier to picture.

Segura, whose zines of Mexico were featured this year at Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair in Los Angeles, looks specifically at Mexican-American diaspora. Her bleached-processed Polaroids of home, ritual, and celebration bring to light Mexican culture as viewed through the eyes of a first-generation U.S. citizen. And although the photos catalog new experiences, they are rich with nostalgia, as if Segura is creating memories of a life that could have been, a history that anticipates her own.

I met Segura at El Regalo de Juquila in Bushwick, New York, to talk about her work. Telenovelas played loudly from a television sitting atop a row of refrigerators. We ate tacos, drank aguas frescas. In her zines, I see a political argument against ingrained images of Mexico that come from its own citizens or tourists. She disagreed. Instead, she sees her vibrant photographs of Mexico as nothing more than personal mementos. “If somebody connects with them, then fine,” she told me. “In the end, they’re just for me.”

This interview has been edited and condensed from the conversation Segura and I had at Regalo de Juquila.

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See Portraits of U.S. Citizens Who Move Back to Mexico

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A longer version of this article was originally published in Remezcla.

The U.S.-Mexico border is typically thought of as a place where people flow from south to north. They leave Mexico, it’s thought, in search of something better in the United States – not the other way around. But Americanos, a series of photographs taken by the Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena, contradicts this south-to-north view of immigration by showing those who move the opposite way.

Called “silent citizens” in Mexico, “Americanos” are legal citizens of the United States who, either by choice or through circumstance, return to Mexico. Some are children who were born in the United States and leave with their parents once citizenship is guaranteed. Others are older and cross back into Mexico illegally. “Most of them seemed completely uninterested in living in the U.S.,” Cartagena told me. “One went to high school for a year and decided to come back to Mexico because he didn’t ‘get’ the culture.”

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Mariela Sancari Interview: Portraits of a Young Woman’s Dead Father

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The advertisement was short: I’m searching, it began in Spanish, for men between sixty-eight and seventy-two years old. On a corner was a portrait of man with closed-cropped hair and a warm smile. With clear eyes, it went on, who look like the man in the photo. At the bottom was a phone number.

The number belonged to Mariela Sancari, a photographer based in Mexico. Sancari posted the advertisement to begin a series of portraits about her father, Moisés Sancari, who killed himself in 1980. She sought to photograph men who might resemble her father had he lived to this day. The resulting portraits are collected in a critically acclaimed photo book Moisés, published in 2015.

I reached out to Sancari to learn more about Moisés and her work. We spoke briefly over email.

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[Free webinar] 5 Keys to Amazing Wedding photography

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Join Daniel Usenko, a veteran wedding photographer as he shares his secrets on what it takes to get a PERFECT wedding photograph.

Daniel explains his philosophy on what makes a great photo as he breaks down step by step how he is able to capture incredible photos that made him an international instructor and world-renowned photographer that he is.

 

Date: 18th AprilMonday

Time: 11am PDT


 

Check out his work

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Learn from a pro to become a pro wedding photographer.

 


Alejandra Laviada Interview: Sculptures Made From the Ruins of Mexico City’s Hotel Bamer

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In 2006, Alejandra Laviada spent time photographing the remains of a once prominent hotel in Mexico City named Hotel Bamer. A landmark of 1950s Mexico, the hotel was demolished soon after she left. From what remained after the demolition, Laviada took pieces of discarded wood and furniture to build sculptures that would serve as subjects for the subsequent series Re-Constructions.

Like the hotel they come from, the sculptures photographed in Re-Constructions are transient. Her photographs explore what it means to play with the camera’s relationship to time. A tension is brought out by the sculptures’ vulnerability. Inches from collapse, each one is seen a beat before a leg gives out or a stool topples over. The photographs reveal, like ones that can still the folds of a windswept curtain, time’s physical bearing — only these look backward. It’s the second before that you look, the moment when not moving comes closest to resembling permanence.

I spoke to Laviada over email about Re-Constructions and her ideas about photography.

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Juan Madrid On Boris Mikhailov’s Gruesome Photography

Boris Mikhailov. Untitled, from the series Case History. 1997–98. © 2011 Boris Mikhailov

Boris Mikhailov. Untitled, from the series Case History. 1997–98. © 2011 Boris Mikhailov

The High Dive, in Prospect Park, is a fine, little bar in Brooklyn. In the back, there are two pinball machines that glow the color of orange-red. Popcorn is free to grab. And Brooklyn Lagers are served $5 a can on most days. In short, it’s not a bar you’d go to if you’re expecting to talk all night about the Ukrainian provocateur Boris Mikhailov. Grotesque, dark, and brutally honest—Mikhailov’s work picks at a scab covering middle-class sensibility (above is one of his photos).

Two weeks ago, I invited Juan Madrid, co-founder of the Free Lunch Cartel and a VICE contributor, for drinks at the High Dive. I wanted to finish a talk we were having over email about Mikhailov. A photography savant, Madrid combines a single-minded focus on all things photo with an ego so large that it doesn’t exist. I thought he’d be the perfect guide to introduce Boris Mikhailov’s work to the blog.

That night at the High Dive, I began to realize that I led Madrid to a sad, sad joke. A couple of Brooklyn Lagers had failed to tune out a neon-lit gloom. Madrid and I exited, in hopes of another bar. There, he showed me two of his photobooks and catalogue of an exhibition he co-curated at the Center for Photography at Woodstock. We switched to Tecates and lime. At one point, Madrid looked at his reflection in a window and summoned the golden ratio. In some of his photos, he said, he had found its hand, his photographs laid out like the spirals in nautilus shells, unaware he captured its composition. We drank, talked photography, and drank again.

This interview is from the questions and answers Juan and I sent back and forth over email.

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What Is Photography: Art Or Science?

I think all art is about control – the encounter between control and the uncontrollable. – Richard Avedon

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Image courtesy: fstoppers.com

While Edgar Allan Poe dubbed the invention of photography to be ‘the most extraordinary triumph of modern science’, Charles Pierre Baudelaire pronounced photography to be the biggest mortal enemy of art.

And yet, centuries later the classification of photography under an either/or section of art and science hasn’t been reached.

Is photography an art or is it science or is the lovechild of both?

In 1853 photography was argued against being an art form for it lacked the ability to elevate the imagination. But in 1858, the South Kensington Museum held the first ever photography exhibition.

Labeling photography as more of a documentation technique to capture a moment without stimulating the imagination is the most frequently given justification for it being a form of art. But how does one hem imagination within a practical checklist approach? How does one say that there are certain requisites to trigger the imagination, and photography doesn’t fit the bill?

Imagination is mainly personal while one may see the literal meaning of a picture, someone else might spin an untold story that the picture reads only to them.

To loosely describe art, it is something that has an aesthetic appeal, something that holds beauty. Aren’t camera-clicked images beautiful? Didn’t you ever see a picture and was in awe of how pretty it was?

There is definitely science involved in everything from composing to editing images. There’s calculation involved in taking picture – whether it is adjusting the shutter speed or manipulating the ISO – it’s a lot of math but so is art.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s collaborator Luca Pacioli said: “Without mathematics there is no art”. Whether it is the Golden Ratio that artists adhere to or the Fibonacci Circle, so by the same admission, paintings too should not be called art then.

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The golden proportions determine how the table and them emblem on it would be placed in the painting.

Some say that photographs aren’t created but captured. While an artist creates, a photographer is just a recording medium. Because where an artist creates a scene – even if it’s a replica of a still object – they still do so stroke by stroke but, a photographer merely takes a picture, without creating anything in the literal sense.

But most photographers today echo the idea that clicking great pictures is a combination of being well-versed in the technical aspect and having a vision.

You might be able to work out the settings but what to expect from a photograph, what does an artist see and aims to capture is his vision. And how is he not creating that? His vision, his interpretation of even something banal and mundane steps into the picture, how is that not creation?

Noted portrait photographer of the 1800s, Julia Margaret Cameron always maintained that her photographs were an expression of her knowledge and perception of art.

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And what about edited images? Even if we were to undermine a photographer’s claim of it being art on the absence of ‘creation’, aren’t edited images created through distorting, restoring, and altering through editing applications like Photoshop?

What do we call that then?

Everyone’s a photographer today with the advent of the camera-enabled smartphone. And the primary purpose (besides getting tons of likes on Instagram) is to express their creativity. Photography is categorized as a creative profession for it expresses the photographer’s own understanding of the subject.

But even then a lot of people justify photography not being art, based on the fact that a picture still comes from something while art could be completely imaginary and abstract. If you’re a painter and you have a vision of something, you can paint it out of nothing, but as a photographer with a vision of what you want to capture, you would still need physically existing elements to base it upon.

So maybe photography has a big part of the artistic features, but it isn’t strictly art?

But where does it define art to be something that has to be borne out of something else? Art has just come to be synonymous with anything creative.

When it comes to ascribing pictures to be artistic, it needs to have a creative aspect. And one of the basic essentials of a good picture is creativity.

And there’s no dearth of creativity in modern-day photography.

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Image courtesy: http://www.studentartguide.com/articles/creative-photography-ideas

What qualifies anything to be termed artistic is also its capabilities to evoke emotions. And photographs do conform to this requirement, pictures are not just capable of capturing emotions, but also bringing them out in the viewer.

This again is subjective, what one chooses to see in a photograph defines what emotions they feel surfacing. While someone might see an old ragged teddy bear, someone else might see a childhood companion forgotten or lost, they might glimpse into the feelings of the child who might have lost his toy, and the melancholy associated with this for it could be even metaphor of a kid trying to find his way in the big bad world, alone.

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Image courtesy: http://evelin17alejandraslhs.blogspot.in/

But a lot to do with photography is undoubtedly science. From the make of the equipment to developing pictures, everything involves some science. Even clicking pictures do; the law of reciprocity that governs exposure by adjusting aperture and shutter speed is science. Selecting lenses to fine-tuning the focus, it’s all science.

So while all photos are by default a work of science in action, are all photos passable as art? Maybe some do adhere to the general ‘principles’ of art and are therefore artistic, while some might be a part of the in-between land. For instance, if you go around clicking passport size photos, that possibly won’t be called art, right? But if you go around clicking passport size photos of refugees who spent close to three months on sea and their pictures show their first reaction of relief and hope they feel. Would a collection of such powerful emotion-conjuring pictures not qualify to be called art?

Shae DeTar’s Dream Worlds

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In her late teens, Shae DeTar gave up on an acting career—she was auditioning professionally since she was eleven—because of advice given to her by her acting coach. Her coach believed that actors must first “conquer” Shakespeare before considering themselves fit to act. Unhappy with her own progress, DeTar decided to quit. “Ever since then I’ve held this dream-world within me,” DeTar told me. “I wasn’t being fearless.”

DeTar, who works with paint and photography to make large-scale photo illustrations, now believes she’s fearless with her art. “I guess it’s because I am older and feel as though I have nothing to lose,” she said. Making her own photographs—which she has began only recently, in her early thirties—is a process that leads directly back to her photo illustrations. Hardly any of her unpainted photographs are on her website. Instead, photography is a way to gain more control over the collage, creating the visual parts that become the whole. “I like to re-imagine what I photographed and bring it to a new place with no boundaries.”

I spoke to DeTar over email about her process and about her thoughts on photography.

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Olaf Blecker on His Portrait of Jenny Hval for The New Yorker

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The series of questions that follow were inspired by the above photograph. This photograph is a portrait of the Norwegian singer Jenny Hval that was made by Olaf Blecker, published by The New Yorker, in its June 22, 2015 Issue. It’s an odd portrait. Certain expected givens of any photograph—facts about time, place, or story—are obscured, darkened to the point of falling into a void, represented here by a surrounding blackness.

And although this void is mute (it’s a void after all), it is also roaring. It’s perhaps the first thing you noticed. If you did give it recognition, you did so automatically. And it vanished just as quickly. The blackness would have been replaced by a flash of gold in one sudden blow and expelled. Hval’s discreet smile would then mount the stage above or beneath this blackness. The void is neither background nor foreground. Fingers of shadow hug her torso, embracing her form; where her legs would be you find it again. It is also empty space.

This void can signify ignorance or chance or a gap between this world and a purer one. But is it enough to know that Jenny Hval was photographed in her apartment in Oslo? Or that Olaf Blecker was on his way to shoot another commission when he received a call from Joanna Milter from The New Yorker? Maybe this void is the force that compelled Jenny and Olaf to meet and exchange words on life influences. “I wanted to find out more from her,” Blecker told me. “We discussed more than her music and this shoot.” Maybe the void is why Olaf calls this portrait his “broken birdie” photograph. Or why he describes her wavering, almost indeterminate movement as “gliding.”

I spoke to Blecker over email about his portrait of Jenny Hval.

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Christaan Felber Interview: Clear-sighted Portraits Arising Out of the Moment

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Christaan Felber, a New York based portrait and commercial photographer, who has worked with, among others, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Esquire, admits that his job is tricky, even uncomfortable. “I think the nature of capturing someone’s image in excruciating detail is simply a loaded process,” he explained to me. There’s an element of disclosure in creating a portrait. What the sitter wishes to see may not be what the photographer reveals. “That breaks my heart every time: seeing potential and being unable to convince the other person of that potential,” he noted.

It’s perhaps this acknowledgement of a photographer’s bag of tricks that allows Felber to shoot portraits that seem honest and off the cuff, ones made in the spur of the moment. He prefers a centered composition that comforts the eye with balance and symmetry. Action is either avoided or frozen in the middle—where a single gesture or one signature look completes the story of a frame. Together with his straightforward composition, this plunge toward the middle connotes an evenhandedness. Felber is able to find balance and make work that feels impromptu but never unnatural.

I spoke to Felber over email about his thoughts on photography and his work.

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