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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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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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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Jeff Brown Interview: Heads of State and Industry in Fluorescent Hues

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Some photographers use light as a means to an end. Others like Jeff Brown perform with it. What may overwhelm somebody with an ineffectual sense of light’s fantastic, potent power seems to excite Brown. Constantly risking absurdity, he performs a high-wire act of vision, adding what may be three or four lights at any given time.

Many of the people Brown photographs are rich and famous, important and pretty, or all four and then some. They live their lives publicly. And they have public images to uphold. It’s no wonder why, when sitting for a portrait commissioned by a magazine or a newspaper, they perform a rehearsed self. But what’s going on in the portrait of Mitch McConnell above? Does Brown realize he’s illuminated the Senator from Kentucky down to the bone? Captured him as he is at the moment of a portrait: actor playing politician in what looks like a semi-ordinary grocery store, set in a fictional Kentucky town, where beer and sandwiches and pig-stuff are bought and sold.

While other portraits read as a profile of a person—capturing what’s simply given—Brown’s portraits wink at you, tipping you off that something else is happening. Because of the ridiculously energetic way he plays with light, color, and shadow, he creates portraits that somehow, someway feel more honest. They’re naked. Though not bare. You know you’re looking at a portrait made in the act. It’s as if you’re getting both the final photograph and a behind-the-scenes sketch. And if reality is increasingly judged by appearances, why can’t the truest portrait be the one that’s commissioned, rehearsed, and performed?

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

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Rachel Roze Interview: Sicily Captured in An Uncanny, Surreal Light

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Nearly true but not truth, almost life-like and real but utterly false: There’s nothing neutral in how Rachel Roze uses her camera. Like any photograph, one of hers may appear like a document, one that seems willing to tell the truth, but in reality is put on. Another may seem unreal and strange but, when looked at for a while and taken in, seems closer to life than any photojournalist’s reportage.

As though caught in the charms of an impostor, you believe wholeheartedly in what you feel but know something is off. Working in a space between truth-telling and narrative gives her photos room to breathe. Here, a photo of a statue can hover between a casual snapshot and a deliberate staging. Was it her intention to make the statue’s eyes, lightened in a burst of flash, seem alive and knowing? Even the spidery way it holds its crucifix registers between two states: is this a motherly embrace or an intentional letting go?

“I think people should take everything with a grain of salt,” she says, “Rights and wrongs are blurred when it comes to art.” There are other photographs like this one in her We Were in Sicily series but most are simple captures: There are landscapes of Sicilian alleyways cut between dawn or dusk, kind portraits of young, carefree children, and blunt scenes of intimacy. Roze never reveals what’s romance, what’s ruse. It’s all made to look real.

I spoke with Roze over email about her photography.

The introduction was edited from what was originally published. 

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Yolanda del Amo Interview: How Staged Photographs Reveal True Faces of Disconnect

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It’s in the eyes. It’s there, in those pools of brown, blue, of color, where everything ahead is first given. Either you fall back and look away or you accept and thrust in. The connection between two is violent, fitful. There’s panic. Undecided mornings. But a connection must begin somewhere: almost always, it’s in the eyes.

But when a connection weakens, what are the first hints?Archipelago, the Spanish, Brooklyn-based photographer Yolanda del Amo’s seven-year series, explores how connections reveal themselves in a communal home and in the body itself. In her staged photographs, the language of intimacy, or approaching disconnect, arranges around who’s looking at whom and who’s not. It’s not enough to say that they’re looking away. It’s how they look. And why—what are they’re still searching for?

I spoke with Del Amo over email about her photography.

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