Vanessa Colareta | Lima, Peru

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Vanessa Colareta is a still life photographer based in Lima, Peru. Her artistic education started with B.A. In Fine Arts in Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain and continued with M.A. Visual Arts and Multimedia, Photography in the same university.

In 2013 she was named Still Life Professional Photographer of the Year at the Sony World Photography Awards, London. Vanessa has participated in exhibitions and events related to the visual arts such as “ArtLima” Art Fair at The Army School of Lima (Peru, 2014), "Sony World Photography Awards 2013" as part of the Month of Art, at House of Culture in Bratislava, "Lima Photo" Art Fair at the Image Centre in Lima (Peru, 2013),"Sony World Photography Awards 2013" at Somerset House in London and "Cafe Dossier" at La Tabacalera in Madrid, among others. 

Hello Vanessa, thanks for submitting your work to Women in Photography. Can you tell our readers a little bit about you and how you got into photography?
I started studying painting at the Escuela Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes in Lima, Peru. During my second year, I realized that I wanted to get some experience abroad, and thus I applied to a scholarship. In 2005, I got accepted at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and therefore was able to continue my education in Spain. It was there that I began to take photographs.

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You are a still life photographer - what fascinates you about this genre?
When I was conducting preliminary research for my first project about female migration, 'Migrant', I was looking for different ways in which I could address this complex topic through photography that were not mere portraits. I was looking for something more poetic. Still Life came up as the perfect genre. Through food and flowers, it is possible to talk about society, economics, culture, politics, colonialism, and other relevant issues. 

Furthermore, during the research stage, I interviewed many women facing migration. Some of them lived in Spain undocumented. Keeping their anonymity was crucial if I wanted to obtain their testimonies. 

Finally, throughout history, Still Life has been considered a secondary genre, not as important as historic and sacred paintings. The connection between topics and gender is pretty obvious in these three cases: food and flowers (the house) related to the feminine sphere; war and religion (power), to men. 

You submitted your project „Exodus“. Can you tell us more about it? 
Exodus addresses female migration from Spain due to the recent economic crisis. 

When I first came to Spain in 2005, I realized that Spaniards felt overwhelmed by the waves of immigrants arriving from different countries. They seemed to have forgotten how thousands of Spanish citizens had travelled abroad during Franco's dictatorship and before. I started 'Migrant' series in 2011 having that in mind.

A couple of years afterwards, I started 'Exodus'. Ironically, the direction of the migration flow had changed because of the economic crisis: Spaniards started to travel abroad looking for better opportunities. 

Before both series, I interviewed all the participants in order to get some background information. I asked them about their experiences with migration in relation to family, work and society. Then, I started thinking about a picture that fits each story and selects the items that will appear in the composition. 

What were you looking for when you started that project? 

During my studies in Valencia, I met many foreign women who lived in Spain. Some of them were students like me, some others came to work in order to improve their life. Also, during my research for 'Migrant' I met women who left their own children and travelled abroad so that they could give them a better future. Listening to these stories of bravery, one could only feel admiration and the urge to share them, to give them a voice. 

Your photographs express a kind of poetic look - how did you cultivate your sense of composition?
My photographs are inspired by Still Life paintings of the 16th and 17th century. Thus, when I create each composition, I tried to keep certain chromatic and lighting. As a result, the pictures instil a deep classic vibe, even though elements which are traditionally associated with Still Life were combined with contemporary items such as plastic bags or cell phones. 

Lighting has an important role in creating the atmosphere I was pursuing to achieve. In the case of the 'Exodus' series, it was done in my studio in Madrid. There, I had big windows and when I first came in I considered for a second covering them in order to use the flash. Later, I realized how complicated it would be, so I made some tests with my camera and realized how beautiful was the light I had! If you see that place you could never imagine that pictures like mine were made there. I love using natural light for Still Life. In my opinion, it has the perfect warmth.

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Did you have a certain workflow?
The most important part of the series (and the most difficult) is to collect the testimonies. I really enjoyed this stage because it gave me the opportunity to meet interesting people and hear their stories. 

After that, I made some sketches in order to visualize the composition and to get the stage props and food needed. I cooked most of the dishes that I photographed, so the day after each photo shoot I usually invited friends to dinner.

What is your intention behind this presentation?
My intention was to represent these women's journeys, through a genre that is historically connected to the feminine sphere. 

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In 2013 you were named as Still Life Photographer of the Year for the Sony World Photography Award. What does this honour mean to you?
eing named 2013 Still Life Photographer of the Year was a unique experience. I was able to share 'Migrant' (which was the awarded project) with many people worldwide. Also, I had the opportunity to meet artists, art critics and editors, as well as to show my photos at Somerset House. That year,  William Egglestone received an award to recognize his trajectory. I was delighted to participate in an exhibition with him.

After the prize, interesting projects came up: an exhibition in Lima (at Alliance Française), a solo show in Belgium (at Nunc Contemporary), a publication for Exit (a photographic magazine from Spain), an invitation to participate in the online project Master Piece Edition in Germany, among others.

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What advice would you give young female photographers who are starting to become a photographer?

I think it is important to learn about the history of women in arts as well as to do research on female artists because there are tons of interesting ones excluded from books and exhibitions. Also, it is important to participate in photo contests in order to get visibility worldwide.

You’re from Peru. Can you tell us a little bit about the photography scene in Peru? Are there any female photographers you can recommend?

There are interesting places where you can see what's going on in photography, like The Mario Testino Museum (MATE) and Lima Photo Art Fair. Talking about Peruvian female photographers, I really like the work of Leslie Spak and María María Acha-Kutscher.

Thanks a lot Vanessa for the Interview!

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