ALEXANDRA COLMENARES COSSIO. TO LOOK AND TO FEEL
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, ‘Tela de araña envolviendo rosa’, Ghent 2015
Tell us about your approach to photography. How did it all start? What are your memories of your first shots?
Alexandra Colmenares Cossio (ACC): I remember a white Kodak camera that my parents used to have back in 1990. I can still see myself opening the camera to see what it was like inside. I also remember my mother taking pictures of me ‒ not professional ones, just photos for the family album. I remember that she let me take pictures with her camera, and that was my first experience with photography. I think all my curiosity started there.
Many years later, I took the decision of enrolling myself in a school of photography. I was not so sure about that decision, until I developed my first photograph in the lab, just by myself. I can remember the feeling when I saw the image appear from the darkness, I just gasped, and I knew that from that moment that I would continue following my curiosities in photography.
My first pictures from my early student days were more like exercises for the classes. It wasn’t until I was in my second year of school that I began to take pictures of my body, or simple everyday things, things that maybe other people take for granted, like little gestures for instance.
How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?
ACC: I think my research evolved quite a lot, because I started to feel more free since I finished school. Since then I allowed myself to experiment with image and other mediums. I think that my photography evolved based on that; those other mediums gave me more things to say and to say them in different ways.
Also, moving to Belgium and dealing with new experiences, new faces, new customs and sometimes loneliness influenced my way of taking photos, thanks to all the new things that I was having in my life. It taught me a kind of different way to approach what I was seeing.
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, ‘Broken Memories’, 2013
What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?
ACC: It has its benefits, but in the end I think that in this digital era, everything is ephemeral and instantaneous. Nowadays everybody can take a piece of reality and take it with them as a memory, it has become too easy. Maybe because of that we are forgetting to really see and appreciate what we have in front of us.
I use both film and digital. I made a rule with the digital though, and it’s that every time I´m going to shoot with it, I have to be sure that it is just going to be just one click, just like it would be with an analogue camera. I approach it as a kind of an exercise to look carefully. I don’t know, maybe that’s a romantic or poetic idea, but it works for me.
Social networking these days is like a crazy parallel world, lots and lots of sharing pictures, filters, and programmes. We want to have a fictional analogue life in the digital era; we have replaced our family album for our Facebook one, our cameras for our phones. I think it’s a way of adapting, but I really miss those days in which you just took you family pictures with a film camera, developed them in the store and put them in the album. That being said, I can’t judge so much, because I have my own personal digital diary. Like I said, it’s just a way of adapting to the conditions of today.
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, Nicolás, Gante 2015
I have to add that, on the other hand, this parallel world offers an open door to have more information about people who share their works on digital platforms, and thanks to that I have found some tremendous artists that I really admire.
About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?
ACC: I am always thinking about what a photograph is. I am always staring at things, for instance the light, or the shadows. I don’t know what exactly the impulse is that makes me take a photo in one precise moment, I just feel the necessity to do it, because I saw the complete picture in my head before. Sometimes I know what is going to happen next, so sometimes I take a picture immediately, or sometimes I just look and try to understand what is going on in that moment.
I think that I can describe it as “to look and to feel”. There might be a group of photos in which you might feel loneliness; others in which you´ll find noise, cold, or maybe nothing, but it is almost always me telling you a story, the story of who I am and what I see. In my photographs, I am the most honest “me“ that I can be.
Tell us about your latest project ‘Alignments’
ACC: The latest project that I made was called ‘Alignments’; at NVT Galerie here in Ghent. It was a duo show with artist and friend Juan Duque in which we gathered ideas about ‘the eclipse’, not in the literal meaning of the word, but in the idea(s) behind it ‒ The light and shadows, and what we cannot see.
During the opening we made actions in situ. We worked with different mediums such as video, sound, performance, and photography. It was a really nice experience to work with Juan because we learn from each other. I consider this process of mutual learning very important because it is in cases like these that you get nourished by colleagues. I am so happy that I got to work with Juan; he is very talented.
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, ‘Encounters in alignment’, 2015
Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?
ACC: There are a quite few, yes. In different periods of my life I followed and admired different artists and their work. Of course I still admire and respect their work, but they came to me in exactly the right moment, so I can say that they influenced me mostly in those periods. Works from Nan Goldin, Gabriel Orozco, Lina Scheynius, Viviane Sassen, Luz María Bedoya, Rita Lino, Nicolás Lamas, Rinko Kawauchi. There are quite a few, like I said before, but they remain very strong to me and I always return to their works.
Three books of photography that you recommend?
‘Illuminance’ by Rinko Kawauchi
‘Lexicon’ by Viviane Sassen
‘Holy Bible’ by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?
ACC: There is a show that I went to in the Foam museum in Amsterdam, which was called ‘To Photograph the Details of a Dark House in Low Light’ from Broomberg and Chanarin, in which they experiment with photography beyond an image. The images were the results, but the most important thing were the actions that took place after taking the pictures. I found this powerful and interesting and inspiring for my own work. It is the history and idea behind the last picture, the steps that you have to take to get your final result. I found a little interview of them that I would like to share where they explain their process. At the end of the interview they say, “photography is a weapon". I can’t agree more with that.
Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?
ACC: I am currently preparing a project for a residency and solo show that I have in Amsterdam which will be at Peer. Peer is a Platform for art and culture, in the form of a quarterly paper magazine. I’m looking forward for this project, because it’s the opportunity that I was waiting for, to get to experiment and work with photography and objects during these 2 weeks of residency. It will be very random, because I will take nothing with me to the space and simply wait for the objects and photos to come to me. It’s working from zero, like starting a cycle from the beginning until the end.
Besides that I have another project that I have been developing as a hobby, which is called ‘Workplaces’. In this project I follow an artist during his or her day of work. They can be working in their studio or even on the street. I’m interested to capture how the artist gets involved with the workspace and how they go about their work.
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio from the ongoing project ‘Workplaces’
How do you see the future of photography in general evolve?
ACC: There are a lot of new kinds of photography coming up that focus on experimentation with the image, the chemicals, even with the camera as an sculptural object. I think that photography is taking a huge step to another level and it can be complicated to understand these developments for people that are used to identify with photography as a figurative art form. But I think that this evolution resonates strongly with young people, so I believe that interesting things are coming and we have to remain open-minded and accept or try to understand new proposals.
Can you explain your fascination for your own body? Or parts of it?
ACC: It’s not really a fascination, and it is not just with my own body. It is simply a very big curiosity that I have been working with in the last couple of years. It wasn’t until I came to Belgium that the subject appeared so strongly in my work, I think that before that I was very shy to do it. Maybe it was because of the loneliness that I experience here sometimes. I began to connect with myself, and recognize and confront myself by looking at my body or parts of it. I started to realize how my body was changing through that experience of loneliness and displacement. Then a friend came to visit me and she allowed me to take some pictures of her, and that made me notice how fragile we can be and that the action of being naked can make you feel unprotected, but at the same time very human.
© Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, ‘Trace of my fear’, details of the performance, 2013
Then I started to take pictures of what was going on around my daily life, and one of the subjects was my relationship and how our bodies react to each other. So in fact there is a strong undercurrent of curiosity, related to how I see the body and how the body reacts in different situations.
Also you like to take pictures from objects, like there are plants, flowers, or body parts… is this part of the way you see life? Fragments of reality through the camera?
ACC: Definitely. That is the way I’m seeing/experiencing my life today, these are things that are surround me all day. Sometimes I don’t take pictures of them, I just prefer to be quiet and observe these little gestures or fragments as a sort of practice, a practice of observation.
There are moments that I see a combination of things that I like, for instance the way objects or plants, flowers, parts of bodies, the light (the light is very important for me) or the shadows all come together. When you capture that in a picture, it becomes like a little sculpture for me, a memory that I like to collect. The perfect time (for me), frozen in a picture.
Alexandra Colmenares Cossio