10 questions with the photographer Karen Arango

Feb 15, 2014 Comments Off on 10 questions with the photographer Karen Arango by

By Verónica Sanchis

Translation by Jessica Sequeira

Karen Arango, Xiomara

Xiomara. Miss Behave series. Sarasota, Florida. 2013

This month, Fotografía Latina interviews the Colombian photographer Karen Arango, who lives in Florida (USA). Arango’s works are primarily documentary in nature, and she specializes in portraits and landscapes as a means of representing social problems.

Arango was born in 1990 in Bogotá, Colombia, but in 1991 she moved to Medellín, where she lived until she came to the United States in 2009. It was there that she began to develop an awareness of the social problems both in her home country and abroad.

Arango graduated with a certificate in Digital Design, afterwards obtaining a postgraduate degree in visual arts, with a specialty in photography and digital imaging. During her studies she was chosen to attend the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. In 2012 she collaborated with Saint Lucas University of Art and Design and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium; as well as with Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland.

Today Arango is a freelance photographer, producing her own prints, as well as an Americorps VISTA member in Sarasota, Florida.

Ventana Latina: What motivated you to become a photographer?

Karen Arango: The ability to express myself. I’ve always liked art, ever since I was very small, but I never thought I would be good at it. When I was finishing high school, my parents always told me that I had to study at a university, and they pushed me to do something that I really liked. I started with architecture because there was a chance of living well with what I earned when I finished the degree. Then I realized that it didn’t really make me happy, so I decided to start making art. I preferred to draw and have colours in front of me. There were times when I told friends that I’d decided to study photography, and they made fun of me and said that it wasn’t a degree. From then on, I told myself that no matter what they said, I was going to fight for what I liked, however small it was. I was going to give the best of myself, because the undertaking of it, the motivation and passion put into it, would transform it into something great.

VL: How do your projects develop from idea to practice?

KA: First, I observe an experience I’ve lived, or something that attracts me a lot, and I reflect on how I could make the message just as significant for others. Then I take the necessary measures to do it.

VL:  Have you ever thought of combining photography with another visual or audio medium?

KA: Of course, I like documentaries. I’ve done small interviews in the past, but nothing big. Now I’m planning to do a mini documentary, and if everything goes well I’ll have it done by the end of this year.

VL: What theme have you developed most in your photography?

KA: The themes in a series called ‘Miss Behave’.

Karen Arango, Juliana

Juliana. Miss Behave series. Weehawken, New Jersey. 2012

VL: How did your project ‘Miss Behave’ begin?

KA: It began spontaneously. I’ve always liked doing portraits because of the texture of the skin, the features of the face, or simply the way of being that each subject has, which I find so interesting. In spring 2012 I decided to do portraits of girls between five and twelve years old. I needed photos for my portfolio, because I was going to go interview with magazines like GQ, The New York Times, and Newsweek. Then I realized that not only did I like to photograph these little girls, I also liked getting to know them, their families, their stories.  After a few months photographing them, I realized that each girl I took photos of reminded me of my childhood and what I’d lived. Each one made took me back to that time of life when I played with dolls and life was much simpler. Something interesting about that series is that when I was their age, my family and I moved from Colombia to the United States. This changed my life and has in large part made me the person I am today, and that’s why I’m so interested in who these girls are, the basis for the women they’ll be in the future.

VL: What was it like doing photographic work in Kilpisjärvi, Finland?

KA: Taking photographs in Kilpisjärvi, Finland was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I had the opportunity to express myself freely and connect with nature, in addition to the privilege of choosing my photos’ content. The group of artists I travelled with specialised in drawing, painting, and environmental art, which exposed me to other ways of observing my surroundings. We stayed at a biological station and lived with scientists and students who were doing research on Kilpisjärvi’s environment.

Karen Arango, Sin Titulo

Untitled. Sarasota, Florida. 2013

VL: Have you ever thought of doing a personal project in Colombia, where you’re from?

KA: Of course, I would love to develop a project in Colombia. The culture is very different and most of my family lives there. I would like to do a project on how the differences in social classes affect the lives of Colombian women.

VL: Are you currently working on a project?

KA: Yes, as I mentioned, I’m preparing a documentary. I’m still developing the topic.

Karen Arango, Sarasota

Untitled. Sarasota, Florida. 2013

VL: In what form do you feel you express yourself best, through the portrait or the landscape, and why?

KA: It would be impossible to choose. I love both and everything depends on the content, and the energy I’m looking for in my photos. It’s really interesting that despite their differences, the two have many similarities. For example, doing a good portrait requires a lot of security, courage, and humility. You need to make the person feel comfortable in front of the camera, which many aren’t. You need to create a connection with that other person so that in the photo you can express what you’re hoping to, through that individual. The same thing is true of a landscape, where what you have around you is your subject and you have to know what you want to say with that place, making it look its best with the intention of going beyond physical beauty.

VL: How did you come to work in Tbilisi, Georgia?

KA: There’s a photography festival in Tbilisi, Georgia every summer. At that festival there’s an international photography competition. In 2013 my photos were chosen to be among the best 100, and printed in the annual catalogue. The university where I was studying photography at that time gave me the opportunity to travel to Tbilisi to do an internship with the contest judge and curator Tina Schelhorn. When I arrived in Tbilisi, which is a fantastic city with a lot of history and culture, I met some other people and we went to visit refugees from Abkhazia living in Tbilisi. Another small photographic project emerged from that.

Karen Arango, Miriam

Miriam, Tbilisi, Georgia. 2013




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